An exclusive audience with the Bugatti Vision GT

Jack Rix gets up close with the monster that previews Son Of Veyron As it turns out, slipping past security – three of us, carrying armfuls of photography equipment – is the easy part. Attempting to sniff out one car among an ocean of metal, sprawled across 11 generously proportioned exhibition halls, is proving a little more tricky.

It’s midnight now. The Frankfurt motor show, once vibrating to the sound of winking apertures, perspiring journalists and overworked espresso machines, is sleeping. What was, just a few hours earlier, a beehive of activity is now the world’s most expensive, and expansive, car park. We tiptoe past row after row of cut-and-paste new cars, punctuated by the odd extraterrestrial concept – low, wide and impossible to produce.

One stand merges into another, each hall looks remarkably like the last. Our bearings are long gone.

And then I see it, rising majestically above the other machines like a carbon-fibre meerkat: the wing that convinced us such a reckless folly was worth any repercussions 10 times over.

Earlier in the day I queued up with the rest of the throng for 10 rushed minutes running my eyes and hands over the Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo, but I want more. I want some real alone time to appreciate the brutal styling, drink in the microscopic attention to detail and capture the moment on camera as the outside world snores away.

Hidden beneath a thin veil of race-bred styling cues: that wing, those front dive-plates, the single-seat cockpit – this is the next chapter in the Bugatti renaissance, the son-of-Veyron, the car destined to take its place at the summit of the automotive world.

Or in the unequivocal words of Bugatti’s CEO, Wolfgang Dürheimer: “We’re building the world’s fastest, most exclusive, most luxurious and most powerful production super sports car.” That’s one hell of a brief.

It was originally conceived as an addition to the growing ranks of digital Vision Gran Turismo concepts (it will soon be available to download and drive virtually on your PlayStation), and Bugatti decided to go against the grain by building a full-scale car rendered with production-ready accuracy. Fittingly, the entire design process was computer-based, without a lump of clay in sight, while the build itself only began in April.

What sets the Bug apart from the other make-believe Vision GT show cars is that the painstakingly detailed engineering work has been carried out too.Given sufficient resources, it could be produced as is.

“We have dreamed about doing such a thing for a while now, but what we needed was a good story, something that made sense. And with the Gran Turismo series we had just that,” Sasha Selipanov, head of exterior design creative development told me when we met a few hours earlier. “We could tell and showcase our thoughts and ideas about what the next step of Bugatti’s design is all about using this as a platform.”

What hits you first are the outrageous proportions. The Veyron was always a broad-necked bull of a car, but this? This is something else entirely. With the front splitter pushing forward, the running boards outwards and the wing backwards and upwards, it’s stretched into a supercar caricature, something you only find in the furthest recesses of designers’ imaginations. But there’s nothing superfluous, no vent added for mere effect, no vane drawn in vain.

“What you have at the moment is a bit of a hype with everybody outdoing each other in fantasy numbers and science fiction. We took a completely different point of view and said, ‘If we had a chance to go racing in one of our cars, what would we virtually do to it?’, and on a realistic performance base do exactly that – go racing, take all the weight out, everything is stripped,” says Achim Anscheidt, head of Bugatti design. “There is no fooling around with these items. Every square centimetre comes under scrutiny to make sure it would be a viable item to go racing with one of our cars.”

Beneath the carbon-fibre bodywork it has the guts of a Veyron – a fully functional quad-turbo 8.0-litre W16 and, according to Frank Heyl, exterior design boss, it’s the powertrain that dictates that cartoonish shape to an extent: “We have the engine set right in front of the rear axle, we have the gearbox out in front for perfect weight distribution and that gives us quite a wide seating track and a wide cabin. This defines the architecture, so the proportions of the vehicle are defined by its power.”

