Between the Lines: Jeremy Clarkson on the Bugatti Veyron

Jeremy Clarkson is a one man army. The English auto hack wields barely-judged invective like a malarial Crusader swinging a Damascus double mace, flailing at anyone and anything within reach. Self-deprecation and self-righteousness are the spiked balls in question. While the combination is a clear indication that Clarkson suffers from a bad case of class-related self-loathing, the journalist s deep-rooted insecurities don t detract from the fact that he s superb writer, with an instinctive command over the English language. So, does JC s prose rise to the challenge presented by the world s fastest production automobile, or does the big Bug fling him into a rhetorical cesspool of his own creation? Get your waders on boys

When you push a car past 180mph, the world starts to get awfully fizzy and a little bit frightening. When you go past 200mph it actually becomes blurred. Almost like you re trapped in an early Queen pop video. At this sort of speed the tyres and the suspension are reacting to events that happened some time ago, and they have not finished reacting before they re being asked to do something else. The result is a terrifying vibration that rattles your optical nerves, causing double vision. This is not good when you re covering 300ft a second.
While every other Veyron reviewer felt obliged to bludgeon their readers with a statistic-sodden pre-flight briefing, Clarkson puts us right where we belong: driving flat out. His Times review starts with a slightly arch tone (what Clarkson means by the world getting awfully fizzy is anyone s guess) and a lamentable reliance on passive construction. The writer then tears through the obligatory pop culture reference and power slides to his punch line, based on epic understatement.

It s funny stuff that perfectly reflects JC s brand positioning: Joe Blogs with a WP, who just happens to earn millions by making jokes about/with the world s most exotic automobiles (jets, boats, etc.). Clarkson s second graph extends, underlines and reinforces the I m not really a celebrity, get me out of here! humor.

Happily, stopping distances become irrelevant because you won t see the obstacle in the first place. By the time you know it was there, you ll have gone through the windscreen, through the Pearly Gates and be half way across God s breakfast table.
Clarkson's pithy prose is fun, thrilling, accessible and vaguely educational. It s also not about the Bugatti Veyron 16.4; it's about 200mph+ cars OTHER than the Bugatti Veyron 16.4.

Those of you who ve been reading our Veyron series will know that every reviewer has praised the Bug s Gulfstreamesque high-speed stability. But that's not particularly funny, and funny is to Clarkson what Ashley Simpson is to Ashley Simpson's stalker (assuming she's NSYNC with that Hollywood trend). Clarkson makes us wait until the middle of the review for his actual seat-of-the-pants driving impression. And when it comes, it's over so quickly that even the lateness of the hour can't ameliorate the charge of premature recapitulation.

On a recent drive across Europe I desperately wanted to reach the top speed but I ran out of road when the needle hit 240mph. Where, astonishingly, it felt planted. Totally and utterly rock steady. It felt sublime.
By spending so much time describing a "normal" two ton capable supercar, and then wandering off into the standard "difficult gestation" shtick, before finally getting to the meat of the matter, Clarkson betrays his willingness to sacrifice journalism for artistic effect.

It s not the first example of Clarkson s unabashed show boating, nor the most lamentable (plagiarism), nor the most reprehensible (a televised Nazi salute). And I m not saying Clarkson regularly strays from the point (although he does). But the reviewer's limited attention span for things automotive- covered by his ingenious wit- ultimately impedes his ability to capture and convey the soul of the beast. We're constantly amused but not consistently informed.

There are also some niggling questions about Clarkson s accuracy and, thus, integrity. For example, I reckon Jeremy has driven the Lamborghini Murcielago, RUF R-Turbo and Brabus anything (save the SMART) above 200mph- all of which are perfectly docile at those speeds. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to name a modern 200 mile an hour supercar that isn't stable at V-max. And which Queen video jiggles uncontrollably? And does this guy in paragraph 11 really exist?

God, it was hard, said one of the engineers I know vaguely. The gearbox in an F1 car only has to last a few hours. Volkswagen wanted the Veyron s to last 10 or 20 years. And remember, the Bugatti is a damn sight more powerful than any F1 car.
Does it matter? Plenty of Clarksonians will have my guts for garters for suggesting so. For them at least, the more important issue in the early section of Clarkson s Veyron review is the author s less-than-sterling attempt to gee-up an enormous amount of numerical information. It seems that even the great Clarkson can t find an entertaining way to package the statistical overload engendered by Bugatti s top gun. Sorry JC; football pitches per second just doesn t cut it.

We get back on track, somewhat, in paragraphs 25 - 27:

Not quiet, though. The engine sounds like Victorian plumbing it looks like Victorian plumbing as well, to be honest and the roar from the tyres was biblical. But it still felt brilliant. Utterly, stunningly, mind blowingly, jaw droppingly brilliant.

And then I reached the Alps where, unbelievably, it got better. I expected this road rocket to be absolutely useless in the bends but it felt like a big Lotus Elise.

Occasionally, if I accelerated hard in a tight corner, it behaved strangely as the four-wheel-drive system decided which axle would be best equipped to deal with the wave of power. I won t say it s a nasty feel or dangerous. Just weird, in the same way that the duck-billed platypus is weird.

Fans of the man will tell you: this is not classic Clarkson. His adjectival list is only marginally better than Patrick Hong s un-be-liev-able incantation in Road & Track s Veyron review. The [supercar name here] handles like a big Lotus Elise thing has been done to death (by me, amongst others). Comparing the Veyron s handling to a duck-billed platypus isn t funny, it s just weird. And not to belabor my point about editorial accuracy (much), the Veyron s engine does NOT look anything like Victorian plumbing. To be honest.

We can, at least, give Clarkson credit for cruising to his finale with a bold statement of his literary limitations:

I also cannot tell you how good this car is. I just don t have the vocabulary. I just end up stammering and dribbling and talking wide-eyed nonsense. And everyone thinks I m on drugs.
Now there s a funny thought: Clarkson on drugs. Yeah right. I bet this scribe has a strictly pint-sized drug habit. I doubt he s ever ingested anything harder than a line of cocaine, which, given Clarkson s rampant egomania, is a distinctly bad choice. But you know what? I d like to see Clarkson drop a tab of LSD, and then drive the Veyron and write about it.

Clarkson needs something to take him away from his insatiable desire to be loved, to lift him out his Little Englander strait jacket and set his talent free. Otherwise, like most bullies, he s destined to be nothing more than a bragging buffoon who ultimately caves to anything and anyone more respectable . Why else would the xenophobic hack conclude his Veyron review by ceding props to both Arabs and Germans?

Other cars are small guesthouses on the front at Brighton and the Bugatti is the Burj Al Arab. It makes even the Enzo and the Porsche Carrera GT feel slow and pointless. It is a triumph for lunacy over common sense, a triumph for man over nature and a triumph for Volkswagen over absolutely every other car maker in the world.

Anyone remember this line from the Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact: So tell me, how s your slut sister? Hey Jeremy, if you re gonna be nasty, for God s sake man, be nasty like that.

RF

Bugatti Veyron [Times UK]

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; Between the Lines: EVO on the Bugatti Veyron [internal]