Ferdinand Piëch, VW Group colossus, was squashed sardine-like in a throng of people queuing for the 1999 Geneva motor show – the check-in computer was down. That show came just a year after VW had acquired Bugatti. There had already been concept cars, the latest with an 18-pot engine (oddly, called Chiron). But Geneva ’99 saw the debut of a new engine with a mere 16 cylinders (two Audi V8s joined with four turbos), which sat menacingly on the Bugatti stand silently taunting any passing company engineers.
Some of those engineers may have been in the stalled throng with Piëch; executives from across the VW Group certainly were. Somebody asked Piëch about the W16 – had its claimed 1001PS (987bhp) actually been measured or was it calculated? ‘It’s been measured,’ he stated, and then, while all around fell silent, he said that engine power was the easy bit of a 250mph sport car. Tyres, brakes, cooling and aero were a different matter, but his team ‘would pull it off’.
A witness on that day remembers the nervous glances. For, despite Piëch’s bullishness, that power output was absolute fantasy. ‘The promised power output existed only on paper,’ Bugatti president Thomas Bscher told CAR in 2005. ‘We counted over 600 problems with the packaging requirements. It was pure chaos. The petrol pumps delivered barely enough fuel for 650bhp.’ Ultimately, Piëch had his way, but nobody involved in Veyron will forget the moment when the umbrella of fear under which they had to work was first unfurled.
Read CAR magazine’s Bugatti Veyron reviews