Ah, yes, power. This is a Bugatti, after all. Here’s what we know: the physical concept car is fitted with a real W16 engine, but only engineered to be able to roll on and roll off stage – so there’ll be no 200mph test drives anytime soon. It does, however, have a theoretical output that will be revealed when it becomes available for the Gran Turismo game. Using this mystery power figure and computer models of the car, Bugatti was able to run theoretical laps of the Le Mans circuit – and you can see the freakish results on the page opposite.

The end game, of course, is a full production car already labelled ‘Chiron’ by rumour-mongers. When exactly we’ll see it is still shrouded in mystery, but Dürheimer has gone on record saying “in the not too distant future”. We’d say early next year is a reasonable bet.

Given Bugatti’s status as a halo brand for the VW Group, and the existence of the P1, 918 and LaFerrari, we’d put a few quid on it being a hybrid too.

Enough speculation, back to what we know, and that’s what this beast really looks like. Pick an angle, and there’s enough detail, shape and flow to keep your eyes engaged for an age.

Take a couple of steps to either side, and the form morphs into something else, setting your pupils off on another mission, dancing from point to point in constant disbelief. It’s mesmerising stuff – I feel honoured, no, humbled, to be in its presence.

If you ask Selipanov, that’s the whole point: “The idea was to end up with a project that is super-memorable, because if you look at current LMP1 cars and today’s F1 cars, they have been so fragmented by aerodynamics that there’s no real graphical imprint of the car.

“You’re fascinated by the detailing, the proportions are attractive but you’re not left with a picture of a car. With this, you walk away and clearly remember what the front, side, rear and that crazy fin on the top looks like as well.” He’s not wrong, and it’s those four sections: front, profile, bird’s-eye and rear that give us the biggest hints to how Veyron v2.0 will finally look.

Anscheidt, the chief, walked me through the elements we’ll see again soon. “At the front, there is the eight-eye face next to the horseshoe development. In side view, there is the Bugatti line, the performance line. In top view, it’s the strong centre line and lastly there is a much more horizontal look at the rear as well.”

Bit of a whistle-stop tour, but the guy doesn’t want to give much away. Even so, two things are glaringly obvious – strip away the downforce-boosting bits of bodywork, plus the wings, stickers and other racing addenda, and you’re looking at the new Bugatti, simple as that. Undoubtedly a riff on a chord struck by the Veyron back in 2005, but more aggressive, sharper, higher tech in all areas.

Secondly, even minus the aero, it utilises and bends the air in a way its predecessor never could.

Stuffed into that floor-to-ceiling swoop along the sides (designed to mimic Ettore Bugatti’s signature…) is a curved radiator – the perfect unison of form and function. At the front end, air that’s gulped through the horseshoe grille and lower intake is expelled through a bonnet vent, and louvres on top of the arches.

The headlights double as extra intakes, channelling cool air to the front brakes – air that’s picked up by fender pods as it exits the wheelarch to smooth its passage down the sides.

The interior is pure function, but licked with Bugatti’s effortless style. A high centre console, similar in shape to the exterior side scoops, houses a thin strip of buttons – all physical switches, so you can operate them in racing gloves. That blue suede you can see on the seat and the wheel? A special lightweight, grippy and ultra-durable type normally used to make F1 drivers’ racing boots.

Two curved screens, one on the wheel and one behind it, relay all the relevant information right in front of your eyes, along with feeds from three exterior cameras so you know precisely where your opponents are. Keep peeling back the layers, and more ingenious touches come into focus. There’s a panel in the roof for removing the driver in case of a crash; 16 rivets on the fuel filler cap, one for each cylinder, and a plaque on the doorsills signed by Kazunori Yamauchi, aka Mr Gran Turismo.

It’s some time around 5am that the strip lighting flickers into life. We take our cue, pack up and beat a hasty retreat, slipping out into the still-black Frankfurt morning. Success: I got the one-on-one I craved and the clarification I needed. This concept is no rush job or cheap shot at short-term publicity – it’s Bugatti’s future laid bare.

Photography: Wilson Hennessy

Author: TopGear
Top Gear is a British television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars, and is the most widely watched factual television programme in the world.