Who was Louis Chiron, and why is Bugatti’s new hypercar named after him?

Published: 30 November 2015

► Story behind the new Bugatti hypercar’s name
► Named after pre-war racing hero Louis Chiron
► One of the original Grand Prix greats

Bugatti today confirmed it will release an even faster successor to the Veyron, that the car will be revealed at the 2016 Geneva motor show, and that it will be named the Bugatti Chiron. What’s in a name? Just as the Veyron was named after a French racing driver of yesteryear, Pierre Veyron, the latest Bugatti is christened after Louis Chiron.

So, who was Louis Chiron?

One of the original Grand Prix greats, Chiron led quite a life. Born and bred in Monaco at the turn of the 20th century, he became an army driver during the First World War and a chauffeur immediately after, but clearly had an eye on driving at higher speeds.

How’s this for an unusual career path into top-level racing? Chiron became a professional dance partner at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, whirling wealthy women around the dance floor before buying his first Bugatti at the age of 26, allegedly financed by one of his dancing partners. Before long he’d traded up to a beautiful Type 35 Grand Prix car, won a slew of races and become part of the Bugatti factory team, rising rapidly to become its no. 1 driver.

Writing Bugatti’s racing history

Louis Chiron

Until World War II called an enforced interval on European motorsport, Chiron became one of its leading exponents, known for his smooth, precise driving style battling the likes of Varzi and Nuvolari in Bugatti’s wirily beautiful French Blue cars – followed by a stint in the works Alfa Romeo squad, run by a certain Enzo Ferrari.

Monaco’s Grand Prix boss

Although his greatest years as a driver were behind him, Chiron renewed his career after WWII, and continued racing in one form or another until he was 60. He raced his last Monaco GP in 1955, and at the request of Prince Rainier then went on to actually run the event as Comissaire General right up until 1979, a month before he died. Watch grainy footage of Monaco Grands Prix in the sixties and you’ll see Chiron – he’s the man dropping the flag at the start.

Louis Chiron's signature (or a stylised version of it) appears inside the new car

Why we chose the Chiron name – by Bugatti

‘In Louis Chiron, we found a worthy patron for a new model in the history of our brand,’ says current Bugatti president Wolfgang Dürheimer. ‘The name of the best racing driver and the most successful Bugatti driver of his time for the best super sports car of the present day – that is the ideal combination.’

What do Chiron’s family think about it?

Lydie Barre-Chiron, a descendant and biographer of Louis Chiron, reckons he’d be pretty pleased.

‘If Louis Chiron were alive today, I’m sure he would be proud that such an extraordinary sports car is to bear his name and is to represent the brand with which he achieved his greatest successes,’ she says.

As Chiron looks set to once again become a household name, click here for the full story on the new 1480bhp, 288mph-targeting Bugatti Chiron.

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer