The roaring naughties was a decade of boom and bust and rapid technological advancement. It was a decade of superlatives which needed a car of superlatives to properly document the era of the automobile in museums of the future.
The Bugatti Veyron fulfills this role better than any other car: it is the automotive movie star on the silver screen of the early 21st century. Other cars in this decade have broken records or influenced our collective psyche, but the Bugatti Veyron is unmatched in its unique ability to so accurately capture the essence of a decade.
The Veyron is the undeniable pinnacle of fossil-fuel automobile technology. The dream of VW chairman Ferdinand Piech, it set out to be the car to end all cars. In this regard, it has succeeded. The Veyron represents a type of car that will never be seen again: it punctuates (with an exclamation point) the cheap fossil fuel era. 16 cylinders, 8 liters, 4 turbochargers, 10 radiators, 1000 horsepower, 253 miles per hour, 1.7 million dollars. The numbers are so extreme that there are hardly any relevant frames of reference.
"Our Concorde Moment"
James May, who famously drove the car to its top speed at Ehra-Lessien, described the car as "our Concorde moment". It is a keen insight that captures much of what makes the Veyron such a significant symbol of our time.
The Concorde could only have been conceived when it was and, much like the Veyron, it will never be seen or matched again. Also much like the Veyron, its long term impact on the industry is questionable. In its time it was hugely significant, epitomizing the momentous acceleration of global transportation, but its long term influence on modern aviation is not obvious: the supersonic commercial flight era is over and likely will not return in our lifetimes. It's reign was ephemeral. The veyron will enjoy its seat on the throne for years to come but it will one day soon exist only as a museum display much like the decommissioned Concordes.
"David Hasselhoff Eating a Cheeseburger"
The Veyron was subjected to the experience of the new media of the 21st century. The Veyron as the movie star is the target of both citizen and journalist paparazzi harassment. From spy shots during development to the first examples spotted on the road, car enthusiasts devoured the media surrounding this car in a way only made possible by the internet. In the same way we collectively stare at the ongoing train wreck of celebrity culture, we are in awe of the destruction of these machines (wrecked exotics). Captured effectively in the South Park Episode "Britney's New Look", we idolize celebrity figures then collectively celebrate in their demise. The infamous video of a Veyron crashing into a lake, dubbed the "Zapruder Film for car guys", is a projection of this phenomenon onto a consumer product. This event generated enough fascination to allow it to transcended the automotive blogosphere and receive coverage in the mainstream press including SportsCenter. Spotting one of these machines is as rare an event as spotting or meeting a celebrity, and the experience is much the same.
The Burj Khalifa is the last hurrah of Dubai's golden age much in the same way that the Bugatti Veyron is the last hurrah for the golden age of the automobile. Born in times of great prosperity, both are now relics of an unsustainable epoch. The German designed car built under a French marque will be forever linked to the image of Dubai's meteoric rise. If there is a city of the decade, it has to be Dubai. Its architecture of excess, which seemed materialize out of thin air, was plastered all over the internet, tv, and in magazines, becoming a household name in the process. The Veyron is very much at home here among the towers, cranes, and billionaires. It is a city where it wasn't even about being able to afford an exotic car but being able to buy your way to the top of the waiting list.
"End of the World Party"
First debuted as a concept in 1999 the Veyron set out to be the ultimate record breaker, the crowning glory of VW and indeed the automobile industry. The Veyron is Volkswagen's end of the world party: they saw this decade as their last chance to build the ultimate car no matter the cost. The Bugatti Veyron embodies the decade when we lived as if there was no tomorrow. Perhaps the events of the decade - 9/11, the wars in the Middle East, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the prospect of catastrophic climate change, impending pandemics and the threat of peak oil - created a sense that the outlook was grim and we would have to party like it was 1999... for a decade. I can see Piech convincing the Board of Directors to fund the development of the project much in the same way that Louis DiMucci attempts to trick his sweetheart Sharon into losing her virginity to him by convincing her the world is ending (Do it for America.)
We all knew that it wasn't really the end. We convinced ourselves of the apocalypse myth to justify our excesses and disregard for consequences. The same justification was used by those who bought the $1.7 million machine without blinking an eye. They did business like there was no tomorrow and they spent money like there was no tomorrow. Indeed, the crash of '09 proved to be a self fulfilling prophecy, much like climate change will be. The notion that we won't be able to use fossil fuels in the future only propels us to burn them as quickly as we can. There is no better car to warm the planet than the Bugatti Veyron.
The world has ended but we are still here. We step out of the totaled Bugatti without a scratch and hitchhike along the desert highway into a new decade.
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