All hail the summit of speed

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Troy — Auto royalty is in Metro Detroit this week. French royalty.

The Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport, one of the world’s fastest and most exclusive cars, is at the Troy Motor Mall through Nov. 10 as part of its national tour. In this strange, COVID-dominated year, the Chiron was scheduled for reveal at the March Geneva Auto Show with likely stops to follow at the New York and Los Angeles shows. But coronavirus canceled them all.

The show car’s North American tour — a year-end LA booking follows Detroit — is the first chance journalists here have had to ogle the hypercar in the flesh. The Detroit News got a rare, up-close look at one the world’s most desired automobiles in the Bugatti showroom in Troy (right next to the Rolls-Royce store). 

It doesn’t disappoint. This is the summit of auto engineering.

Where England’s Rolls-Royce defines automotive refinement, the French-made Bugatti Chiron is the industry’s halo car for luxury performance. The 2017 Chiron was the world’s first 300 mph hypercar, its 8.0-liter, quad-turbo W-16 engine making a colossal 1,500 horsepower and 1,180 pound feet of torque. For 2021 it has gained a ferocious winged track version, the Chiron Pur Sport. Only 60 will be made at $3.6 million a pop.

It’s distinctive mid-engine shape — complete with signature Bugatti horseshoe grille, red logo and C-shaped flanks — bristles with track weaponry: huge rear wing, rear diffuser, front splitter and fat 11-inch front/14-inch rear Michelin Pilot Cup 2 gummy tires. Underneath the carbon-fiber skin are carbon-ceramic brakes, IndyCar-like carbon tub, all-wheel-drive, and a dual-clutch 7-speed gearbox for face-flattening acceleration.

The result is shock-and-awe performance numbers: a claimed zero-60 mph in 2.3 seconds (0.1 second quicker than the standard Chiron), 0-180 mph in less than 12 seconds. When the Pur Sport tested at Circuit of the Americas track in Austin, it was as quick on the back straight (198 mph) as the Formula One cars that race there.

Customers (90% of Bugatti sales are in the U.S.) who want a date with French royalty will get the red carpet treatment. Bugatti only makes hypercars and each is custom-made for its owner.

“No two cars are the same,” said Bugatti North America chief Cedric Davy. “No car gets built without a customer behind it.”

The show car on display in Troy is dressed in stunning Bugatti blue, similar to the Type 35 that made the marque famous by racing to Grand prix glory in the 1930s. The driver? Louis Chiron after whom the hyper-car is named. The number 16 — for 16 cylinders — is emblazoned on the front grille.

But customers can outfit it anyway they like.

“If a customers want to paint it in Michigan State colors, we can match that,” said Davy. “If a woman wants the interior to match her purse, then we can do that.”

Bugatti recently completed a Chiron for a California customer with an interior by Hermes. The collaboration required three years to finish as Bugatti worked with the French luxury goods maker to develop flame-retardant cowhide (not usually required of purse leather) among other details. Typically, however, the car can be built to order in 6-8 months.

Bugatti encourages buyers to come to its Molsheim, France, factory (in the Alsace region on France’s German border) to complete the order. After all, the U.S. tour car is undrivable, its power-plant removed for travel purposes. I could only sit in the beast and dream.

In France customers are marinated in old-world luxury just like in the early-20th century.

Founder Ettore Bugatti offered the Château St. Jean in Molsheim to immerse his clientele in an exclusive experience that included a tour of the nearby factory. Acquired by the Volkswagen Group in 1998, Bugatti’s new corporate parent has recreated the experience.

In addition to a chateau stay, customers can driver the Chiron as well as get a ride-along with ex-Cadillac race driver Andy Wallace as he wrings the Chiron’s neck across the French countryside.

The unique cars — and buyer experience — separate Bugatti from automotive peasantry. In the words of Old Man Bugatti: “If it is comparable, then it is not Bugatti.”

Said Davy: “When VW chief Ferdinand Piech bought Bugatti, he said its brief was to accomplish fourth things: 1) to make a car that hits 400 km/h (250 mph) 2) 1,000 horsepower, 3) 0-60 in under 3 seconds, and then 4) can take your significant other to the opera.”

Bugatti’s first modern effort, the 2005 Veyron, achieved each of these goals. The Chiron takes them to another level.

The car’s interior is Tesla-simple, yet crafted with premium materials. A single instrument display behind the steering heel contains all driver and infotainment details. A wee shifter occupies the console. A karat of diamonds is ground up in the Accuton stereo tweeters for perfect fidelity.

The exterior is shaped for speed — and to feed the hungry monster within.

The 8.0-liter W-16 engine is essentially two V-8 engines stitched together, a big reason this two-door coupe weighs a truck-like 4,400 pounds. With four turbochargers strapped to it, the W-16 gulps 16,000 gallons of air per minute – double that of the supercharged, 717-horse Dodge Challenger Hellcat V-8.

With peak 1,180-pound-feet torque available at 2,000 rpms, the car is frighteningly quick. Even the Chiron’s wheels feature a unique aero design to keep the beast on the ground. Its only peer for sheer speed is the SSC Tuatara, a V-8-powered American startup model that has hit 316 mph.

“This kind of performance can’t yet be delivered by an EV,” said Davy.

And at 10 mpg, it’ll empty the fuel tank almost as quickly as the sticker price empties your wallet.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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Saturday June 11, 2022