Bugatti needs scary fast Veyrons to fly off the lot

Volkswagen has a peculiar problem: It needs to unload some 62.5 million euros ($84.9 million) of Bugatti Veyron supercars. Soon, preferably.

Bugatti started selling its only model, the Veyron 16.4, back in 2006. It limited the number of coupes made to 300. It later added two convertible variants, the Grand Sport and Grand Sport Vitesse, and capped those at 150.

The coupes sold out in 2011. But about 40 convertibles remain unsold, with prices of 1.435 million euros for the Grand Sport and 1.69 million euros for the Vitesse. (The Vitesse is more powerful, and sales are generally evenly divided between the models.) The company won’t move forward with a brand new automobile until all have sold out, executives say.

Import taxes, transportation and custom options are extra. And the cars generally are not built until ordered. In the case of the Vitesse, how does one move a $2.3 million to $3 million car out the door, anyhow?

You bring the car to the customer. The company has put together four regional events around the United States this year, offering test-drives of the 1,200-horsepower Vitesse convertible, both on open roads and a closed airport runway.

“The Dynamic Drive Experience is attracting individuals who haven’t been exposed to our brand before, other than possibly reading about it,” said John Hill, sales director for the Americas. “We bring the car to a location near them.”

Hill said the program is being offered to 20 to 25 prospects per weekend of the program.

I traveled to Palm Desert, Calif., at the end of January to attend an example of a customer drive. It was a chance to talk to executives and to again kick the Vitesse’s 75,000-euro tires. (I’ve driven both the Vitesse and the Grand Sport convertible, with 1,001 horsepower, on other occasions.)

Driving a Veyron in anger should be on every car lover’s bucket list. The car’s stats are astounding. It is the world’s fastest open-top car, holding the world record of 254.04 miles per hour (408.84 kilometers per hour). Standstill to 100 mph happens in less than five seconds. Give it wings and it could fly to Europe.

Still, in the rarefied world of hypercars, the need for salesmanship is a bit unusual. Brand-new supercars like Fiat’s $1.4 million LaFerrari (capped at 499 vehicles), and McLaren Automotive’s $1.15 million McLaren P1 (375) are already sold out, according to the respective companies.

In Ferrari’s case, only select customers were invited to have the option to buy.

“The LaFerrari is a gift to our most loyal customers,” Marco Mattiacci, president and chief executive officer of Ferrari North America, told me last year in California.

Complicating matters, there is no new Bugatti model on the immediate horizon.

“There will be no introduction on any new model until the Grand Sport and Vitesse are sold out,” Hill said. “Even though we estimate we’ll be sold out within 12 months, I wouldn’t expect an announcement for a couple years down the road.”

Essentially, Bugatti is a car company without a car.

(And if you’re looking for a deal, you might find a used Veyron. Hagerty Price Guide Report estimates that a 2006 coupe in excellent condition is valued at less than $1 million, and a beat-up example at less than $800,000.)

Standing in the harsh California light, checking out the same orange Vitesse that I’d tested in Connecticut two summers ago, I was reminded of the unvarnished truth: The Veyron is not a sexy car. It’s got presence, but the rounded front end is devoid of the sensuality found in the Pagani Huayra or any Ferrari.

Rather, it is the RoboCop of supercars: all intent and aggression, no softness or empathy. Its express purpose was to shatter world records, which it has done, soundly. But it doesn’t handle as spectacularly as a number of less expensive cars, or wow you with a super-sumptuous interior. This is a one- trick feat — blinding, unrepentant speed.

One of the only places where you can really stretch the Veyron’s boundless legs is Bugatti’s own test track in Ehra-Lessien, Germany. On our test-drive, colleagues and I made do with a taxi runway at a regional Palm Desert airport. It wasn’t especially long, just enough distance to get to 170 mph and back to a safe speed. That might sound impressive — with any other car.

Here is the select instance when the Veyron outpaces fellow hypercars. That incredible top speed of 260 mph can be achieved with the roof off. Your scalp won’t be sheared away at terminal velocity, and you could probably still hear your passenger screaming. Impressive.

Achieving triple digits is foolproof. (Though knocking into something at those speeds isn’t. Remember, immovable objects approach in an eye’s blink.) From a dead stop at the edge of the runway’s pavement, I clicked into drive and feathered onto the gas.

When the tires hooked up, I mashed the throttle. The 8-liter W16 engine is located in the center of the car, behind your head, and it has four supersized turbos attached. The sound of those turbos breathing like a breaching whale is a Veyron trademark. The only similar sound would be a seat on the wing of a Learjet.

Then the task is as simple as keeping the steering wheel straight and your eyes down the road. A couple seconds in, you realize that you’ve been holding your breath, waiting for that moment when the revolutions-per-minute are near redline and the car changes gears, and everything relaxes for an instant as the revs build back up.

That doesn’t happen in the Bugatti. There’s no take-a- breath pause. Speed continues to build and build and build. A portion of your reptilian brain cries out in protest.

In my opinion, that’s what you’re paying for in the Veyron: That thrill/terror, peeling back layers of rational thought. Whoa, whoa, whoa! The first time I drove one I said it is twice as fast as a fast car, and that still holds true.

On the runway, I flashed past orange cones that Bugatti personnel had positioned to indicate the place to slow down. I clomped on the brake. The car’s nose bucked downward, striking pavement, and the car slowed from 170-plus miles to an easily controllable speed.

You could replicate that process all day long.

Not long ago I tested another new supercar, the $845,000 Porsche 918 Spyder. Like the LaFerrari and McLaren P1, it uses a hybrid powertrain, marrying the power of electric motors to that of a traditional gasoline engine. (Porsche will produce 918 examples of the 918. It isn’t sold out yet.) Top speed, at 214 mph, is less than the Bugatti, but it is more dynamic overall, from its ability to operate in all-electric mode to its super- sharp handling.

In 2006, the Veyron represented the height of sports-car automotive engineering. Now I wonder if the next evolution of supercar technology hasn’t already arrived and surpassed it. I asked Hill why a customer would buy one of his cars now if they hadn’t already.

“The individuals who tend to purchase our cars are big collectors,” he said. “They don’t tend to buy one car versus another — they collect all of the great cars. Someone may buy the latest Ferrari or McLaren, but if they’re not already an owner of Bugatti, they tend to buy Bugatti as well. It’s not an either-or discussion.”

BUGATTI VEYRON 16.4 GRAND SPORT VITESSE

Engine: 8-liter quad-turbo W16 with 1,200 horsepower and 1,106 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds.

Price as tested: $2.8 million.

Best feature: Silly speed.

Worst feature: Already feels as if its time in the spotlight has passed.