Between the Lines: EVO on the Bugatti Veyron

EVO is the UK pistonhead's bible. While populist titles like Top Gear, What Car? and Max Power troll the Sceptered Isle's mass-market, EVO remains resolutely high church. Every month, over 60,000 adherents peruse its glossy, over-sized pages to delight in the world's best automotive photography, and absorb the strange cadences of writers dedicated to The Gods of Opposite Lock. It's somehow appropriate that the magazine was started by a gentleman farmer/car enthusiast named Harry Metcalfe. It's equally apt (in a class-bound kinda way) that The Boss would reap what he sowed, grab the Bugatti Veyron keys for himself and write EVO's review of the world's fastest production car.

Rather than focus on the car itself, The Divine Mr. M chooses to begin his review by regaling readers with an apocryphal story about the car's commissioner, an iconoclastic figure much like... Harry Metcalfe.

This car is already the stuff of legend. In the early days of its development, so one of the stories goes, the engineers were struggling to get the power from the engine. So they asked for a meeting with Dr. Piech and suggested it might be easier to launch the Veyron with 700-800bhp and work up to 1000bhp with later derivatives, once they'd figured out how to do it. Dr. Piech fixed them with the famous death-rays, dismissed their suggestion and ordered them out, telling them not to return until the power figure started with a one.

Clearly, Metcalfe wants us to see the Veyron as EVO-on-wheels: the strange fruit of one man's obsessive determination — which is both true and unimportant. Dr. Piech was no Enzo Ferrari, or Harry Metcalfe. The grandson of Hitler's favorite engineer, Dr. Piech was the consummate German technologist: a man whose love of numbers subsumed all emotion, save ambition. Seen it that context, Metcalfe's opening story paints the Veyron in a very dark light indeed.

Anyway, as you'd expect from this sort of grandiloquent opening salvo, the Piechshtick runs out of gas and disappears until the last two 'graphs. Meanwhile, we've got some numbers to crunch. Despite Metcalfe's admission that his pre-flight briefing gave him a bad case of "number fatigue", he feels free to info-pummel us for three 'graphs. Although the first of these eventually reveals an interesting factoid — at full chat, the Veyron burns through a tank of gas in 12 minutes — by the time we've computed all the stats, we too find our "head spinning". Metcalfe "retires to bed". We press on...

EVO's Veyron review begins in paragraph seven, when Harry M awakes from his Sicilian slumber to confront a Veyron threesome. His description of the test car's exterior and interior is entirely worthy, and not a little dull. When he finally fires-up the beast, Metcalfe's prose wakes-up in harmony with the big Bug.
There's a beguiling, multi-cylinder whirl as the starter, located just behind me, whisks the W16 into life, then a wall of mechanical sound reaches the cabin before the giant settles to a busy tickover, the mighty gearbox chattering discreetly beside me within the central console. There's an acute sense of being close to the action. The noise emanating from the engine is just that, though, a busy noise granted, but not a particularly tuneful one - blipping the throttle seems only to raise the noise level, rather than bringing the 16 cylinders into some kind of harmonic order. (From the outside it's rather better; there's a classy, deep and purposeful rumble to an idling Veyron.)

Though a tad dry, this is the best descriptive paragraph we've encountered in our hunt through buff book Veyron reviews. The tacked-on parenthetical reference is entirely unnecessary — it's trite and removes us from the car — but we've finally got a real feel for what it's like to be inside the belly of the beast. We're ready, now, for our literary proxy to put pedal to metal and answer the question posed by EVO's headline: "What'll She Do Mister?"

After a few 'graphs on the Veyron's clutch (easy) and steering feel (connected), Mr. M says, with characteristic English understatement, that "introducing the throttle to the carpet again seems the only sensible option."
Whoaah! As the tacho swings past 4500rpm we're leaving the relative sanity of Ferrari Enzo levels of power and entering the exclusive Veyron zone. 700hp rapidly becomes 800, the engine note grows menacingly deeper, more gravelly as the revs rise ever higher, the acceleration hit intensifying beyond hurricane force as the needle storms through 900bhp and lunges for the final 1001bhp marker. This is an entirely new dimension of accelerative excess, four turbos whistling behind me as the red line approaches, and my eyes are fixed on a previously non-existent corner now fast approaching. Another gear slips home just as I start to ease off for the corner. As the wastegates pop and chatter their displeasure at my lack of commitment, I glance down at the speedo to see it hovering between 180 and 190 mph. Good grief. I'd have guessed 160mph but such is the relentless acceleration the Veyron generates at these speeds, your brain struggles to recalibrate.

Again, Metcalfe's style is all business, but oh, what business it is! Here, folks, is The Holy Grail of car writing we've been seeking: a seat-of-the-pants description of what it's like to thrash the ultimate supercar. The bit about the "previously non-existent corner fast approaching" strikes exactly the right note: matter-of-fact yet highly emotive. The concept of the Veyron expressing its mechanical displeasure at the author's timidity is scary/funny brilliant. Metcalfe's writing lacks any hint of stylistic flourish, but he makes up for his literary limitations with rhetorical economy and keen observation. A farmer pistonhead poet. Who'd of thunk it?

The next few 'graphs devolve into EVO-speak: a handling and mechanical critique that quantifies the Veyron's on-road dynamics. Unfortunately, like the Veyron on anything other than Black Rock Desert, the farmer/publisher quickly runs out of space. He hurtles towards the cover story's conclusion with a stunning summation: the world s most expensive passenger car is not the world's best supercar. The assertion, which perfectly illustrates the substitution effect, lingers between the lines, mind, but there it is.
Choosing the Veyron over these rivals [Carrera GT, Zonda F] is to admit that you're more likely to get your kicks from the Bugatti's pulverising acceleration on the straights, rather than enjoying race-car dynamics through the curves.

Anyone who reads EVO will get the message, loud and clear. Perhaps that's why Metcalfe quickly revisits the Veyron's achievements: gearbox, ride, steering, brakes and build quality. Fair enough, but did he have to go and commit Seppuku in the last sentence? "Whatever its detractors may like us to think, the world is a better place because of it." As far as I know, the Veyron's only detractors are Metcalfe and his Autocar doppelganger Steve Sutcliffe. Metcalfe should have more courage in his convictions and, while he s at it, cut loose a bit. It s not like he s going to get fired, now is it?

RF

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

Related:
Between the Lines: Road & Track on the Bugatti Veyron; Between the Lines: Csaba s Excellent Adventure; Between the Lines: Autocar s Sutcliffe on the Bugatti Veyron; Between the Lines: Motor Trend on the Bugatti Veyron [internal]