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Auto Shows Bugatti’s $19-million Black Car revealed at Geneva Motor Show

The new Bugatti La Voiture Noire (The Black Car) on display at the Geneva International Motor Show on March 5, 2019.

PIERRE ALBOUY/Reuters

The Geneva International Motor Show, getting under way this week, never lacks star power, but a one-of-a-kind Bugatti is outshining the mere supercars this year. “La Voiture Noire,” or “the Black Car,” was sold before the show even opened for $19 million, reputed to be the highest price ever paid for a new automobile.

“It is one of one,” said Stephan Winkelmann, the chief executive of Bugatti, a French brand long owned by Volkswagen. “There will never be another. I am pleased to tell you that it has sold for 16.7 million euros.”

Was that price obscenely high?

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Possibly, if one thinks of it as a car, said its designer, Achim Anscheidt, “but perhaps not if one considers it as a work of art.”

The Black Car was inspired by the Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe that belonged to the automaker's famous designer Jean Bugatti.

PIERRE ALBOUY/Reuters

Certainly other collectible, less exclusive Bugattis from the brand’s storied 110-year past have sold for more; for a time, a Bugatti Royale, one of a handful ever made, held the record for a price paid at auction. And vintage Ferraris have sold for more than twice what the Black Car fetched. But this is a record for a new car, Winkelmann said.

Although the buyer’s name was not disclosed and details about how the final price was determined were scant – some sort of auction among the brand’s aficionados is a good bet – Anscheidt said he believed the Black Car was a solid investment.

It was meant to capture the spirit of the marque’s famous designer, Jean Bugatti, and his personal Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe, Anscheidt said. After Bugatti was killed in a 1939 testing accident, legend has it that his Atlantic – one of four built – disappeared in 1940 while being transported by rail to Bordeaux to spare it from the advance of the Nazis.

The Black Car has a roofline similar to what is known of that rather mysterious Atlantic, including a dorsal fin running down the centre; the horse collar grille; and the signature swoop of the passenger compartment’s side windows.

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The Black Car's roofline is said to evoke that of the mysterious Atlantic, with a dorsal fin running down the centre.

DENIS BALIBOUSE/Reuters

“It evokes the past, but it is not retro,” said Anscheidt, who has been in charge of Bugatti design since 2004. “As my former professor from the Art Center College of Design said, ‘There is nowhere to go with retro.’ Yes, I can go where I want with design, but in the end I must co-ordinate with the engineers to achieve what is technically possible.”

He said his design was “something that’s been kicking around in the bottom of my desk drawer for 10 years.” It had to be reworked countless times to be aerodynamically and technically feasible. The engineers had to work their magic for function, as well as form, to realize the car’s desired top speed in excess of 400 kilometres per hour (250 mph), he added.

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From a technical standpoint, Anscheidt’s design is said to be powered by a 16-cylinder engine similar to the 1,500-horsepower monster in the current Bugatti Chiron. But here is a little secret: The vehicle shown at the Geneva show is powered by nothing. It’s merely a mock-up of what the finished Black Car is expected to look like.

“What was shown here was put together in 16 weeks,” Anscheidt said. “I don’t even know if I would call it a concept, at this point.” He said it might be 2 1/2 years before the owner takes delivery of his treasure.

So La Voiture Noire remains something of a mirage, much as Jean Bugatti’s storied creation.

“Take a good look. I doubt if it will be seen again,” said Anscheidt, who expects the finished car to disappear into the owner’s vast private collection. “Perhaps his son will drive it some day. Perhaps you will see it on the lawn at Pebble Beach.”

The Geneva show, dating from 1905, is among the last of a dying breed: a truly glamorous and fantastical display of nearly 1 million square feet of automotive flights of fancy. Other shows in Detroit, New York, Paris and Frankfurt, Germany, have evolved into somewhat more utilitarian displays of automotive ideas for the masses.

Geneva offers no such pretense; if the world is headed for climate catastrophe in the foreseeable future, the Geneva show will go down, like the band on the Titanic, playing for time. For now, business remains brisk.

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Italian design house Pininfarina also unveiled the 1,900-hp Battista.

Robert Hradil/Getty Images

Though no match for the Bugatti stand – which included two other vehicles pre-sold for multiple millions of dollars – the show’s other exhibitors feature a plethora of seven-figure offerings. The Italian design house Pininfarina unveiled its first branded road car, the 1,900-horsepower Battista, named for its founder. The company claims it, too, is pre-sold, despite an asking price of $2 million. More could be available by 2021, a news release noted.

Other hypercars were unveiled by the likes of Pagani, Koenigsegg, McLaren, Aston Martin, Zenvo and Ferrari. Exclusive special editions were shown by Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini and a host of others. There was also a concept of a flying car. So, maybe the future does hold change, even for Geneva.

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