Trying to find Beauty in the Veyron.

20140510_152632 The Warren Classic claims to be “the premier event in the Essex social calender“, which astonished me because I had no idea there was an Essex social calendar.  It’s a yearly assembly of the great and the good, those with money, those with dreams and a handful of folk too gormless to have either. There are also cars, many cars, of glorious variety and representing every possible lineage, some with more pedigree than others. One of them was a Bugatti Veyron, without a doubt a towering technical achievement and historical tour de force that may not be beaten in our, or anybody’s lifetimes. It being here gave me my first ever opportunity to spend time in its company, completely without intimacy, of course. Or the keys. But I could look and touch and, you know, maybe get to know the Bugatti more personally. But could I ever love it? 20140510_152552 The career I never had was as a car designer. I studied, studiously, for four years, creating hundreds of pretty sketches, coloured in ever-so-neatly with the felt-tips staying inside the lines and everything, all in the hope of landing a position in one of those studios where everybody has expensive hairstyles and wears black turtleneck sweaters. Alas, at my final university degree show the talent-scouts who would whisk us away to our bright futures were conspicuous in their absence. Certainly, if they were there, I never met one. I have one theory, though, to explain why I never made it as a designer: I can never really tell when something is ugly. If not beauty as such, I can certainly find other qualities of attraction in most things and, especially, those which have been engineered, built or made. When I walk around an air museum I’m naturally breathtaken by the majesty of a B52, the other-worldliness of an SR-71 or the svelte aggression of an F111. But, then, so is everybody else. Walking across the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, I first admire the proven durability of Brunel’s handiwork, then the rugged lushness of the gorge below. Then, upon reaching the other side I look back and wonder if the scenery looks better or worse without the big bridge in the middle of things. The answer is no, it wouldn’t. Though as starkly utilitarian as anything in Iron and industrial brick can be, the juxtaposition of that and the environment it sits in makes for a tableau that is admired, rather than abhorred, by everyone on the planet. 20140510_152542 And so this screed trundles on to reach the Bugatti Veyron. Here is an ultimate of things. An apogee. The nth degree. Its squat, broad shape conceals atomic-grade firepower served up on a plate that only the most stratospherically wealthy can ever hope to lick clean. We all know about it, every living being has been exposed to vacuous documentary films on three-digit TV channels telling us everything “you need to know” about the “fastest car in the world”. You can’t escape it. And that’s where, for me, the problem lies. Regardless of any subjective evaluation of beauty, which is clearly in the eye of the beholder and my contact lenses are probably way out of prescription, I’m just not happy with the way it looks. It’s perfectly OK. Good looking, in fact. It just doesn’t feel like you’re in the presence of the Ultimate Anything. The answer given by Those Who Know, or claim to, is that the beauty of the Veyron is that of the sum of its parts. Total, no-holds-barred, engineering excess. Precision heaped on top of perfection embellished with correctness. And it’s indisputable; witness the column stalks that cost more than any entire car I’m likely to ever own and of course the very fact that it can churn out its thousand horsepower on a daily, hourly basis, without fuss or bother. Its what it’s supposed to do. This is no highly-strung, tuned to an inch of it’s life, “blow the welds off the intake” pub bragging rights medallion man special edition, but simply a car designed for those who need a car with a thousand horsepower. QED; it’s just a car. And however impeccable the ingredients are individually; they just don’t all look very nice. Why, when developing the best headlamps in the world, did they choose to make them look like they came from a 2001 Passat? The wheels are styled to resemble those by Bugatti seventy years before. Why not look to the future, rather than the past? It’s things like that which infuriate me and make me want to kick one of the panels hard to leave some of my own imperfections but, ahem, I resisted. I also noted smugly that the grille material in the side intakes is just, well, generic expanded perforated metal mesh, not knitted from titanium strands. Or if it is, it’s been cunningly disguised as something hugely inferior. I have stood beside Saturn rockets which have been into space, and felt myself dwarfed and rendered insignificant. [EDIT: It has just been revealed to me that the Saturns of Kennedy Space Centre are, in fact, not space veterans at all…. I was 13 when I visited Kennedy and was probably in a bit of a trance when I was there. Cool Neoplan buses from the parking lot, though...]  That is the effect the Veyron should have on me too, being that the concept, the engineering, the things that the Bugatti can do all blow my mind. It should, by rights, look out of this world. 20140510_152612 The one design feature on the Veyron which could cause involuntary twitching of private muscles is found out back, where the machinery penetrates the flesh and vital parts of the induction system are brazenly exposed for all to observe. I’m possibly the world’s foremost advocate of mechanical components being put out there for visual consumption; the differential hanging out below the rear valance of a 288 GTO, glinting away at you like some bejewelled g-string; the wanton complexity of a Bimota Tesi’s steering system, even the unhidden hinges on an FJ LandCruiser. They all appeal to me, whether thought of as a visual link between the vital systems inside and the neatness and sculpture on the exterior, or like the GTO, reminding me of a bewilderingly attractive woman in the middle stage of undressing. The design argument for the exposed innards on the deck of the Veyron was that an engine cover would simply add more unwelcome weight, and the car could manage without it.  Of course, the real reason for absence of a cover is purely to show off. Of course, if my car had a sixteen cylinder engine I’d be very tempted to throw the bonnet away so I could drown in public admiration. But that would be rather a crass, rather uncultured thing to do. Quite Essex, actually. 20140510_152620 That historic behemoth the Bugatti Royale, biggest and bestest car that ever there was, never exposed itself in public. The engine, all 13 litres of it, with refinement, advancement and ability hitherto existing only in fantasy, was jailed beneath a simple but beautifully constructed hinged cover. It produced its awesome power in silence and and without drawing attention to itself, aside from that inspired by the monumental levels of shove experienced by the car’s occupants. This was the way that Ettore, Mr B, the great man himself, wanted it to be. That was the ethos behind Bugatti’s then flagship. Nowadays, the name Bugatti, the contrived horseshoe grille and the years of history have become a mere brand name. The Ultimate brand name. That makes me a little bit sad. Fortunately, redemption comes from the fact that the Veyron, for all its incredibleness, is completely irrelevant. Yes, it stands as the zenith of what is possible with wheeled personal transportation, but the people it is likely to transport are so sparse in number as to be inconsequential. No technology will ever trickle down from this to the cars that you or I might ever drive. As an engineering exercise it remains beyond reproach in terms of achievement when development budget has no limit, but rather than representing the automobile, the Veyron parallels it. Far from being Just A Car. It’s not even a car. But I’d still sell my own knees for a chance to drive one. 20140510_152603 [Images Copyright Hooniverse/Chris Haining 2014]

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