The Bugatti Veyron doesn’t need an introduction anymore as it was the pinnacle in automotive engineering and the benchmark for all other supercars of the last decade. Despite being on the market for almost ten years, the powerful French car remains one the fastest and most exclusive cars in the world. But the first car which could be regarded as forerunner to the Veyron wasn’t a Bugatti at all — no, it was a Bentley.
It all started in 1998 when Volkswagen went on a buying spree. Within a few months the Germans had bought Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley. One year earlier Volkswagen had presented its own sports car, the W12 Syncro which would be later known as the Nardò. This car with a 5.6-liter W12 engine was initiated by VW Chairman Ferdinand Piëch, who wanted to show that VW could build a supercar as well. But Piëch had bigger plans and now he also had the right brands for it.
At the Geneva Motor Show in 1999 Bentley unveiled a spectacular supercar which would turn out to be a prelude to the Bugatti Veyron. The Bentley Hunaudières didn’t resemble anything the British carmaker had built before. Just as the Mulsanne the Hunaudières was named after a stretch of Circuit de la Sarthe, better known as Le Mans, where Bentley won the race five times between 1924 and 1930. In fact, both cars’ names refer to the same long straight which officially is known as Ligne Droite des Hunaudières, but often is called Mulsanne Straight.
The Bentley Hunaudières was designed by Hartmut Warkuss, who would later become responsible for the Bugatti Veyron as well. The body was made from carbon-fiber and aluminium. Underneath the metallic ‘British racing green’ exterior was a modified chassis taken from the another new member of the Volkswagen Group, the Lamborghini Diablo VT.
The Hunaudières was powered by a mid-mounted, naturally aspirated 8.0-liter W16 engine, made up from two V8s mounted juxtaposed at to each other and coupled to one crankshaft. This engine provided 632bhp and a maximum torque of 760Nm. Power was transferred to all four wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. With these figures, the Bentley was able to sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds while its top speed was limited at 350km/h.
The one-off Bentley was built as a statement of intent and testbed for the engine. The intent became clear when Bugatti presented a few months after the unveiling of the Hunaudières its own super car, the EB 18.3 Chiron, followed by the EB 18.4 Veyron Concept at the end of 1999. This concept would eventually led to the production version of the Bugatti Veyron, which would be powered by the W16 engine which has been debuted in the Bentley Hunaudières. So it could be said that the development of the supercar of the last decade started with this Bentley. What a statement it was!