BugattiGalibier

Yesterday Bugatti unveiled its latest vehicle, the 4-door 16C Galibier Concept at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills to a small invite-only contingency. Before yesterday, the car had only been seen by non-Bugatti eyes once on this Earth — at a private showing at their Molsheim headquarters in mid September. Besides being the first viewing outside a tiny town in France, this was a momentous reveal because it was by all intents only Bugatti’s second significant vehicle presentation in 60-something years (the brand was dormant for a half century until Volkswagen bought its rights in 1998 and resurrected it to be the VW Group’s halo marquee).  In the interim they’ve announced several new versions of the Veyron that basically amounted to different glimmering paintjobs (see Pur Sang, Bleu Centenaire, Fbg par Hermès, Linea Vincerò, Sang Bleu, Sang Noir, etc), and then of course there’s the Grand Sport — but that is just a topless Veyron. And seeing as the Veyron hasn’t changed since its launch in 2005 (or really since its unveiling as a concept in 2000), the big question was where was Bugatti going to go from here?

So it was with more than your average auto-unveil anticipation that we stared at the object enshrouded in the middle of the gallery. Yes we’d all seen images on the net, but cars always have a different impact upon seeing them in person — sometimes better, sometimes worse. When the ice blue cover was finally peeled back, what lay beneath was considerably more impressive than the photos on the web. The allure of the Galibier is twofold: First, the car looks like a Bugatti, there’s just no mistaking it. Its prominent front oval grill howls in full gape, and the polished aluminum front shoulders frame the dark blue hood reminiscent of the Veyron. Then there’s the LED-lined crest that rides from the rooftop down its back to the trunk — a stirring echo from its legendary Type 57 Atlantic forefather. The car pumps pure Bugatti bloodlines, no question. But as stunning as the Veyron and Grandsport are I’ve never been a huge fan of their design. Yes they will twist your neck and cause your jaw to drop on sight, but it doesn’t cause a stirring in the loins — compared to say the Alfa Romeo 8C for example. It’s appeal lies more with brawn and brash than curvaceous comeliness.

Hit the Jump for exclusive photo galleries, full review, and video of the live unveiling of the Bugatti Galibier…

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But unlike the much-derided Porsche Panamera, the Bugatti 4-door translation works. This has a lot to do with the fact that the brand was dormant for a half century, unlike Porsche whose owners have built a deep-seated connection with the 911’s visual cues. Bugatti could almost start completely over with the Galibier, but it chooses not to. It takes what the Veyron started and conflates it with cues from its storied history, the result being a large 4-door car that actually looks like a Bugatti while avoiding looking like an over-fed, distorted mutant of itself (as many claim the Panamera appears).

The giant chrome elephant in the room, however, and the most disappointing aesthetic quality of the Galibier was the unfortunate decision to construct the front haunches out of polished aluminum. I cannot speak for everyone in the room, but for me the chrome effect is disorientingly garish. In this ostentatious color scheme it is not a chariot for Steve McQueen, it’s a whip for 50 Cent. And I guarantee you that is not the market Bugatti has in mind (yes, a nouveau riche Dirty South rapper could probably afford to lease a $300K Bentley, but he certainly can’t afford to throw down Bugatti money — that echelon is reserved for the hedge fund managers and investment bankers of the world.) Any Bugatti screams “Look at me!” like a petulant infant, so there’s absolutely no need to embellish it with full chrome sides. That being said, there were two miniature models in the showroom with different paint schemes and both looked considerably better than their polished aluminum counterpart. The first retained Bugatti’s signature two-tone scheme, but chose a dual-blue combination. The second was all black, but both preserved a polished aluminum C outlining the Galibier’s design accents.

The second positive quality of the Galibier is its attention to details. The car is all fine touches. Outside, the headlights and taillights are embellished with what looks like laser-etched signatures of the Ettore Bugatti initials. Its butterfly hood allows for basic engine upkeep without having to unbolt the entire hood, while all the bolts also sport the EB logo. The rear boasts 8 exhaust pipes — four pipes on either side. In the trunk lies beautiful full-grain leather luggage. Open the suitcase and you will see moments of Bugatti glory etched in its cover, revealing a full set of racing apparel (gloves, jacket, stopwatch, shoes and even a helmet with goggles). And the interior of the car is gorgeous in its subtlety — a burled walnut console runs across the dash, opening up for only 2 gauges: a speedometer and tachometer (the thinking being, who needs to monitor anything in a Bugatti other than power and speed?), fitted center so even your guests in the back seats can see your ridiculous speeds. The same walnut trim runs overhead, and down the center glove compartment. Rich brown leather wraps every other surface, including woven leather headrests. There is even a Swiss-made Parmigiani Reverso Tourbillon watch integrated into the dashboard, which can be removed and attached to a leather wrist strap (more on the Tourbillon watch here). So while the polished chrome exterior distracts with gaudy gleam, the inside is perfection in subtle elegance.

The trunk revealing a luggage set and race apparel

BugattiTrunk

Usually concepts are fully loaded with details that will never see the light of day in production. But one gets the feeling (or perhaps hopes) that Bugatti will preserve these details into production, because the $1 billion question is will anybody in their right mind pay $1.5 million (estimated) for a luxury sedan? For that money you could buy a Bentley Arnage, a Rolls Royce Phantom, a Maserati Quattroporte and a Maybach — and still have enough money left over to buy his-and-her matching Ducatis. Is there any 4-door car worth that sheik’s sum? Sure the Veyron can command such a price — it is an engineering marvel. The fastest production car in the world, the only to break 4-digit horsepower. But the Galibier is 3-times the pricetag of its closest competition, and is there really that much luxury you can add to justify the cost?

The one advantage the 16C Galibier has is it shares the Veyron’s absolutely otherworldly 8-litre 16-cylinder motor. Its engine can churn out between 800 and 1,000 hps, although realistically it won’t match the Veyron’s 1001 hps as it substitutes the Veyron’s four turbos with two-stage supercharging, all channeled to all four wheels using their AWD system. (Famously, Car and Driver reported that the Veyron’s fuel consumption at top speed (253 mph) was a bloodthirsty 3 mpg. At full throttle, that means its entire 26-gallon (100 liter) fuel tank would empty in under 13 minutes! Which may be a good thing, actually, because after 15 minutes at a continuous 253 mph the tires would melt.)

They are targeting a top speed of 240 mph, which would easily make the Galibier the fastest four-door car in the world — but does that justify its Faberge pricetag? That is the question Bugatti executives are asking. Literally. They interviewed all in attendance to not only gauge people’s reaction to the car’s aesthetics, but more importantly to its market viability. In these economically sour times, and even in times of plenty, are there people out there willing to throw down $1.5 million for the most luxurious car on the planet? Production will be limited to only about 500 cars, so they don’t need that many buyers to make it worthwhile. Still, even if Bugatti does decide to go ahead and build the Galibier, don’t expect to see one on the road any time before 2013.

Additional notes:

As a meager environmental tip of the hat, the standard petrol fuel can be substituted with ethanol as an alternative.

The car features rare carbon ceramic brakes

To keep the massive vehicle’s weight down, the structural chassis and most of the body is constructed of aluminum and carbon fiber.

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The official Bugatti Galibier video…

The Galibier making its American debut…

The bloodlines of the forefathers…

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