As I sat down with Bugatti’s Deputy Design Director Frank Heyl for the second year at Pebble Beach, fog swirled above and a breeze blew in from the Pacific. It seemed like appropriate weather to discuss W16 Mistral, the latest Bugatti whose name is derived from the strong winds off the coast of Southern France. After Heyl and I exchanged our “hellos,” it became clear we would also be saying goodbye to the groundbreaking motor that powered so many of Bugatti’s hypercars, with the Mistral serving as the last “hurrah” of the W16.
Last year when I sat down with Heyl during Concours weekend, we focused on the introduction of the Chiron Super Sport and Bolide, two notable Bugattis also powered by the W16. Little did I know then that this beast of an engine was on borrowed time, with its farewell being planned for the Mistral. This $5M beautiful beast not only utilizes the W16, but also incorporates some of the most innovative design elements implemented by Heyl and the design team.
Mason Bloom: It’s been a year since we have sat down to talk about the Bolide and Chiron Super Sport. What has customer feedback been like on these models?
Frank Heyl: As you know, the Bolide also sold out in a matter of weeks, I think we talked about it last time we were here. We are now in the middle of [development], it has been keeping us incredibly busy, and in the middle of progressing it further every day. It’s just been one of the most exciting programs I’ve been a part of. You know, I’m a gearhead and motorsport enthusiast, I like to do track days in my private time so this is one of my most intriguing, fascinating projects that I’ve ever been allowed to work on. We’re there with those models, still developing them and we’re on the final touches now, we’re almost done. We have frozen the exterior design and we are just on some details in the interior. The interior is going to be outrageous as well, it’s gonna be this super snug fit like a glove!
MB: You had mentioned that you have frozen the development of the exterior design. What does that mean and why has it occurred?
FH: There are certain milestones, or gateways, on the timeplan of a project that you have fixed on the timeline. Last month it was the milestone of the exterior freeze. That means all of the surfaces are now engineered, all parts have their tooling vector, all shut lines are defined, the highlights are perfect, and the aerodynamic function of each corner on the car is defined, tested, and validated, and we are now ready to prototype it. It’s called the ‘P Release’ or ‘Prototype Release’ and that’s what you need the design freeze for. So it’s, let’s say, a cascading plan where one builds onto the other. You need to pass certain gateways to get to the next one. It’s a very complex process, and we are going to be finished by 2025.
MB: So that means it’s a step-by-step process that takes, what, two years or so?
FH: It normally takes four years. From the first, board-level decision where we’re going to make a car design to the first car delivered to the customer is normally four years. To do it thoroughly from the ground up, [a] new car like the Bolide, with a new monocoque, everything completely different in texture, the only thing that is the same is the engine.
MB: Bugatti has had a very busy year producing cars like the Bolide and new Mistral. What has it been like for you to oversee these projects?
FH: Well, we always have a couple of projects running in parallel, it’s keeping us on our toes. I love it, it’s great for the team. We have so many projects, everybody is super involved and in great spirits. It’s a fantastic time for our performance. You can see there’s such a trust in the brand from the owners or from the collectors, the customers. We put out our new car and before we even get to show it here it’s sold out. It’s fantastic, and then that gets us the financial firepower to invest in the next project, and the next one. It’s a self-sustaining business that we’ve built up through the years. We’re having a great time.
MB: You had said that all 99 of the Mistrals that are going to be produced are gone. How long did it take for it to sell out?
FH: I’d say less than three weeks.
MB: Oh wow! Are these new customers or returning?
FH: No, all existing customers. We know our base and obviously there’s a trusted relationship that we have built up through the years and these people are very dear to our hearts. We know them in every market so we approached them quietly before we go out and show it to everybody, and asked them if there’s any interest, and usually there is.
We give the courtesy of a notification that we are about to release something to the greater public. Then having that trust earned and relationship formed, it’s fair to just say, ‘we are about to do this, it is our intention, are you interested or not?’ If you are not interested, it’s fine, we just want to offer this opportunity. Usually these are families, who have been connecting with us for many years, with multiple owners anyways.
MB: As the Mistral will be delivered some time around 2024, when might we see Bugatti test the top speed knowing it’s going after a world record?
FH: We don’t know yet. It’s too early. We have the design now, we have all the concepts in place and we know how to do the monocoque restructuring, because this is a monocoque that is Chiron-based and the Chiron is meant as a coupe. There’s a load path through the A-pillar usually. If you cut the A-pillar off, then the whole top needs to be redesigned for the torsional rigidity, so we did the enforcements of the tunnel and sill area. It’s step-by-step, and it’s the same thing on the Bolide, where it’s a step-by-step plan.
