The Inside Story Of Bugatti’s Greatest Hypercar Yet: The $4 Million, V16-Powered Tourbillon

The 1,800-horsepower Chiron successor is an early contender for automobile of the decade…and the century.

Bugatti’s latest lowers the cabin by more than an inch and adds 400-plus pounds of battery, a masterstroke in design, aerodynamics, weight control and packaging (Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

“We like to say this project is standing on the shoulders of giants,” Frank Heyl pronounces, his silhouette half-blocking one of the most revolutionary cars of the 21st century. With his Tourbillon glowering menacingly in the background, soaked in smoke, the director of design for Bugatti Rimac name-checks, of course, Ettore Bugatti, who founded his eponymous company more than 115 years ago.

Then there’s Romano Artioli, who in the ’90s resurrected the mothballed marque with the EB 110. Lastly Ferdinand Piëch, who after another short nap awoke the Bugatti spirit once again, exhilarating the world with the company’s third swing at existence with the landmark Veyron.

Oden Roberts/@odenroberts, Robert Kerian/@robertkerian

Like the McLaren F1 and the LaFerrari, the tectonic shocks the Veyron quaked the automotive landscape with in 2006 cannot be overstated—the first production car ever to breach four-figure horsepower and surpass 250 mph. All thanks to its simply ludicrous W16 engine, outfitted with no less than four turbochargers and 10 radiators.

Then of course came its successor, the Chiron, a decade later. Updating its landmark W16 powerplant, the Chiron succeeded even further with its sleek visual makeover. While the Veyron suffered slings due to its computer mouse–like profile and simplistic styling, the Veyron stretched, tweaked, pulled and cut the sheet metal to sculpt a hypercar worthy of its absurd metrics.

The gorgeous rear end may be Bugatti Director of Design Frank Heyl’s finest angle (Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

And now, the Tourbillon. Unlike the Veyron, the Tourbillon is not an evolution of its forebears but rather a sui generis species. A clean sheet imagination that doesn’t share a single carryover part from anything Bugatti has built before. Not a single window button, gasket or patch of carbon fiber.

(Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

Physically, anyway. Spiritually the Tourbillon is a thoroughly inspired mélange of a trilogy of models from the French marque’s lore—there’s the performance inspiration from the Type 35 race car, the opulence from the Type 41 Royale and the pinnacle of grace and elegance from the Type 57 SC Atlantic, from which Bugatti’s 16-cylinder bloodline was born.

“The Bugatti Tourbillon boasts not just one quantum leap in automotive biology but two.”

But unlike its modern predecessors, the Tourbillon doesn’t sport a W16—essentially twin V8s merged. Instead the Tourbillon opts for a totally new, designed-from-the-ground-up V16: a mammoth, naturally aspirated 8.3-liter volcano unlike anything this planet has ever seen.

“If it is comparable,” Heyl grins, echoing a famous Ettore Bugatti quote, “then it is no longer a Bugatti.”

As of press time there were few details to share of this powerplant, other than it was developed in partnership with Cosworth. The vehicle was still so secret when Bugatti granted us permission to photograph it deep in the bowels of a guarded Long Beach, California, studio that they wouldn’t even tell us the Chiron successor’s name. The model was still only referred to as simply the “Hybrid,” as Bugatti promised the vehicle would marry electric power to whatever combustion engine they developed.

(Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

What we do know is the massive 64-valve powerplant will eschew any and all forced induction, unlike its W16 predecessor that boasted no fewer than four turbos. A 24.8-kWh battery pack will power a trio of electric motors, one on each front wheel and a third on the rear axle. The holistic concept being the instant twist of the electric motors will provide torque fill until the massive 1,000-horse tsunami of power cascades from the high-revving combustion engine, overall boasting a combined 1,800-horsepower with a 9,000-rpm ceiling. Outlets are reporting 0–62 mph clicks in about two seconds, 124-mph eclipsed in less than five and 249-mph reached in under 25 seconds—a full seven seconds faster than the Chiron. All on the way to an electronically limited 277-mph top speed. Simply bonkers.

The fact they were able to fit this huge motor—more than 39 inches long, making it some 16 inches longer than its W16 predecessor—in a package barely an inch longer than the Chiron is a testament to the blue sky design of the Tourbillon. The overall weight is the same as well, a miraculous achievement when you consider the addition of a 400-plus pound battery pack and electric motors.

(Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

Packaging and weight solutions were accomplished by brilliant innovations, like fixing the seat placement (the pedals and steering wheel adjust instead) and using lightweight organic-looking 3D-printed parts (like suspension sourced from Czinger/Divergent). In place of audio speakers, for instance, the Tourbillon will debut tech that actuates the door panel membrane for sound, essentially transforming them into speakers. For superior aero and center of gravity, engineers submerged the cabin an inch and a quarter lower into the new monocoque, reducing its critical frontal area.

There’s even more storage space, including a custom piece of luggage for the frunk. The odd-shaped suitcase doubles as a secret wink to other owners, a badge of honor identifying you as a Bugatti driver as you stroll through the Belmond hotel lobby.

“The Tourbillon employs a revolutionary V16: an 8.3-liter volcano unlike anything this planet has ever seen.”

“That’s why it’s such a beauty to have a clean sheet of paper approach,” notes Mate Rimac, chief executive officer of Bugatti Rimac. “You can do these things off the white page as you interact.”

But it’s not just the white sheet design; the small size of Bugatti’s development team grants the rare ability to work together intimately and rapidly, with greater creative agility than massive companies. Rimac credits this symbiotic dynamic for the otherworldly results.

“We’re super happy, comfortable and proud that we can call it a development team; it’s not like there’s an engineering team and separate designers,” Rimac reveals. “Through and through we are one developing this thing, and you can see that on the car.”

