At the end of the 1990s Volkswagen embarked on a buying frenzy that would see them become makers of some of the world’s most desirable cars, acquiring Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini in the space of a few months in 1998.
But even though VW had bought Bentley and Bugatti it seems they weren’t entirely sure at first where they would take their new marques, and at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show they revealed a W16 hypercar. But it wasn’t a Bugatti.
The hypercar W16 at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show was in fact the Bentley Hunaudières (Hunaudières is the official name of the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans), whilst Bugatti arrived with their own concept – a four-door saloon, the Bugatti EB 218, with a 6.3 litre, 72 Valve W18.
The Hunaudières was based on a Lamborghini Diablo chassis (neatly bringing all three of VW’s new acquisitions together) and had a naturally aspirated 8.0 litre W16 engine – built by bolting a pair of V8s together - which produced 623bhp and 561lb/ft of torque, had 4WD and did 0-60mph in around 4 seconds with a top speed over 200mph.
At this early stage of their stewardship of Bentley VW had decided that Bentley should produce epic supercars, but cars that still boasted Bentley’s refinement and comfort. So the Hunaudières got 3″ more headroom than the Diablo on which it was based and was fitted with leather and nubuck seats and dash and milled aluminium trim.
The interior was kept uncluttered by hiding the HVAC and stereo controls behind a panel and the exterior was kept sleek by using rear view cameras fitted behind the front wheels to replace the door mirrors, with small monitors each site of the instrument panel.
Finished in British Racing Green with a tan interior, the Hunaudières was a statement by VW of where Bentley was heading, and they confidently predicted they’d be able to sell 300 Hunaudières a year for around £250k each.
History tells us that VW had a change of heart soon after Geneva in 1999 and decided Bentley should stick to saloons and coupes and that Bugatti should produce the world’s fastest ever hypercar – the Bugatti Veyron – instead of the super saloon EB 218 with its W18 engine.
This reflection on the genesis of the Veyron came about as the Bugatti Galibier was back in the news this week, a car we’re convinced will be based on the Bentley Mulsanne (although Bugatti deny it), and we reflected on what Bugatti had done to the last Bentley they ‘Bugattified’.
We spoke to Bentley about the Hunaudières and asked if they could send us over the original press release and photos for this article. But after much digging they had to concede they had nothing in their archives on the Hunaudières, so the photos below are not the best we’ve ever published.
But it’s nice to think that the fastest road car ever built isn’t really a Bugatti – it’s a Bentley with a few tweaks.