It seems the only constant at international auto shows these days is a new Veyron special edition. Bugatti has been unloading these Veyron cosmetic packages one by one, in an effort to keep attracting buyers to the decade-old model. The latest such special edition brings a little more intrigue than the average, recalling what Bugatti calls "one of the first ever street legal super sports cars."
The Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse "Black Bess" is the fifth of six Les Légendes de Bugatti (Bugatti Legends) models. What makes this one particularly interesting is that it honors the Bugatti Type 18, a pre-WWI model that featured a 90-hp 5.0-liter four-cylinder engine and chain drive. Founder Ettore Bugatti raced the car himself and seven examples were built, of which only three exist today. According to the automaker, the car was the fastest road car of its time, reaching speeds of 100 mph (160 km/h).
Bugatti sold the VIN 474 Type 18 to famous French aviator Roland Garros in 1913. The model was sold to Ivy Cummings in 1922, several years after Garros died in WWI. She nicknamed it "Black Bess," after the English racehorse, a nickname that has stuck until this very day. Black Bess was auctioned in 2009, selling for US$3.3 million. Today, it's on display at the Louwman Museum in The Hague, Netherlands.
The "fastest road car" of the early 20th century finds its way into the look and spirit of the fastest road car of the early 21st century. The convertible's carbon fiber body gets a black paint job with a 24-carat horseshoe grille surround and gold-painted highlights, mimicking the black-and-gold look of the original Type 18. The tank and oil caps have "Black Bess" engraving and gold paint.
Inside, the Vitesse Black Bess has a mixture of light beige and "Havanna" leathers. The crimson steering wheel is a reference to the bright-red steering wheel of the Type 18 Black Bess, a color that's repeated in the contrast stitching. The interior also includes gold accents and a rosewood shift knob and center console panel. There's also the typical special edition badging.
Easily the most interesting detail of the Vitesse Black Bess's interior is the artwork depicting the original Black Bess and Roland Garros' Morane Saulnier Type H airplane. These pictures are meticulously hand-painted in the leather of the door panels, using a special ink and impregnation process designed to hold up to the tests of time. Each of the six door panels on the three Black Bess editions is unique from the others.
"We have developed a new process for individually hand-painting the leather in the vehicle's interior, the like of which has never been used before in the automotive industry," explains Achim Anscheidt, Bugatti head designer. "The leather and the ink applied by the designer have been technically developed and processed so that they can withstand the stresses inside the vehicle and fulfill the valid quality requirements demanded by modern day production."
As tends to be the case with Veyron special editions, there are no mechanical enhancements, and the Black Bess relies on the standard Grand Sport Vitesse 1,200-bhp 8.0-liter W16 engine. The Grand Sport Vitesse is capable of attaining 100 mph (62 km/h) in just 2.6 seconds and set a world convertible speed record last year.
Bugatti revealed the Grand Sport Vitesse Black Bess at this week's Beijing Motor Show, where it appeared with the original 1913 Black Bess on loan from the Louwman Museum. Only three examples will be made, each running the standard Legends price of €2.15 million (US$3 million).