"I did not want to get out," says Raphanel, who has some experience with endurance and speed.
Not only has he put 9,000 miles on one Veyron - there are just two of the French sports cars in the United States - Raphanel raced at Le Mans and Grand Prix, then raced sports cars in Europe and Japan.
Today, he's a driver and product specialist for Bugatti, traveling with the car and two engineers to hot spots in California and the West to introduce the Veyron to really wealthy people.
The car is purchased by special order and will not routinely be seen in showrooms. Only a select few buyers will qualify.
At the current euro rate, the Veyron costs about $1.2 million and will not be built until a $360,000 deposit has been wired to Bugatti's bank in France. The remaining $840,000 is due upon completion of the car, and the customer is responsible for shipping and duty from France. That costs about $40,000.
Raphanel was at Symbolic Motors in San Diego for three days recently, giving 10 test drives a day to hand-raisers interested in Bugatti's baby for the U.S. market. Symbolic is one of six U.S. dealer-agents.
In three days, the company landed five deposits and two customers said they'd be sending the balance the next week.
Yes, it's a pricey mode of transportation, but you get more car than you are paying for, Raphanel says.
"Only 300 will made and the company loses money on each," he says. "But it is worth it just to reintroduce the brand Bugatti."
The Veyron is an ego trip, an ultimate grand touring two-seater with some potent bragging rights: the biggest engine, carbon fiber body, the biggest passenger car tires that can go 260 mph, the fastest automatic gearbox, the biggest brakes, a $50,000 Burmester stereo and liberal use of titanium, billet aluminum, neatly wrapped carbon fiber and the suedelike Alcantara-lined cabin with full leather seats.
The engine is a 1,001-horsepower 16-cylinder, pressurized with four turbochargers. A seven-speed direct-shift transmission channels power to the full-time four-wheel drive. (That traction, and rear tires that are 14 1/2 inches wide, help keep it hooked to the road.) There are 3,700 pieces to the engine, and it takes a week to put them all together.
The engine sits exposed between the rear fenders. For tune-ups and other work, the body slides apart in two sections. The 8.0-liter engine requires the highest octane possible, and might get 6 to 8 miles to the gallon, but it does have a 26-gallon tank.
As with Bugattis of old, the Veyron was designed as a work of art, a concept car. After unanimous public approval, the internals were then engineered into it, with a German influence from parent company Volkswagen/Audi.
Even with the most-expensive lightweight materials, the Veyron weighs 4,153 pounds. It is about the length of the new Mitsubishi Eclipse, but 7 1/2 inches wider, with a roof-line nearly 5 inches shorter.
The burly Bugatti made its U.S. debut a few years ago in a demonstration at the Monterey Historics vintage racing at Laguna Seca Raceway. The car made a howling, crowd-cheering start, but not long after spun out and was whisked away. Back to the drawing board, as they say.
Raphanel says that if engineers had designed the car, it would look completely different, but he seems confident now with how it handles.
"At 180 miles an hour I can take my hands off the wheel and it just goes straight," he says.
"Even if you are a 70-year-old grandma, you can drive this car," he says. "It is not like the Ferrari Enzo or Porsche Carrera GT that can't be driven every day because they are so hard riding."
Just take it easy around driveways and dips in the road. That carbon fiber lip, also a work of art, is less than 2 inches above the road. Sightlines are limited over the shoulder, and those wide tires make for an expansive turning circle.
A small trunk in the front will allow transport of a couple of briefcases, perhaps, but owners in this price range have other resources to get their luggage to the weekend destination.
Talk show host Jay Leno, one of the few enthusiasts who was invited to drive the car, told a group of auto writers that it is "a little too bling-bling" for him.
But he says: "Ah, the transmission is the most unbelievable thing you've ever seen. But it just sort of takes it away from you, you know what I mean?"
I think I do, but I wasn't invited to drive, though I did get a stirring ride.
"It's a rocket monster," Raphanel says.
Taming this much horsepower takes special attention and materials.
The engine tone in the cabin is Lear-like, yet it's not unbearable at speed. Shift points fire off like a Formula 1 racer, and the faster the car goes, the flatter and smoother it rides.
The entire body is a blueprint of aerodynamics for low air resistance and downforce using body lines, underbody diffuser flaps, air channels, spoilers and a computer-controlled wing.
Giving the Veyron an adequate tire footprint was a challenge. When Bugatti asked Michelin to create a passenger tire that could handle speeds to 260 mph, the response was, "Are you crazy?"
Michelin said it could supply tires that were safe to 160 or 180 mph, then it could sell the owner race tires that go to 260, Raphanel says.
"No, no, no. You don't understand," was the response from Bugatti.
Then Michelin saw the dollar signs and went on to create the world's largest passenger car tires, a uniquely compounded Pilot Sport PS2 with run-flat capability. With such a limited production run, just 300 to 500 sets, each set of four with wheels is $50,000.
The brakes, too, are rated for 260 mph. The 16-inch front discs and 15.2-inch rear discs use eight-cylinder monoblock calipers with titanium pistons that have a stainless-steel crown with ceramic heat shielding.
For braking from speeds above 124 mph, the tail wing moves into position as an air brake.
What all this means is that the Veyron stops from 62 to 0 mph faster than it accelerates, 2.3 seconds versus 2.5 seconds. And Raphanel does full-force brake and acceleration demonstrations 30 times a day in his test drives.
The interior actually is quite roomy with good headroom. There's a wide sill to get across before dropping into the seat.
Standard equipment includes a personal digital assistant, which can load vehicle data through a Bluetooth phone interface.
Among the special controls is a horsepower gauge and a second key slot to unlock speeds above 232 mph.
If only 300 cars will be built - each in its owner's choice of paint and leather colors - a Veyron should be unique in the neighborhood.
Raphanel says that, judging by his time giving test drives and seeing the deposits being placed, that the company should have no problem reaching that number.
2006 Bugatti Veyron 16.4
Body style: 2-passenger, all-wheel drive grand touring coupe
Engine: 8.0-liter 16-cylinder
Horsepower: 1,001 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 922 foot-pounds at 2,200 to 5,500 rpm
Transmission: seven-speed direct-shift gearbox
Acceleration: 0 to 62 mph, 2.5 seconds; top speed, 253 mph
EPA fuel economy estimates: 6 to 8 mpg combined city, highway; 91 octane or higher recommended
Length/height: 178.5/48.6 inches
Wheelbase: 108.4 inches
Curb weight: 4,153 pounds
Standard equipment: Automatic climate control, horsepower gauge, dual ignition ports (one for speeds above 233 mph), $50,000 Burmester audio system, power locks-windows-mirrors, remote locking, PDA, Alcantara (man-made suede) trim, full-leather seats
Brakes: eight-piston front carbon-ceramic disc brakes, six pistons rear; 16-inch front discs, 15.2-inch rear
Suspension: Double wishbone front and rear, with three driving heights
Tires and wheels: P265/45 ZR 18-inch front, 365/30 ZR 20-inch rear
MSRP: $1.25 million, depending on the euro rate; pricing includes shipping and duty from France, approximately $40,000.
Where assembled: Molsheim, France
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at [email protected]