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Between the Lines: Sports Car International on the Bugatti Veyron

This image was lost some time after publication.
This image was lost some time after publication.

These days, Sports Car International (SCI) is a serious playa. Editor Erik Gustafson has upgraded his publication s output across the board; his glossy car mag now hunts with the big dogs. In fact, SCI s clean-room layout, automotive eye candy and spade-calling editorial make the buff books look like timid, doddering, mutant Chihuahuas. So how does SCI No. 172 tackle the big Kahuna, a.k.a the Bugatti Veyron? While the competition has set the bar at limbo levels, it s up to SCI freelancer Jeurgen Zoellter to show em how it s done. Go Zoellter, go Zoellter; it s your birthday, it s your birthday...

"What s that? Only 250 mph? laughs Bruno when he heard that we had a sports car that goes 252 mph. He points to the wall behind him and says, This thing went more than 700 mph."

Bruno is 83 years old, and lives in Gerlach, Nevada - a miserable, God-forsaken place located in the Black Rock Desert. He looks as though he prefers the feel of sand on his skin to water. Bruno owns a bar, the only gas station and the only motel in town. Visitors must come to him unless they want to sleep under the stars. That thing he s referring to in the photo is Thrust SSC - two Rolls-Royce airplane jets on wheels with 110,000 horsepower. On October 15, 1997, British Royal Air Force pilot Andy Green broke the sound barrier in Thrust SSC on the dry lake bed behind Gerlach - the first to do so on land. Faster than sound, declares Bruno, as he turns around and leaves the room.


Clearly, Zoellter knows his way around early Tom Wolfe and [the] late Hunter S. Thompson. Zoellter s scene-setting line is at least as powerful as anything his spiritual predecessors put to printed page. The line about Bruno s desert-friendly epidermis is achingly lyrical, in a magnificent Hemingway. We know exactly where we are (in the middle of fucking nowhere) and why we re there (to drive the big bad Bug flat-out). And yet

Zoellter s lead is a stat-heavy, dissing digression that lets the air out of the Veyron s tires before it turns a wheel. The world s fastest production car as a wimpy man s Thrust wanna-be? Desert-blasted Bruno may be a gift from The Gods of New Wave Journalism, but Zoellter would do well to remember Jim Croce s advice about Superman s cape, and the inadvisability of tugging same.


Saying that, a writer with sufficient focus could work this back end of infinity and beyond! theme to some effect. No such luck. Zoellter s prose quickly devolves into standard-issue, fastest, most powerful, most technologically sophisticated sports car of all time mode. Been there, read the press release, visited the website.

Still, comments like We feel like we re part of the complex machine itself - a single screw within a cocoon of high-tech engineering signals that SCI s proxy chafes against the bonds of trad car hackery. Well, that and his inability to wield a metaphor with suitable precision (a screw within a mechanical matrix would have been a more accurate — not to mention pleasurable — expression).

As Zoellter enters and helms the Veyron, the editorial we has no trouble finding words to describe the experience. Unfortunately, Zoellter puts the prose in prosaic.

We fly toward the horizon as if flung from a slingshot.

What happens to the driver is comparable to what an F1 pilot is subjected to, especially if you ve engaged the launch-control function to get the full accelerative orgy. Your neck is pressed against the headrest, your stomach against the spine. You have trouble keeping contact with the steering wheel, pedals and reason. In just three blinks of an eye, the speedometer springs past 100 km/h (62 mph). Only 2.5 seconds have passed. Even a superbike would be left behind. Another three blinks and you ve reached 200 km/h (124 mph). The stopwatch reads 7.3 seconds. If you haven t yet lost your mind, you re quickly flying along at 300 km/h on your way to an electronically governed 375 km/h (233 mph).


Zoellter s writing is rife with clich : slingshots, F1 pilots, superbikes, eye blinks, the lot. In the midst of all that, flashes of weirdness indicate that something s slightly askew. The idea of Veyron-induced insanity is plenty peculiar, but not as strange as Zoellter s passively constructed cadences. In fact, I wouldn t be surprised to learn his Veyron review was translated from German, in an augenblick.

After significant amount of Bugatti info-pummelage and a bit more eye blinking (related to braking distances), SCI s Bugatti review gets started. Paragraph 23 takes us back to the desert. There s the now obligatory exclamation mark ( Alright let s drive! ) and then, finally, a bit more poetry.

Absolute quiet hangs over the desert floor. There s not a single plant to entice birds or insects. Only slowly does the sun warm this desolate atmosphere, but the sight of the Bugatti raises our spirits. Nearly 20 miles of dry lake bed lay before us. Ironically enough, given the firepower we have on hand, this section of the desert was once used as a Naval air gunnery range.

The Bugatti quickly gains speed as it cuts two furrows in the desert floor and leaves behind an imposing trail of whirling salt and sand. Tire noise is hushed, the steering gets light, the tires lose their lateral grip and the drive becomes tense. The speedometer needle flashes past 250 km/h (155 mph), but swings noticeably slower past 300 km/h. Then comes 340 then 350. Suddenly there s nothing left. Still under full throttle, the Bugatti feels as if it s run into a wall at 350 km/h (217 mph).

A glance at the horsepower gauge to the left of the speedometer reveals that the mighty engine isn t making full power; the needle has stalled at 900. At 1,200 meters [3,900 feet] above sea level, it s impossible to get more than 900 horsepower, acknowledges Schreiber once we ve emerged from the cockpit. In addition, the rolling resistance caused by the tires sinking into the desert surface is enormous."

And what happens at such speeds when the Bugatti becomes unstable because of a driver error? After all, that s what we re here to find out. A quick but strong tug on the wheel is enough to knock the supercar off its tracks. An equally brief but hefty dose of adrenaline later, the ESP stability control system engages. We hear two brief rattles from somewhere deep in the chassis, and for a few moments, speed drops as fuel is cut off. Stability regained, the gas flows again. The Veyron passed the test.


Ah. SCI s First Drive in America was actually a high-speed Veyron stability test, probably conducted before the Sicilian lunch — I mean launch — and embargoed until now. Never mind; the author s exploration of ESP makes a Hell of a story; you know, once we get there.

If only we d gotten there sooner. If only Zoellter had made more of this episode, feeding it to us with strict linearity, informing the experience with his obvious flair for drama and location. But by this point, there s only one more graph to go. Craggy Old Bruno gets the nod, of course, to satisfy the demands of the circle of life conclusion.


And then there s a bizarre epilogue. It s the kind of statement that makes a perfect ending, provided you ve spent every previous sentence leading to it. Zoellter didn t, but I wish he had.

Sitting in his bar in the middle of nowhere thinking about the new automotive frontier we ve just entered, we re reminded of a sign in town that reads: Where the pavement ends and the West begins.




Rolling Thunder [Sports Car International]

[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.]


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; Between the Lines: Jeremy Clarkson on the Bugatti Veyron [internal]

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