This Is How You Buy a $3M Bugatti Hypercar

You don’t just pop by a dealership and write a check.

byNicolas Stecher| PUBLISHED Aug 29, 2016 7:34 PM
This Is How You Buy a $3M Bugatti Hypercar

As your Gulfstream gently skids to a stop in Alsace, France, you're greeted by a Bentley Mulsanne waiting for you on the tarmac. A nice first touch, but the true Bugatti Experience begins only when you approach Château St. Jean—after all, in order to pass through these gates, one must be personally invited.

Slipping past a wrought iron fence, you stop before a gigantic stone gateway with all the grandeur and gravitas of the Arc de Triomphe. Shingled in bright green ivy and guarded over by the patient statue of John the Baptiste, this is a portal specifically built to transport you to a land of uncompromising excellence; it must be so, because you are here to purchase your new $3 million Bugatti Chiron hypercar. To select its many leather-wrapped flourishes and carbon fiber baubles with the same precision and deliberation usually reserved for royal weddings.

Home to the Bugatti family since Carlo moved them here from Italy and built the grand house in 1856, the Château and its entire estate underwent a massive reimagining-slash-facelift between the time Bugatti ceased production of the Veyron and birthed the Chiron. And it's more than a cosmetic gesture—this is the very soil where, from 1909 to 1939, Carlo’s son Ettore built the fastest cars on the planet.

As you open the limousine doors, a coterie of Bugatti SAS dignitaries awaits to escort you into the Château, to be debriefed on all things Bugatti. Here, they will tell you splendid stories of the Bugatti mythology—stories that underscore not just what perfectionists Ettore and his son Jean were, but also of their prescience. How Ettore trained his people to build technical marvels, and led the industry in chassis- and engine development in the 1920s. How he won the first Monaco Grand Prix, and secured over 2,000 victories with his Type 35, making it the winningest race car in automotive history. And how, when he couldn’t find the exactly right piece from a supplier, be it gloves, vices, or a bench, he would build it himself. Throughout his life, Ettore was obsessed with doing things his way, including revolutionizing the entire Grand Prix experience by being the first to provide a hospitality tent with private chefs, so mechanics could work in the shade, drivers could relax in comfort, and journalists could enjoy a luxurious respite. The man applied for nearly 1,000 patents during his lifetime, and even the factory gate, a short walk from the Château, was a technological wonder, outfitted with a special mechanism activated by his horse’s snout so that his steed could open the door for him.

(Did you know Ettore Bugatti conquered the air and sea as well as the land? It's true. His 300-horsepower Royale engines not only powered planes and boats, but when car sales slumped, instead of cutting his labor force, he used those gargantuan 12.8-liter lumps to power a 130-mph train in 1936. That stylized, aerodynamic wonder was a record-breaker, too.)

When the brand catechism is finished, you walk through the Remise Nord’s “Classic Car Experience,” where you can gently lay a finger on some of the automotive masterpieces you just heard tales of. A Type 35 and Type 51 can be found here, though unfortunately Jean’s groundbreaking Type 57, which singlehandedly resurged Bugatti’s success, and his masterpiece the Atlantic, cannot.

But enough about history; it's time for the past to make way for the future. And that can only be accomplished by a visit to the Atelier, where the Bugatti team assembles their Über-Maschine on premises, just like they did a century ago. You are led on a short walk through the bucolic gardens to a horseshoe-shaped, aluminum-walled building. As birds chirp in the oaks, the garage door raises and you’re greeted with a room that looks less like a factory than a tech start-up's ideation lounge. Gleaming white polyurethane floor below, music-festival LED lighting rigged above. It is cavernous and lined with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow sunlight to pour in. On one side, summer meadows; on the other, the gilded façade of the Château. The floor is pristine white without a single scrap of garbage, stray wire, or pimple of oil to be found. Squint, and it looks more like a snowfield in Lapland than a manufacturing plant.

In the center of the room a finished Chiron glimmers and sparkles, as if lit from within. Behind it a small cadre of men in white-and-navy polo shirts scuttle around three different vehicles, each in various stages of construction. Mechanicals and electronics are exposed as if caught in mid-vivisection. On a back wall, a flag—half German, half French, bisected diagonally—hangs on the wall, quietly reminding everyone of the area’s hybrid history (Alsace belonged to Germany for 200 years) and also of the French supercarmaker’s German proprietorship.

Soon, your eye will be drawn to a corner of the lab, where one of Bugatti’s 8.0-liter W-16 engines rests on a lift. It's gigantic, seemingly looming larger than a Toyota Yaris.

Fittingly, in the presence of the actual vehicle, this is where you finally begin to learn about the Chiron, the highly anticipated follow-up to the world-beating Veyron. The world’s first thousand-plus-horsepower production car, and the erstwhile Fastest Car In the World, the Veyron was groundbreaking. To call its successor hotly anticipated would be an understatement. And the primary reason for the Chiron’s improvement—that naked W-16—attracts attention like burlesque.

The Chiron is, after all, a testament to apex engineering, the sort of vehicle without peer in the automotive world. In terms of achievement, it's unfair to compare this to other cars; its peers are wonders like the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, Space-X’s Falcon 9 rocket ship, and the Pyramid of Khufu. Objects that not only require the contributions of the greatest living human minds, but that through their execution actually move the species forward.

