Bugatti Veyron. Born 2005. Engineered in Germany by Volkswagen. Built in France. Legendary for its sledgehammer spec, for costing more than $1.5 million, for its 252mph top speed and 2.5sec 0-60mph time.
Bugatti EB110. Born 1991. Engineered in Italy by an elite group of designers and technicians. Legendary for its sledgehammer spec, for reviving the defunct Bugatti name and for Michael Schumacher's lengthy ownership of a SuperSport.
But while both might wear Bugatti logos and look out of place in a supermarket parking lot, do the EB110 and Veyron really have so much in common? They come from unrelated enterprises, one defunct, the other flourishing. Their styling is tangentially linked at best and their prices and performance are separated by a gulf as big as the one you'll find between an Audi TT RS and an R8 V10.
Yet they have more in common than you'd imagine. Both are built around carbon fiber tubs, are powered by generously cylindered, multi-valve, midship-mounted vee engines whose substantial muscle is boosted by a quartet of turbochargers. Both have four-wheel drive and each was created with the aim of building the ultimate supercar of the era. In its day, the EB110 was compared with the Ferrari F40, the Porsche 959 and the Jaguar XJ220.
While the creation of the Veyron was an entirely clean-screen production from Volkswagen, which bought the rights to the Bugatti name in 1998, Wolfsburg did not ignore the EB110 when it began this mighty supercar mission; it bought an EB110 SS prototype previously used by Bugatti as a development car. There's no question that the Veyron has been massaged to a pitch far loftier than the EB110's, but both cars were conceived as ultimates. The main difference is that VW's Ferdinand Piech decided that the Veyron would take a giant leap's worth of advancement, whereas the EB110 was no more than a couple of skips ahead.
Bugatti is four years and well over halfway through its planned build of 300 Veyrons at Molsheim, in southeastern France. The car is still available new. Used examples are rare but they're around, almost always carrying “price on application” tags, but you can expect to pay upward of $1.2m for one.
The last EB110 was produced at Campogalliano, near Modena in Italy, in 1995 and, intriguingly, it's already scarcer than the Veyron. The total numbers are uncertain, but 95 EB110 GTs were made, even if there's disagreement over whether 18 or 31 SS versions saw daylight.
After Bugatti Automobili went down in 1995, a German company called Dauer bought the tooling and parts and assembled another five partially completed SuperSports before the EB110 formed the basis of the even more extreme Italian Edonis supercar.
A well-cared-for EB110 GT (there are a few less-than-coddled examples about) should be yours for around $300,000, while the rarer EB110 SS pictured here will likely cost around $150,000 more – if you can find one. Buy an EB110, then, and you're choosing a Bugatti rarer than the Veyron, for substantially less, a fact that may eventually push their prices higher.
Truth is, though, that the EB110 has become something of a forgotten car, partly because the company that made it died, and partly because the Veyron overshadows it for both visual allure and statistical drama.
But when you see car designer Chris Hrabalek's immaculate lemon yellow EB110 SS, it's hard not to be impressed. This is a more straight-edged design than we're used to today, and it appears more distinctive than it did in the mid-1990s. There are subtle curves among its Marcello Gandini-scribed lines, though you're more likely to be drawn to the elevated rear wing and the curious circular holes in its sides.
These are two of the features that distinguish an EB110 SS from the standard GT, which wears small gloss black panels instead and a retractable rear wing. Different wheels and additional brake cooling also identify it, but the main change, and the SS's raison d'être, is that it's lighter than the GT, to the tune of 330lbs. More carbon fiber exterior panels, a lightened chassis and carbon fiber cabin detailing yielded the main gains. The V12 was upgraded to 603hp from the GT's 543hp, too.
Lift the hefty scissor-hinged door of the SS and you enter a dark and intriguing world. Black leather sheaths the bucket seats, the headlining, much of the dash and, weirdly, the floor and transmission tunnel, which are lined with a black stippled leather more appropriate to a Gothic designer handbag than floor coverings.
Despite this expensive detail, the SS's cabin is workmanlike enough to fool you into thinking that it's an unfinished prototype, what with its simple, undecorated instruments and a carbon fiber center console, whose weave makes no effort to align with the verticals and horizontals of the dashboard.
Cheap air vents and crude stalks only add to the mild disappointment of this cockpit – until you notice a rev counter stretching to 8500rpm and the 400kph (250mph) speedometer.
Twisting the ordinary key and hearing the V12 kick into the busy, threshing idle of an Italian exotic soon exorcises doubts, as does a gear change that feels as weightily positive as the EB's steering. It's pretty easy to drive, too, despite the A-pillar's noticeable presence and some mildly offset pedals.
