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Where art thou, Galibier? Managing Editor Phillip Harbor discusses Bugatti's past and present, while gazing into the crystal ball to decipher the French automaker's future.
Bugatti has proven itself a resilient brand and have reinvented themselves over the past decade. They have stayed true to their roots, pairing the most impressive performance in the world with remaining on the forefront of style and design. Bugatti's past is well-documented, though few are aware of it. Their present is the world-beating Bugatti Veyron. Their future is the Galibier super sedan. Or is it? What can we make of a company that has a muddied past, a questionable future, but an undeniable present? A look into the crystal ball usually reveals all.
Founder Ettore Bugatti was first and foremost an artist. Like almost all successful artists, he was a bit eccentric. Founded as Automobiles E. Bugatti in Molsheim, Alsace, France in 1909, the company won many races and garnered plenty of acclaim for their beautiful designs. Typically, Bugatti's artistic background had a pronounced impact on the company's style. The 'Royale' moniker first arrived in 1928 and has a strange history almost as unbelievable as the car was beautiful. True to its name, the large luxury automobile was originally destined for royalty, specifically Spanish royalty.
Interestingly, the car was actually denied to another prominent member of European royalty. The King of Albania ordered one for his own personal daily driver, however Ettore Bugatti said of King Zog that "the man's table manners are beyond belief!" and refused to sell him his elegant machine. Thanks in part to the Great Depression during the 1930s, only six models were ever built. Fast-forward to today, as Bugatti has been part of the Volkswagen Group since 1998. After the success of the Veyron, the Galibier concept debuted at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show. The concept was, as it seemed, ready for production and would proudly wear the reincarnated Royale name.
But it didn't, so the questions is, why not? Bugatti and Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer said in September of last year that the Galibier concept would usher in the "most exclusive, elegant, and powerful four-door automobile in the world." That sounds fantastic, so where is it? Based on the Type 35 architecture used in the Veyron, the all-wheel-drive Galibier concept is the very definition of a super sedan. It could technically be equipped with the Veyron's 8-liter W16 engine, however at second thought a Veyron sedan doesn't necessarily make sense. It's like a vortex to another dimension opening up to a world where everything looks normal but food eats you.
Well, not unless you want to set the record for 'fastest commute ever' to your children's soccer games. The Veyron looks like a beached whale, though it boasts speeds capable of melting rubber into the road. The launch was called off late last year, as Durheimer said that the Galibier concept simply "wasn't outrageous enough." Word now is that the W12 engine is going to receive a power increase, but its supposed 2013 launch date would most certainly have to be pushed back. For a rumored $2.4 million, this super sedan wasn't even close to its originally-intended game-changing standard.
However, according to recent reports that were confirmed by a press release from transmission builder Ricardo, Bugatti has already ordered a further two more years' worth of their award-winning seven-speed dual clutch units. At face value, that means Bugatti is planning on building more Veyrons, likely more special editions for the world market. It's a strange move, as the French automaker's plans for the Veyron were supposed to end after the final 300th Veyron 16.4 was built and sold last June. Case in point: the most powerful roadster ever - the recently-announced 1,200hp Vitesse Grand Sport for the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.
It's possible Durheimer is having the Veyron's 8.0-liter W16 quad-turbocharged system thrown into the Galibier sedan for at least a 1,001hp output and mate it to the dual-clutch unit. Imagine that. Peering into Bugatti's crystal ball, it's hard not to see a super sedan in their future. Starting with a minimum of 1,000hp, the new model, whether it'll be the Galibier or something else, should arrive by 2014 or 2015. For the time being, the automaker will most likely continue to produce special edition Veyrons both with and without the top on (like the Vitesse roadster mentioned earlier).
The crystal ball shows a super sedan lurking in the shadows, but the road to production is long and, as we've seen, filled with my potholes and hang-ups. For a 1,000hp-plus game-changing supercar, it may well be worth the trek.