It’s not time yet for the prototypes. That’ll come later, and once we are ready to tool the prototypes and get the prototypes out on the field, test them in South Africa with hot land, cold land somewhere in the Polar Circle, we get the results to understand it. These cars are driven to see what breaks first, and see where the weakest point is — the weakest link in the chain. We still have time, and we have the time plan to feed back the findings from the test drives before we commission the tools for the actual production. That’s gonna be a several-year’s process.
MB: Certainly! How would you say Bugatti has changed over the past year?
FH: As you know we now are Bugatti-Rimac, and this is really the greatest thing that has happened to us. This is going to be such a strong bond. We have just secured a new investment actually, so we do have now the financial firepower as well, apart from what we’re doing ourselves, the revenue that we’re making ourselves. We are also expanding on the Rimac technology side with Rimac Automobili, and the new compass that we’re building in Croatia. There’s a lot of change, but for the greater good.
MB: How much of an impact will Rimac have on the production, design, development, or even powertrain on new Bugatti models?
FH: Well, Mate Rimac is now the CEO, so we ultimately report to him. He will select all of the programs, and he will give direction.
MB: As the Mistral is the final Bugatti to use the W16 motor, how will this impact Bugatti’s use of the combustion engine? Will the brand use something like a hybrid V8, or solely an EV?
FH: I can’t really talk about it. Obviously I’m working on the successor to the Chiron, and as you can imagine these take a long time, we’re working on it right now. And [my PR people are] here to watch that I don’t say anything [I shouldn’t]! I can’t really talk about it, I’m sorry. I can say this, because Mate [Rimac] has said it himself, the next car will still have a combustion engine, but it will be heavily hybridized. There’s going to be an electric component to it as well.
MB: What you probably can answer, however, is from the drawing board to the time a model gets to a customer’s driveway, how long does it take to develop a new flagship as opposed to how the Mistral is based on an existing model?
FH: Yeah, that’s a good question. Obviously the successor to the Chiron will be from-the-ground-up, off the white page, everything, every single thing is going to be new. A program like this is about four years.
MB: Even for a flagship, it is still four years and not longer?
FH: Yes. I mean, we are not sure yet, maybe it takes four or five, but a general rule of thumb is about four years.
MB: How will this new successor top the Chiron in terms of technology, as well as performance and top speed, as I know those are things Bugatti focuses on?
FH: You know I can’t talk about the successor yet!
Bugatti PR: We are just going to say that we are keeping our values and DNA, and the direction is the same we always try to follow: having the best performance and the best aesthetics. We are going in the same direction [as the Chiron].
MB: As you know roadsters are considerably less aerodynamic as opposed to their coupe counterparts. What were the most challenging aspects in designing a 261 mile per hour roadster?
FH: I was heavily involved in the Super Sport 300+, the car that broke the world speed record for production cars at 304 miles per hour. The same engine went into [the Mistral] with 1,600 horsepower. Obviously this isn’t going to go 300+ miles, because the roof is missing and the aerodynamics are spoiled, therefore the air isn’t always touching the body. If you have no body on the roof, it’s gonna cause turbulence. So, the engine has a higher resistance to push through, so all other corners on the car have to try to make up for that. That’s why, for example, the headlamps look the way that they do. Not only for show, but because they actually flow air through and they have a secondary air curtain, not only on the bottom, but also on the top, to attach the airflow around the corners. It’s the most difficult thing.
Even on the Super Sport 300+ we actually lay the most amount of pressure on that corner. How do you get air pressurizing the front, not to bounce off to the side and create a huge wake area next to the car? How do you get it to flow around a corner which it doesn’t want to flow around, and not cause turbulence, and not cause drag? That’s why we have this, say, in the eye sockets, in the outer areas [of the car, they] are actually a tunnel. They lead from the positive pressure area, the front, and connect it to a negative pressure area. It’s like a chimney; it’s a physical phenomenon of air getting drawn through that to fill up the low pressure area on the side, and reattach the flow of the body. That will also pressurize the side air intakes, and then from there, it will go to the side oil coolers, and from there through a duct over the rear wheel and exit out of the tail lights. That’s the negative space in the X-design, it’s the exit of the oil coolers. There’s usually two functions for all topics and themes and items on the car. The taillight does not only look cool, or is a citation to the X-theme of the Bolide, but it’s also functional in terms of evacuating the radiators and creating this pressure drop from high pressure on the side to low pressure on the rear.
MB: Does that mean the nose of the Mistral was the most challenging aspect to allow this vehicle to reach 261 miles per hour?
FH: Yes, it’s 420 kilometers per hour. It’s the same game. The air is still the same, the resistance is still the same, it’s just now you have to cope with having no surface to alter or manipulate the airflow over the roof, so you need to try to do everything on the body down below.
MB: Thanks, Frank, let’s do this again next year!
Special thanks to Taylor Vande Beek of Extension Public Relations for coordinating the interview and allowing me to interview Frank Heyl once again!