On The shore — 11 May 2012
Test drive: Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport


Taking off in ‘the most exclusive car in the world’

The white silver Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport – the fastest open-topped car in the world – shines outside the offices of Braman Miami. As one of only 150 Bugatti Grand Sports that will be assembled (in Molsheim, Alsace, in northeastern France), it also has been called the most exclusive car in the world. I have come to give it a drive.

But first I need to know a little about it. U.S. market manager John Hill, and official driver Andy Wallace, a man who has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, walks me around the compact beauty. The car can go, I am told, from zero to 62 in two and a half seconds; its maximum speed is 253 miles an hour. (I immediately start working on my explanation to the Miami-Dade police officer who would pull us over.) At 137 mph, the wing pops up in the back, changing the aerodynamics of the car.

The body is a mix of aluminum and carbon fiber. The brakes are carbon ceramic. Most bolts are made of titanium (which is strong and light); the tires are handmade by Michelin (and cost $35,000 a set). The leather interior is made from the hides of cows pastured in the Italian and Austrian Alps at altitudes so high they’re free of mosquitoes.

Before each car is delivered to its owner – who puts down a $450,000 deposit – it goes through anywhere from 200 to 300 miles of test drives. “You can jump in,” Andy says. “You don’t have to baby it at all.” Though you may be tempted to, considering that its total cost, after import tax and shipping, is $1,980,900.

John opens the hood and removes an industrial strength umbrella that serves primarily as the detachable roof. John and Andy easily fix it into place, then just as easily remove it. (There is no threat of rain.) John says that he takes the car to shows and the umbrella-roof is what everybody talks about.

Andy climbs into the driver’s seat, which is a relief. I need to get accustomed to the rarefied space. And sitting so low. He pulls out, expertly, onto Biscayne Boulevard.

“It’s not one of those cars that’s always bursting,” he says. “It’s very relaxed. If a car,” he adds, smiling, “with 1,000 horsepower can be relaxed.”

We head downtown, and I direct Andy to the entry ramp of I-395. Giving a race car driver directions provides my first thrill. It is soon superseded as we access the highway and Andy demonstrates the Grand Sport’s acceleration. I am thrust back in my seat; the sensation, and to a small extent the sound, reminds me of takeoff. Except that here I am in the open air, eye-level with the door handles of swiftly receding cars. I watch with concern as the space between us and the Toyota ahead disappears in a flash. Yes, Andy had driven Le Mans – but this is Miami.

“It’s so happy in Miami traffic,” he says, reeling the machine in. (If anything in Miami traffic can be happy, I think.) “It has 1,000 horsepower but you can drive it to the theater and have no problem.” He is reiterating John’s remark that the Grand Sport “is a dual-personality car.”

We exit 395 and then get back on, heading east over the MacArthur Causeway. At around 13th and Alton, Andy pulls over and we switch places. We seem to be the only people in the vicinity who are moving; everyone else has stopped to stare. One bystander peppers Andy with questions, which he gladly answers. I fasten my seatbelt.

It’s a strange feeling driving a car that’s worth more than your house. (In my case, a great deal more.) I crawl north on Alton Road, thinking: Don’t worry, it’s happy. It grips the road beautifully on the curve leading to the entry ramp of the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Traffic is heavier than I anticipated, but I am able occasionally to step on the gas, feel the power, whip the wind, scare my passenger. (Fat chance.) At a stoplight back on Biscayne, a young man on a bicycle gives a thumbs-up.

Just imagine his reaction if we’d put on the roof.

—Thomas Swick

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