In a bucolic corner of France’s Alsace region rises a mansion. Opulent, gilded, and elegant, Chateau St Jean is home to perhaps the most storied carmaker in the world, with a legacy dating back more titan a century.
The supercar mater Bugatti has long defined itself by its unprecedented achievements in engineering — from its debut racecar, the Type 10, in 1909, to the otherworldly Veyron — but no-one has ever seen what’s coming next. In 2017, Bugatti will begin delivering the Chiron hypercar to its billionaire clientele.
The machine will boast an unrivaled 1,500 horsepower, with a price tag that starts just south of US$3 million. With the Chiton, the legendary automaker vows it will reclaim the mantle of world’s fastest car. It promises to be peerless. When one discusses the Chiron’s celestial engineering achievements — from aesthetics to craftsmanship — its equals are better found in other testaments to the exceptional. You could say the Chiron is to automobiles what the Burj Khalifa tower, spiraling 2,716 feet into the Dubai sky, is to architecture: It, too, reaches dizzying new heights.
We visited Bugatti’s ancestral home, Chateau St. Jean, in Molshelm, France, as the powers behind the marque prepared to unleash one of the most anticipated machines of the 21st century. We went to learn not just about the Chiron and Bugatti’s bountiful history but about what it takes to build a legacy and change automotive history in the process.
Carlo Bugatti, born in 1856, was a successful woodworker, jeweller, and furniture maker from Milan.
His youngest son, Rembrandt, shared his father’s creative streak and grew up to be a renowned wildlife sculptor. Carlo’s eldest son, Ettore, entered the burgeoning automotive world and eventually became one of the pillars of the industry. In 1909, Ettore purchased Chateau St Jean. It was there, for the next 30 years, that he envisioned, designed, engineered, and manufactured the fastest cars on the planet.
What spurred Ettore’s early success was his ability to create Grand Prix-level racecars, which he sold to gentleman racers. He then detuned these racecars and adapted them for the street in order to sell more vehicles. Not only did he engineer these machines — securing nearly 1,000 patents in his career — but he also illustrated their lines and shaped their curves, conceiving vehicles that have became among the world’s most coveted and valuable.
One of Ettore’s greatest innovations was considering the car as a single unit. At the time, most manufacturers thought of the chassis and body as separate entities. Ettore perceived them as one, an epiphany that catapulted him to the forefront of chassis development. He crafted vehicles with incredible stability due to their light weight and low centre of gravity. The results were astounding: The Type 10 claimed the top four finishes in its first race in 1909; 20 years later Bugatti won the first Monaco Grand Prix with Ettore’s legendary Type 35. From 1925 to 1931, the Type 35 claimed more than 2,000 victories, and to this day it remains the winningest automobile in auto-racing history.