The V12 is obedient and docile and gives little hint of the 603hp that its quartet of turbos can stoke when 60 valves are pumping hard and fast, and it's this docility that is simultaneously impressive and (at first) faintly disappointing. The EB110 does not feel like a wild horse in need of taming, or a car with more than 600hp.
Instead, you must work at it. The combination of a quartet of old-school, delayed-action turbos and some rangy gearing makes this a car in which you must think hard about revs, ratios and momentum if you want to traverse landscape at speeds to rival high-speed trains.
A mix of this car's long-term storage, which may have left it slightly off-color, and my circumspection with Hrabalek's newly acquired toy deter me from giving this SS a full workout, but there's no question that it can cover ground with retina-overloading pace, and with the massive reassurance of four-wheel drive.
But if you want a car with which to savage the space-time continuum, the Veyron is it. This car bites chunks out of the horizon as it vaults into the next zip code with the unstoppable momentum of a 200ft waterfall. Leave its 7-speed DSG 'box in automatic and it will sustain this scenery-smearing advance with barely interrupted venom until your right foot flies to the brakes, your lunge curtailed by traffic, a corner or thoughts of a police cell.
And it's all so easy; the Veyron is as well mannered and secure as a VW Golf. Your chief challenge – and it's a considerable one – is repelling the urge to wantonly depress the beautifully milled aluminum accelerator at every moment.
Loose the Bug over twisting back roads and you'll be surprised to find that resisting the lure of horsepower will remain your key challenge, rather than grappling to keep this monster of a car under control. Instead, the Veyron's chassis makes it feel unexpectedly containable as the combination of four-wheel drive and mightily effective – but not over-obtrusive – ESP reigns in all that torque if you've been too bold.
Steering that feels more deft and connected does much to encourage you to corner this car hard, assuming that you can forget that it's $1.5m that you're threatening with a ditch. It's for this reason that the effectiveness of the brakes is so reassuring; the Veyron's tires appear to instantly sprout spikes.
The Bugatti provides finely sieved feedback, too. The steering's weight subtly shifts in your palms; the exquisitely upholstered seats gently telegraph the topography beneath. The entire interior is exquisitely furnished, too, as you'd hope of a car at this price. You will need to adjust your seat manually before pressing the starter button, though.
Then you'll enjoy the Veyron's unusual repertoire of noises, which range from gurgling sounds of the kind that you might hear from a central heating system to an exhilarating symphony of rushing air and engine roar that quite often sounds like you're aboard a plane.
And, when you're accelerating hard in the Veyron, that thought is not inappropriate. But this is no uncivilized machine; its manners are a world away from those of the Ferrari Enzo, which slams you in the senses with high-octane explosions of power.
For this reason, and that ESP-underwritten sure-footedness, some criticize the Veyron for detaching you too much. It is true that it could fire you a more intense blaze of feedback. But that was not Bugatti's mission and, for most, finding moments to deploy its warp-speed compressions of landscape will prove more than gripping enough.
So might earning the money to pay for this other-worldly torrent of power. Never mind the Veyron's price tag; consider the maintenance costs. A set of tires is $35,000; Bugatti recommends changing them every 3,100 miles, and with every third set you must also change the wheels. At a cost of £70,000.
Need new discs and pads? Arrange $106,000 worth of funds. Or a routine service? That will be $30,000 – vastly more than the $4,500 or so needed to service an Enzo. Presumably your Veyron will be bathed in the milk of unicorns for this. Word is that one Veyron owner in the habit of taking his car to a particularly picturesque part of Europe for monster drives has realized that it's cheaper to have his Bug trucked ahead and fly after it in his Citation jet, rather then running up heart-freezing maintenance bills by using the Veyron merely to get there.
Numbers like these make the EB110 seem reasonable. The Michelin tires specially developed for it are still available, and a pair of the fatter rears will cost you $1,300. A big service is $5,000, and service specialists are still about. So you can enjoy the EB110 for a fraction of the cost of the Veyron.
Sure, the EB110 is an understudy to the role of pulverizing long strips of the international road network, and its long gearing and turbo lag deprive it of the instant, accelerate-into-tomorrow capability of the Veyron. But like its big brother, it provides its driver with a secure platform from which to unleash all this power, and a refinement in its ride, steering and brakes that makes the task of making absurd haste so much more manageable.
Given the difference in their prices, that must make the EB110 a curious kind of bargain and, rather satisfyingly, a car that has some of the character of its famous descendant, despite springing from different genes.
It's no substitute, but it's a mighty enough car in its own right, and a hell of a lot cheaper to own.