We all enjoy a bit of myth and conjecture when it comes to car development, don't we? Like the 90mpg Lupo 3L, a car that folklore will tell you only emerged because Renault was allegedly making a three-litre Clio - which became the V6. Or that the Ferrari 550M had such awful fuel consumption it was sent back to be made more efficient... only to be returned with a bigger fuel tank. Or that a certain Brazilian racing driver single-handedly built a mid-engined Honda sports car.
Anyway, now there's another one: the Bugatti Veyron idea began as a sketch on the back of an envelope, the very sketch you see here in fact. It was drawn by Ferdinand Piech, on a Japanese train in 1997, following a discussion with the then-head of VW Powertrain Development, Karl Heinz Neumann. And, because it was 1997, and because Piech was known for being a bit bold and maybe because the sake was really good, he drew an 18-cylinder engine; three VR6s, each set at 60 degrees to the other, with a displacement of 6.25 litres and an output of 555hp. Because of course he did.
But Ferdinand needed somewhere suitable to put his grand powerplant - he was boss of VW back then, though it wasn't the vast, sprawling empire of today. A triple VR6 wasn't going to go in a SEAT Cordoba. Then on his Easter holidays in 1998, Ferdinand learnt that BMW was going to get Rolls-Royce rather than him. The story goes that his son then bought a Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic on the holiday - the Piechs clearly weren't at Eastbourne - and Ferdinand had his eureka moment: the 18-cylinder engine was going in a reborn Bugatti.
Brand acquired from Romano Artioli - the man who had got the EB110 to production - the concepts came in earnest. For the Paris show in 1998 Bugatti exhibited the EB118, the red car here at the back of the four-car shot and blue coupe viewed from the rear. It was followed the next spring at Geneva with the EB218, the four-door equivalent. While it might be hard to equate those cars with the 250mph, mid-engined hypercar that the new Bugatti eventually became, the front end of both does give some clue at least of what was to be expected. They were lavish cars, too, decked out the in the finest materials "to compose a work of art" - just like the Veyron.
In the same year as the EB218, Bugatti showed the first concept that actually looked a bit like the Veyron that would emerge six years later. Frankfurt 1999 witnessed the EB 18/3 Chiron make its debut, still boasting that incredible engine and with a name we'd all come to be a lot more familiar with in time. But you can see it's slightly more awkward than the Veyron we know, presumably as a result of trying to package an 18-cylinder engine into a supercar.
Bugatti still wasn't done for the 20th century though, partying all the way through 1999 with the EB 18/4 Veyron at the Tokyo show. That's the car you see at the front right of the four-car shot, quite clearly indicating how the Veyron would look. But still with the 18-cylinder engine - what a car that might have been.
Come 2000 and the Veyron programme really started to stride forward with the purpose of a Piech project. At Geneva it was announced Bugatti would build a 1,001hp car, which was total lunacy when a 911 Turbo was making 420hp, and followed it up with the Paris show concept also seen in these pictures: the EB 16.4 Veyron. At last the 18-cylinder lump had gone, replaced by a far more modest (!) quad-turbo W16, and by 2001 it was confirmed that Bugatti really was going to build this thousand-horsepower, 400kph car.
Remember when nobody believed it was possible? There was no way in hell that such a car could be made, one that could be as refined as a luxury saloon as well as capable of more than four miles a minute. But Piech and Bugatti persisted, through all the well-documented teething issues of development, to deliver the Veyron in 2005 true to all its claims. Then the doubting stopped. It was the consummate hypercar, capable of damn near anything requested of it, that only went on through its lifetime to be more exciting and even quicker again. Perhaps the Veyron wasn't quite the bedroom poster ideal the EB110 was, but it delivered on every wildly ambitious target set for it - and, 18 cylinders or not, perfectly encapsulated Piech's vision for a reborn Bugatti. 450 were made, and you'll still need a million quid for one - double that budget, though, and you can have a Chocolate Brown Veyron Supersport with Cognac leather. Yes, really.
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