A Bug’s Life

These people aren’t assembling any old car but a £2.5m, 1479bhp Bugatti Chiron. Ronan Glon headed to France to find out how it’s done

Action-packed photographs of high-performance Italian cars used to line the walls of a small pizzeria in southern France. Hungry tourists ate while ogling the Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari F50 and the Bugatti Veyron. Except, of course, the latter isn’t Italian. Founder Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan, but every car he designed came to life in an Alsatian town named Molsheim. This tradition continues today with the Chiron, the latest torchbearer of the brand’s heritage.

Bugatti calls its glass-walled factory ‘the Atelier’. The production process relies exclusively on human hands, not algorithms and software; there is not a single robot present inside the facility. It helps that the company doesn’t manufacture its own parts. It sources everything from European suppliers. The carbonfibre monocoque comes from Dallara, AP Racing supplies the brake calipers and Sparco manufactures the seats. Highly trained mechanics spend about a week assembling the quad-turbocharged, 16-cylinder engine in a special Volkswagen Group factory. Bugatti orders the parts required to make a Chiron about three months before production begins.

The Chiron travels through 12 stations in the Atelier. The first step of the process involves bolting the engine and the gearbox into a single unit and assembling the front sub-frame. Workers then marry the monocoque and the rear portion of the car using 14 titanium screws. The chassis is ready after about a week’s worth of labour. It moves to the filling station where it receives oil, coolant, brake fluid and its first tank of petrol.

It’s then placed on a dynamometer, bolted to the ground and driven at up to 124mph. Production boss Christophe Piochon told Autocar that the company had to order a new dynamometer able to cope with the Chiron’s monstrous horsepower and torque outputs because the unit used to test the Veyron wasn’t up to the task. The firm channels the excess electricity produced while testing each car directly into Molsheim’s power grid. Charge your phone in a local brasserie and the power it draws could come from a Bugatti’s four wheels.

Workers spend about three days installing and adjusting the carbonfibre body panels, which Bugatti receives pre-painted. The Chiron is then battered with monsoon-like rain to check for leaks before getting a full interior. It’s done after this step but not yet ready for its new owner.

Every Chiron needs to complete two test drives on public roads. During the first test, the car leaves the Atelier and drives down to the picturesque town of Colmar. The airport there lets Bugatti test its cars on its runway between take-offs and landings. Test pilots communicate with the control tower to know when it’s safe to sprint down the runway at nearly 200mph. Following the high-speed jaunt, the car cruises back to Molsheim at a more sensible pace. After receiving new fluids, it embarks on a second, shorter test drive the following day.

With the drivetrain signed off, each Chiron spends about three days in the cleaning and polishing station. It then goes through a light tunnel, where a quality specialist inspects every square inch of the car for six hours to identify any and all imperfections that need to be fixed.

It goes back to the cleaning station before taking a final trip to the inspection station. The car receives the green light for delivery at the end of this meticulous process. By that point, it will have spent about two months in the Atelier, occasionally breaking the silence of Alsace’s wine-making countryside with its bellowing 1479bhp engine. A