Bugatti’s Head of Exterior Design, Frank Heyl, discusses the design of the striking new $11.8-million Centodieci supercar and reveals how Bugatti’s coach-built design and development process has radically changed the way the company designs, develops, builds, and sells their supercars. Here’s an edited version of our interview.
AT: The Centodieci is really a striking design. Was this your baby?
Heyl: “This car is the baby of our boss, Achim Anscheidt, the Head of Design. He took this opportunity to make his own personal project out of this. My baby was really the Divo. Of course, this (project) would never have come to light without a whole team of really competent guys and girls. We’ve worked with this same team on a lot of cars, including La Voiture Noire and Divo.”
AT: There are design similarities between the Divo and the Centodieci…
Heyl: Yes, we learn from the projects we do, especially how to manage aerodynamics and thermodynamics. A lot of things that we learned from the Divo we now reuse on a few derivatives, if you will, call them coach-built variants of the same underpinnings. This allows us – and it’s great for us as designers – to become creative in so many very specific directions.
AT: How long did it take to design the Centodieci?
Heyl: That’s a very good question. This took only six months including the build of the actual show car. That’s a record for us and it’s only possible through using the latest technologies in virtual reality. What takes a long time usually in the design process is the time to build models. You can sketch and design, but in the end, it does not count unless you have the model. The model is the most important thing – if you get the model right, then you can get the car right.
AT: Did you make a clay model of the Centodieci?
Heyl: On the Chiron, we still had a clay model. This is how I learned when I worked for other companies. It would be a lengthy process. The Divo was the first car where we did not have that anymore; we went all digital. We modelled with Alias software – from Canada actually, a company called AutoDesk – they have the best modelling software. We did two models milling it in foam from the data we had created. A machine with a robotic arm mills the model as big as a car. With the Centodieci, we only had one model and we did a lot in virtual. To get it all done in that amount of time was really a lot of work.
AT: Bugatti’s online promotional material says the Centodieci was “Created in honour of a forgotten supercar,” referring to the EB110 GT and EB110 SS from the 1990s. Was there an attempt to revive and recreate the styling theme of the EB110 with the Centodieci? [Editor’s note: Centodieci means “110” in Italian.]
Heyl: We wanted to create a new product that is inspired by the EB110, but is not trying to be a retro car where you’re just recreating the same thing but with new technology; that’s not what we were looking for. There are elements reminiscent of the EB110, but they are reinterpreted to fit a completely new car. The Centodieci had to be futuristic in its shape.
AT: What styling features did you borrow from the EB110?
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Heyl: The main volume of the EB110 is a wedge, typical for the ’90s Italian supercars. The rear is rather high, and from there, everything slopes down. The bodyside is a falling gesture, the beltline is falling – that’s unusual in current times. With the Centodieci, it was very unusual for us to work on a wedge-shaped car. As well, the Centodieci’s “horseshoe” grille is very small, like the EB110, another link from the EB110 to the Centodieci. That’s what made the bonnet so low.
The Centodieci’s slim headlights have an air outlet integrated into them to relieve the air pressure buildup in the front wheel wells which creates downforce. This is like the EB110, which, for the first time ever, had an integrated air outlet. The rear design is also a citation to the EB110, which had these slots. They are still there in the Centodieci but are inverted tail lights made of a high-temperature PMMA. Behind them is a mesh where air is extracted from the engine bay. And because we created so much downforce in the front, we had to counterbalance at the rear with a fixed rear wing, similar to the fixed wing on the EB110 Super Sport.
Another similarity with the EB110 is the closed engine. Usually on a Bugatti, it’s open. On the Centodieci there’s a window.
At the front, the windshield has a blacked-out A-pillar. That’s what we call the visor theme, a helmet visor almost, another citation to the EB110. At the side we have the Bugatti C-line, but here we made it more snappy, more edgy.
AT: That’s a pretty dramatic move for Bugatti – changing the signature C-shaped styling feature.
Heyl: Yes, it’s only possible because we now have this coach-building program to derive off our main product. These very specific styling directions. If this was our only product, we couldn’t have allowed ourselves that freedom.
AT: Is this a styling theme you plan to use on other Bugatti models?
Heyl: No, this is tailor-made.
AT: Another obvious similarity with the EB110 Super Sport are those five small holes behind the side windows.
Heyl: Yes, I don’t have a name for that. These are the engine processing air intakes where the air goes on through to the turbos.
AT: Does the Centeodieci have the same engine, transmission as the Chiron?
Heyl: It’s essentially the same W16 8.0-litre quad turbo engine but with upgraded turbochargers. This engine has 1,600 horsepower, up from 1,500. It also has a different rev range. It will rev up to 6,800 instead of 7,000 rpm. This is the first time we have 1,600 horsepower. And the Centodieci has significantly more downforce than the Chiron. That’s something you’ll actually feel in how the car accelerates and handles.
As well, we have a different exhaust configuration, it’s not in the middle anymore, we have exhausts stacked up on top of each other – we took inspiration from the F6 fighter jet, which has two afterburners stacked on top of each other – it’s got that look. The position of the exhaust helps with the diffuser, so overall the aerodynamic package is much revised including a complete underbody pan. So more downforce, more power, exclusivity.
AT: What is the car made of?
Heyl: All the body panel and monocoque construction is made of carbon fibre; and there are aluminum parts, magnesium, titanium. For example, the exhausts are printed titanium made by a laser, which welds titanium powder layer by layer into a solid shape. There are several more components inside the car built like this.
AT: To what extent did practical considerations, such as crash safety, production limitations, lighting and bumper regulations, and aerodynamic requirements influence the final design of the Centodieci?
Heyl: That’s a good one. Our design teams are very proud, having made so many projects, to understand exactly all of these problems. It was learning by doing. Obviously, these cars are handcrafted, not mass produced. We’re only making 10 Centodiecis. That requires completely different production methods as you can imagine. There are no stamping tools to pump out 3,000 cars a day. If you are only making 10, you can do things with carbon fibre that would otherwise not be possible. That frees us up. As far as price and cost, obviously we have to make a business case out of this whole thing – to be responsible to our company and our employees it has to be a profitable business case. We ask ourselves if we can afford this or that expensive thing and in most cases it is yes, thankfully. In terms of safety, the Centodieci is fully homologated.
AT: Was there anything with the design that you wanted to do that you could not do?
Heyl: No. We can go in so many directions. If this was our only car, we wouldn’t have done it that way. We could only do that because we have out main product (the Chiron) already in the market and we can build on top of that.
AT: You were recently promoted to Assistant Designer. What more does this position entail for you?
Heyl: I am still responsible for exterior design. I also have to work a lot more on capacity planning, timing, budget, customer and media relations. I also oversee the interior design process and the colour and trim process.
AT: Why are you based in Wolfsburg, Germany, rather than in Bugatti’s headquarters in Molsheim, France?
Heyl: Bugatti Automobile S.A.S. manufactures cars in Molsheim, but Bugatti’s design and development team is based in Wolfsburg. It makes sense for us to be close to Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, because we’re using their test tracks, their wind tunnel, so the synergies are there.
AT: Are you happy at Bugatti?
Heyl: I think I am in my element and I don’t want to be anywhere else. I am a complete gearhead: I do cars, I live cars, I drive cars. In my free time I go driving track days. I have a Porsche GT3 and I like to race.