A $1.3M Car: Vehicle or Art?

While you've been shopping around for a fuel-efficient hybrid, a new Bugatti has hit the market. It's called the Veyron, and costs $1.3 million. Its 1,001-horsepower engine can make the car go 250mph and get you a piddling 3mpg doing it. At slower speeds, the Veyron still gulps gas at 7mpg in the city, 10 on the highway. If you want to cruise at a mere 60mph, this particular Bugatti can get you there from a standing start in a little over three seconds. But none of this wretched excess really matters, of course, because the Bugatti Veyron is a work of art. As a matter of fact, it's art precisely because of its wretched excess.

First of all, the machine is beautiful, a piece of organically aerodynamic sculpture more good-looking—and a lot sexier—than most Henry Moores. The rear half of the Veyron embraces the front portion, cuddling it between crescent-shaped side air ducts while affectionately reaching (the gesture denoted by a lovely two-tone paint job) over the passenger cabin down the hood to the traditional arched-doorway Bugatti radiator opening. The Veyron's details—big fan-blade wheels that fill the wheel wells with just a sliver of room to spare, a snakily contoured spoiler in back and a lidless engine compartment (too much heat for a hood!) amidships—finish off the design like ankle straps on a pair of Jimmy Choo heels. Inside, the upholstery is satin-finish doveskin.

But, you might ask, isn't the Veyron pretty socially revolting—a kind of "let them eat cake" car in a world recklessly polluting the atmosphere with automobile exhaust while it runs out of cheap gasoline in the process? Maybe if the damned thing were a boat—you know, for rising sea levels—it'd be, maybe, barely tolerable. As a car, however, it's unconscionable paté de foie gras for the freeway.

Which is why it's art. C'mon, how many boomers are there rich enough to plunk down something north of a mil for a ride to the Hamptons and back? And how many of those know that Bugatti (a French company, not Italian) was the finest carmaker in the world in the 1930s, and that Pierre Veyron won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Bugatti in 1939?

Among those automotive sophisticates, how many will actually buy this car? And of those paltry few owners, how many will ever let their Veyrons experience the pavement outside of a six-car garage? Right. The social and environmental damage caused by the Bugatti Veyron will amount to just about nil.

The Veyron will sit parked and be ogled just like, say, a Bernini marble carving in an art museum. The trouble will come when Volkswagen—the owner of Bugatti willingly losing money on the Veyron in the hopes that it'll hype the venerable brand—uses its million-dollar baby as a template for a line of $125,000 knockoffs. It figures toupée-clad, soft-suede bomber jacket wearers will snap them up by the thousands. In other words, Bugatti's exquisite sculpture-on-wheels will be downgraded into actually-driven, gas-guzzling, air-stinking, tire-burning sport-Hummers for aging wannabe low-riders. Those Bugattis will hardly constitute—needless to say—works of art.