My last visit to the United States of America was in the early spring of 2004. I landed at JFK in a freezing wind, clattered in raw metal subway cars up to St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem and proceeded to spend the next few weeks getting hooked on Krispy Kreme donuts, Macintosh computers and a Cadillac Seville with no ass.
The apartment was on the first floor of an old house by St. Nicholas Park, bathed in regular clouds of marijuana smoke wafting up from the street below, visited by the occasional cockroach and heated by a silver-painted contraption seemingly from the early days of the Industrial Revolution.
They say it was a radiator. Perhaps, but it was certainly an awful radiator. You couldn’t trust it at all. During the cold winter of 2003-2004, it let down the apartment’s two permanent inhabitants—Bertalan pictured above, Lili behind the camera—so many times that it became a sad running joke. There were reports of entire days spent shivering in winter clothes and under blankets. Watching exhaled air form clouds as the ambient temperature approached the bottom edge of water in the liquid state.
But all that was forgotten when the radiator came to life. It snorted and hawked and gurgled and hissed, it was a machine from Victorian England living a second lease on life. You never felt safe in its immediate vicinity as a violent steam explosion with shrapnels of red-hot metal flying through the air often seemed imminent. And it gave off ample heat. It dried towels, warmed up St. Nicholas Avenue, it lifted the spirits.
The Bugatti Veyron sounds exactly like that radiator. That, of course, is no great surprise, as Jeremy Clarkson has already described the car in very similar terms in his December 2005 review for The Sunday Times, writing that “the engine sounds like Victorian plumbing — it looks like Victorian plumbing as well, to be honest.”
The Veyron is at 03:07
But it’s one thing to read that in the paper and quite another to stand three and a half years later behind bales of hay in the south of England and hear this modern-day Turbopanzer for the first time. You get used to supercars screaming on the upper edge of the human hearing spectrum and nothing really prepares you for the ultimate of their breed—at least in numbers—to gurgle by as a Victorian battleship, barely exercising the depths of its quirky 8-liter W16 engine. Sounding not like a car at all.
I wonder what Ettore Bugatti would make of this. That the latest incarnation of his lithe French racers is built by Germans to sound like the war machines of the British Empire.
Incidentally, the blue car pictured here is the T-top Veyron, also known as Officially The Fastest Road Legal Production Convertible. It was among the few cars cordoned off from the swirling masses at the Festival of Speed. You could, of course, lean in and poke its polished aluminum wheels, if you had long enough fingers.
I had long enough fingers but restrained myself. But I did lean in to bring you this picture of the Stig's head, which apparently comes on the side of your $2,000,000 purchase:
Photo of apartment with radiator by Lili Mesterhazy.