With 110 years of history, this is a car for the books

Ettore Bugatti was destined to build cars. First, his name had that certain je ne sais quoi and it looked great on a radiator badge. No disrespect to Ford, for example, but Bugatti really sounded much faster. And the fact that Ettore was an Italian who built his company in France gave the company special cachet. Being from a family of artists was another plus, so perhaps you could say that the Bugatti vehicles were preordained.

With a pedigree stretching back to the early 1900s, Bugatti was the brand to beat on the world’s race tracks, especially in the 1920s. The company’s Type 35B won the first-ever Monaco Grand Prix (1929 — and eight of the 16 cars in the race were Bugattis) and Bugatti vehicles won many other competitions of that era. Like most cars from that time, the brand was built on the back of racing accomplishments.

So, it’s no surprise that the modern-day Bugattis (a company owned by Volkswagen since 1998), all of which are named after the company’s famous drivers from the past, have impressive stats. The initial Veyron had 1,001 horses, and the next iteration exceeded that with 1,250. The Chiron weighed in with 1,500 ponies; now, the Centodieci —unveiled at “The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering” during August’s Monterey Peninsula / Pebble Beach Car Week — arrives with 1,600. (Rumor has it that, as of press time, the Chiron Super Sport will up the ante again. That seems likely, since, as I write this, a “pre-production vehicle of a Bugatti Chiron derivative” beat the world record for production cars by besting 300 MPH on a German test track.) 

Centodieci, as fans of the Romance languages can guess, means 110, which honors the company’s 110th anniversary. The August day when it was announced, the company said that only 10 of these cars would be made, that all 10 had been sold, and that one buyer had bought two of them. As of that date, the announced base price was 8 million euros (about $8.8 million each).

What’s so special about this car? First, let’s look at the design. Thanks to Achim Ancheidt, Bugatti’s head designer from the company’s modern-day resurrection, its design stems from roots in the past (way back to the EB110, the first Bugatti built after the company’s long hiatus: Ettore died in 1947, and the company ceased operations in 1952) before the VW Group bought the company. Yet, the Centodieci benefits from Ancheidt’s strong eye toward the future and his knowing how things function. He can turn a wrench as well as brandish a design pen, as evidenced by the 1920s Type 35 Bugatti that he is restoring himself in his spare time.    

Following the recent Centodieci unveiling, I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Ancheidt. I must say it was one of the most-enjoyable conversations I’ve ever had. He’s an engaging man who exudes the passion befitting the head designer of one of the world’s best-performing and most-storied supercar brands. His design muses include his childhood fascination with cars and how the looks, the sounds, and even the fragrances were deeply imprinted on his impressionable mind. He truly lives and breathes Bugattis. 

Before the Veyron and its successors — and before the VW era — Bugatti was resurrected in the early 1990s by an Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli. His 1991 debut of the modern-day Bugatti, labeled the EB110, was unveiled on the 110th anniversary of Etorre Bugatti’s birthday. It had a V12 motor and could top 220 MPH. To echo the design cues of the EB110 and to stuff it with a W16 motor presented “complex aerothermal requirements,” said Ancheidt. 

The Quail is known for a showcasing a surfeit of superb supercars on the lawn of Quail Lodge & Golf Club, so walking around a small group of EB110s gave Ancheidt the perfect opportunity to discuss and point out the design cues which he has incorporated in all the Bugattis since he commenced designing them: super-clean lines, linear shapes, and the like, clearly influenced by the minimalist Bauhaus-era designs of the 20th century. A rectangle here, a circle there, organized geometric designs comprise the vents and micro-ducts and other items which are the functional parts of the exterior.  Due to the engine and gearbox both being rearward of the cabin, the passenger compartment folds inward, with sloping-in side glass and a swept-back windshield, to better envelop the occupants. 

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the last director of the Bauhaus school, is often credited with the “less is more” saying. (He didn’t originate it, but that’s another story.) It’s hard to say the word “less” in conjunction with any modern Bugatti, given their prodigious power; but, clearly the “form follows function,” a saying credited to Louis Sullivan, an architect who was Frank Lloyd Wright’s early mentor, applies here. Simply put — if you want to shove a land-based vehicle through 300 MPH worth of air and live to tell about it, it must be svelte enough to cut through the wind, yet have enough downforce to keep the rubber side down. In super-high-speed motoring, weight is the enemy.

Ancheidt was tasked with designing the Veyron so that it would offer enough space for a W16 motor (and all the radiators and plumbing necessary to avoid self-immolation) in a package that reflected its ancestors’ genes, looked good, and could hit the speed target (250 MPH for the initial Veyron, which it beat). What he learned from the Veyron he used for that model’s variants and then on the Chiron, the Divo, the La Voiture Noire, and, most recently, the Centodieci. 

The Bauhaus genetics and the form-follows-function mandate are obvious in the gorgeous, new model. For example, the interesting “flying taillights” are comprised of a multitude of red plastic rectangles, each seeming to float in 3D space. They provide both a visual treat to those behind the cars (which will be virtually everyone driving near one) and allow sufficient space between them for an exit route for the copious amount of heat flowing off of the massive powerplant. Of course, there’s the horseshoe grill, seen on virtually every Bugatti for over 100 years. Ancheidt incorporated the famous “Bugatti line” (which, when viewed on the driver’s side, looks like a backwards letter “D” and is often painted a different color from the side panels and doors around it) in the air inlets on the sides, on the pillars just behind the doors. As you can see from the photos, it’s at once a revolutionary design which also is instantly recognizable as a Bugatti.

The Centodieci will be available in whatever colors the buyers choose, but the unveiled model was a deep glossy white which put it in great counterpoint to the luxurious, shiny black of the La Voiture Noir, like “yin and yang,” said Stephan Winkelmann, President of Bugatti. With either of these models, you’ll get a tremendous car, but my favorite is the Centodieci, the beauty of the show and certainly worthy of the company’s 110th anniversary.

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