The stunning interior of Bugatti’s latest masterpiece, a physical manifestation of the “art of watchmaking,” including the chronographlike gauges, titanium machined spokeless steering wheel and crystal glass center console (Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

“It’s not like Mate says, ‘I want a 16 cylinder,’ he creates a package and then throws it over the fence and I put a nice candy wrapper around it,” Heyl adds. “That’s not how it works. We work as one team.”

Another luxury that other OEMs cannot boast is shedding the anchor-like burden of the bottom line. The only way to go about creating such a singular, no-holds-barred, revolutionary, budget-be-damned unicorn under a corporate roof is to lose the suits. You know, the guys who shoehorn a love story into an otherwise great sci-fi movie because a certain test market demo thought the movie could use more romance. It’s the same reason Guns N’ Roses locked out every label goon from the studio when they recorded Appetite for Destruction. Bean counters could ruin any and every human attempt at magnificence.

“So with all these crazy things you see in the car, somebody at some point says, ‘Guys, you cannot do that, it’s too expensive. Dial it back a little bit,’” Rimac shares, the relatively green leader of the legendary heritage automaker seeming almost unaware that as CEO, that bottom line responsibility falls entirely on his shoulders. “And what I’m most proud of in this project is that we didn’t dial it back anywhere—you can see that it’s full throttle, everywhere.”

(Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

Only a marque as svelte as Bugatti could get away with such hijinks in the modern world. We’re talking the rarefied air of the Koenigseggs, Czingers, Paganis and Singers of the world. The atypical company where the quality of the final product out-prioritizes the sobering bottom line of Excel spreadsheets.

Most vehicles are evolutions of a model, modulations of a preexisting segment. For a vehicle to mutate into its own species altogether is an occurrence more rare than discovering a new tribe of Homo sapiens. The Bugatti Tourbillon boasts not just one such quantum leap in biology but two. Allow that to wash around in your brain for a second.

“What I’m most proud of is that we didn’t dial it back anywhere—it’s full-throttle everywhere.”

For while the V16 might get the petrol heads foaming at the mouth, it’s arguably what’s inside that matters most. To ensure the ultra-luxury car’s interior was not outshone by its watershed engine, the Bugatti team crafted the cabin to physically manifest the amaranthine art of watchmaking. The shock in first seeing the Tourbillon cabin cannot be overstated, with an analog complexity that’s difficult to articulate.

Imagine a skeleton watch, with all its intricate detail and wonderment of engineering, exercised across the interior. Embodied in the titanium-machined instrument cluster, the gauges resemble an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak open-worked under glass, so the speedometer needle climbs while tiny gears synchronize behind real sapphire glass. It’s as if “the Arte dell’Orologeria invades the interior,” as Heyl likes to say. Even the battery charge gauge is mechanical, making the Bugatti the only car in the world that delivers electric power data via analog needle.

(Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

It’s not just immensely complicated for the sake of vapid showmanship. Rather like the transilience in horology that was the tourbillion advancement—one invented to mitigate the effects of gravitational pull—Bugatti’s version aims to not only divorce itself from the laws of physics, but from time itself.

The folks at Château Saint Jean are so keen on showing off this revelation that they designed a spokeless steering wheel. Also machined from titanium, the fixed hub wheel bequeaths the driver a completely unobstructed view of these chronograph gauges, no matter what angle the steering is dialed. The consequence of this entire Herculean endeavor is that the Tourbillon is bereft of any digital display (well, nearly—a small phone-size screen automatically retracts for the backup camera and can be button activated for other uses).

In a universe where ultraluxe and hypercar models are increasingly battling for supremacy via number, size, brightness and resolution of digital screens, the sight of their complete absence astonishes like a blow to the head.

The reason for this dearth is simple. iPhones are updated yearly, rendering these technological baubles obsolete in a couple hundred days. Bugattis can never be rendered obsolete; they aim to be relevant for a couple hundred years. Literally. Like a Patek Philippe chronograph, as they say you never actually own a Bugatti, you merely look after it for the next generation.

(Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

Consider this year the French marque celebrates the 100th anniversary of the legendary Type 35. These record-shattering race cars are still being run hard at events like the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, they’re not tucked away in some garage under glass. “It’s without overexaggeration I say we’re making these cars for a hundred years plus,” Heyl argues. “They still need to be relevant in 50 years’ time when they drive onto a Pebble Beach Concours in 2074.”

Taken in totality, Bugatti’s latest magnum opus could be interpreted as work of extreme hubris, the type of action that could kill a legacy brand in one fell swoop. While the entire automotive landscape prepares for a seemingly inevitable all-electric future, killing large displacement combustion engines while sunsetting their entire V12 lineages, here is Bugatti building the 21st century’s first and only V16 powerplant—a naturally aspirated 8.3-liter leviathan at that. And while other manufacturers trip over themselves stuffing their cabins with ever more digital screens the width of the Mississippi, here comes Bugatti eliminating displays entirely, replacing them with Swiss-made chronographs.

“If it is comparable, then it is no longer a Bugatti.”

The mind boggles at the audacity, the arrogance, the courage. Because these are also the decisions that, if executed properly, can open the door to create something of timeless importance. Something truly permanent, something that will be remembered for as long as man goes Vrrrroooom!—be that on the racetrack, highway or mind’s eye.

(Robert Kerian/@robertkerian)

When this risk paradox is mentioned to the young CEO, he pauses for a moment, shrugs. “I don’t know,” Rimac considers. “I guess I tend to surprise people sometimes.”

Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stecher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday. Follow Contributing Photographer Robert Kerian on Instagram at @robertkerian.