To wit, the mandate was simple: make the Chiron everything the Veyron Supersport was, except 25 percent, well, more. Adding that much extra performance to any engine is an undertaking; doing it to a 1,200-hp nuclear reactor is another thing entirely. Besides loading the powertrain with titanium and aluminum parts and reinforcing it everywhere, the biggest advancement comes with the Chiron’s four—yep, four—turbochargers. Increased in size by 69 percent, engineers created an ingenious system to counteract dreaded turbo lag: in low revs (under 3,800 rpm) a gate shuts that forces each bank of eight cylinders to shove all their exhaust through a single turbo. This means the turbocharger can spool up more quickly than if it was splitting the air. Once it hits full capacity, the gate lifts on each eight-cylinder bank and the exhaust is evenly split among the four turbochargers.

After more debriefings on aerodynamics, suspension, cooling, braking, and chassis overhauls (of note, the Chiron is now as rigid as a LMP1 prototype racecar) you’ll make your way over to a dyno located in a large alcove off the main floor. Dubbed the “Rolling Road,” the Dyno had to be adapted from airplane manufacturers, because normal dynos can't handle the Chiron’s full 1,600-Nm of torque. It's here where every Chiron will live out its first 60 kilometers, put to the test while any kinks are worked out. Afterwards, each hypercar will log 500 more kilometers on French roads. And because France’s speed limit is a milquetoast 130 km/h (80 mph), the Chiron has to be further tested on airstrips. After all, there are safety and aero features that don’t even wake up until the speedo hits 155.

And then, after all the history and brand-building and pageantry: The test drive.

Even if you’ve been in a dozen Bentleys—and if you're like the average Bugatti owner, there's a good chance you have, since the average Bugatti buyer owns 42 cars—the sumptuousness and meticulous execution of the cabin is staggering. The interior is surprisingly minimal, but graceful; this is what is possible when nearly no limit is placed on materials. Every touch point is of the highest quality, every aluminum knob machine-knurled, the steering wheel milled from a single block of the same metal. The HVAC knobs that run up the thin center stack are each adorned with bright, tiny smartwatch-like OLED screens, and each tweeter outfitted with a 1-carat diamond diaphragm. The leather is soft as a whisper, the stitching precise. The entire dashboard is constructed of carbon fiber, and flaunts its beautiful weave through a shiny lacquer. This isn’t cosmetic surfacing like in most cars—the dashboard itself is a self-supporting carbon fiber structure. There’s so much carbon in the Chiron, if you strung the fibers together they would reach the moon nine times over.

Although the gauge cluster has the requisite digital displays, Bugatti designers insisted the speedometer remain analog, so even when the car is shut off, kids peeking through the window can still see the celestial top speed. It’s the only car in the world where the speedo goes up to 500 km/h, so you might as well show that off, even when the car is napping.

If, after the drive, you've decided to open your vault and actually purchase a Chiron, you are led to the final stage of the Experience: The Bugatti Customer Lounge. Located in what they dub “Remise Süd,” the Bugatti Customer Lounge is a purpose-built A-frame house wherein you will select the various paint finishes, wheel designs, and cabin accouterments that will make your magic carpet as unique as a fingerprint.

Sheer windows on one side bathe natural light onto a Chiron parked underneath, allowing you to take in the organic, muscular beauty of the hypercar’s form. Three design keys punctuate the Chiron’s singularity: first, the horseshoe grille and thin, glaring headlamps—a.k.a. the “eight-eye face”—that lend the hypercar a feral expression. Second is what they dub the “Bugatti Line,” the raised C-panel highlighting the profile. Constructed of polished aluminum, the “C” is not only an homage to the car’s namesake, but also echoes the curvature of Ettore Bugatti’s signature. Finally, the truncated rear end, horizontally slashed by a 1.6-meter-wide light bar. Milled from a single piece of aluminum and housing 82 LEDs, it is the longest such piece in the automotive space, and incredibly expensive to source. If they had consulted accounting, you will be told, it probably wouldn’t have been approved, even in this $3-million unicorn. Consider it Ettore’s middle finger as it disappears into the horizon.

From there you will be confronted with a pile of carbon fiber finishes, a veritable mountain of different leather samples, and enough color swatches to onset achromatopsia. Sitting in an origami-like carbon fiber chair, you will run through the various combinations of the above until you have locked on to your vision of perfection.

You will not face this Herculean task alone. One of Bugatti’s designers will guide you like a Savile Row tailor. The options are dizzying; the leather-topped table looks like the centerpiece of some all-you-can-eat buffet for lunatic robots. To help you visualize your masterpiece, a high-definition screen the size of a professional sports scoreboard displays your various whims with the tap of an iPad, clearly illustrating how the different colors, carbon fiber finishes, rims, and more will come together.

If you have any special requests—and, with this much money at stake, surely you should—now is the time to discuss. A trailer hitch perhaps? (Don’t laugh, it actually happened.) If you want to match your wife's favorite nail polish, or lift the exact emerald-green hue from a Tiffany’s box, they can do that as well. (Be forewarned: it can take weeks to develop a special stitching, or to formulate a custom paint. And it will cost more; the cost of customizing the seatbelt alone can run $70,000, thanks to safety testing.) Hell, want a footprint of your newborn baby integrated into the design? Bugatti cast a 3D silver engraving of such onto the center display for an exacting customer. And while exotic leathers like ostrich are certainly in play, don’t come asking for elephant or leopard skin; even in Avalon, some ethical lines won't be crossed.

Once you’re finally finished, all that is left to do is sign on the dotted line . . . and your Chiron will be delivered in about three years. While it takes five months to build each Chiron by hand, the waitlist is just that long. And when you slip back into that Bentley limousine and head back to your Gulfstream, you should refrain from boring yourself with the mundane question of whether we really need a terrestrial vehicle that can achieve nearly 300 mph. Of course we don't. But we also don’t need a 154-story hotel, reusable spaceships, or millennia-old stone temples for fallen kings. Let’s just keep moving forward, humans, four turbos at a time.