Although Bugatti didn't unveil a new model or concept at this year's The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, the French carmaker pulled the covers off one of its most intricate one-off projects. Based on a Chiron Super Sport, the Golden Era and its hand-drawn livery revisits the brand's three main eras and the vehicles that have come to define it.
Following the unveiling, I met Bugatti's Director of Design, Frank Heyl, to chat about the Golden Era, his new role leading the brand's future designs, and some challenges faced when building such unique configurations.
Bugatti's display stand was our meeting place, nestled within Monterey's 17-Mile Drive. A place where the carmaker not only shows off its latest creations but also gets to connect directly with current and future customers. As we walked and talked, we were surrounded by the Golden Era, a W16 Mistral, and a Bolide, all sharing the same black and gold color scheme.
Some responses have been edited for clarity.
What makes the Golden Era such a special project, and can we expect a growing number of one-offs in the future?
The Golden Era is what we would regard as the era of the internal combustion engine. This car resembles over 110 years of Bugatti's history, all of the highlights, all of the models, all of the milestones. On the passenger side are the pre-war, and on the driver's side are the post-war cars.
This is a customer car. He wanted something very special, so we have our individualization program called Sur Mesure. This program has taken off, most of the cars we now make, customers want a unique car.
I wouldn't call them one-offs. I would say individualized, heavily individualized. Pieces of art, actually. Rather than regard this as a car purchase, we say it's an investment into an asset, right? Because these things remain in families. We regard the Bugatti family because this car will be handed off from generation to generation, and maybe we'll see it at the Pebble Beach Concours in 50 years.
What was your biggest challenge when building this particular commission?
The first, I'd say, is finding the idea of what to do, which took some time. The bigger part was actually executing this idea. As you can imagine, we have extremely high levels of quality control. The paint had to pass through many tests. We placed individual pieces in climate chambers to test it and made sure there were no imperfections.
Getting the paint to Bugatti levels but still having the sketches embedded in the paint took a lot of experimenting and trial and error. Which pencil goes together with which type of clear coat? And so we worked in layers. We found out that you can't rub off too much pencil into one spot because then the pigment traps air. So if you paint over it, the air will come out and form bubbles.
So you sketch in a layer, then you would clear coat it, sand it, and do the next layer, progressively getting darker and darker. In the end, you have layers of paint, sketch, paint, and sketch, totaling 17 layers.
How long did it take to conceptualize and build the Golden Era?
I met the customer two years ago, and now we're here. If you think about it, how long does a car manufacturer have or give itself to build one car? I think it's unprecedented that someone would build a car for two years.
That's our goal with the Sur Mesure program. We are tailoring our business to this because there is so much demand for exactly this sort of thing.
With the Chiron's successor expected to debut soon, is the ease of individualization something you're considering now while it's still under development?
We take that into account. You cannot overlook this anymore; it's a must. It's part of the technical description of the car to have it done in a way that is configurable. In the end, you try and give the customer all the options. So, the thing needs to be tailor-made to actually be able to comply with all these requests. This may be how easily it can be painted or how you can get the paint into every corner.
Given the popularity of these individualized commissions, do you see these becoming a sizable percentage of a model's total production run?
Oh yeah. It's different for every car. The Bolide is a race car, yet we still see a number of individual configurations. With Chiron, the closer you get to the end of the production cycle, the more extravagant, let's say, the configurations become.
Then there are the super special cars, this car (W16 Mistral) starts at €5 million. We're about to start the configurations for these, and we're expecting a high percentage of individualized configurations.