Today we’re looking back at the Bentley Hunaudiéres concept car from 1999. Along with the Hunaudiéres, we’re also going to bring in the Bugatti Veyron and we’ll tell you why in a second. First though, we’d like to comment on the lack of materials available on this car. Because it and the Bugatti Veyron were built quickly at a time when both brands had just been acquired by VW, it seems that much is lost to history (to be rediscovered later?) This story will be updated if any readers have additional insights they would like to share, but for now, the material presented is believed to be accurate based on accounts of those who were paying attention when the car was unveiled in 1999. – William
In 1998, the owners of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Bentley Motors wanted to sell. This article won’t dive into the details of the transaction, but the result was Volkswagen ended up owning Bentley, the Crewe production operation and much of the past Rolls-Royce and Bentley parts and service business. BMW ended up with the rights to produce cars under the Rolls-Royce name.
That very same year, VW also acquired the right to the name Bugatti. Bugattis weren’t in production, but VW sought to resurrect the legendary name. You with me so far?
So by 1999, VW was ready to show off its vision for both Bentley and Bugatti at that year’s car show circuit. The first car to be unveiled was the Bentley Hunaudiéres at the Geneva Auto Show in the spring. The Bugatti Veyron would follow in the fall of 1999, when it would debut at the Tokyo Auto Show.
Both cars shared many design details and look very similar when compared to each other, which isn’t surprising as they shared the same designer. Where they differed was in the horsepower department. The Bugatti Veyron EB 18.4 concept car had an 18 cylinder engine with the cylinders were arranged in three banks. In contrast, the Bentley had a W16 arranged in two banks of cylinders. Where the Bentley was naturally aspirated, the Bugatti used four turbochargers for increased horsepower.
Like many of the names they select for their cars, Bentley went back to Le Mans, where W.O. Bentley had proved his cars’ worth in the early days. Hunaudières is the official name of the Mulsanne Straight at the Circuit du Sarthe where the world’s premier auto race is held each year.
According to Bentley Boy legend, it was on the Mulsanne Straight where Sir Tim Birkin made an incredible maneuver, dropping two of his Blower Bentley’s wheels into the dirt to pass a Mercedes SSK at over 125mph on his way to victory.
About the Hunaudières
As was mentioned, Bentley’s new parent company was seeking to create a direction for the brands they had consolidated under their roof. In addition to Bentley and Bugatti, VW had also added Lamborghini to the fold.
It is very expensive to create a car from scratch. Because of this, it’s very common for car companies to go to the corporate parts bin to save on development costs. This is the reason you see most major manufacturers developing a single chassis or platform to build multiple models off of.
For Bentley, it was their new sister company, Lamborghini, that provided the Hunaudiéres its chassis. The initial prototype was based off the Lamborghini Diablo VT chassis. Differing from the Diablo was Bentley’s focus on luxury and because of this, the Hunaudiéres had a roof 3″ taller than the Lambo for more cabin room.
If you look at the photos of the Bentley, you’ll notice it’s not moving in any of the pictures. VW had developed an actual W16 engine but it’s questionable as whether the Hunaudiéres ever ran with one. It is believed that the Diablo chassis which underpinned the Hunaudiéres couldn’t accommodate the W16, which is why the Veyron used its own unique chassis design when it was eventually launched.
Speaking of that W16, it was an 8.0l naturally aspirated engine rated at 623 bhp and 561 lb ft of torque. It was essentially two of VW’s VR layout V8s paired together. All that power (a lot for 1999!) was delivered through a 5 speed manual transmission to an all-wheel-drive system and 20″ polished wheels.
At least one report at the time said that Bentley was telling potential customers that the Hunaudiéres would offer an automatic transmission with push button gear changes through the steering wheel, something that was a novel idea at the time. The idea was the car’s owner could enjoy Bentley luxury and let the supercar shift itself or manually select gears as the car hurled towards 200mph.
Although a Bentley never received the W16 engine, the development work didn’t go to waste as a version of it would go to the new Bugatti. When it debuted in the Veyron, four turbo chargers had been added and it was pushing nearly 1,000 bhp!
The design of both the Hunaudiéres and Veyron was overseen by VW Designer Hartmut Warkuss, who penned the lines of the body. The body was constructed of aluminum and carbon fiber and, as is tradition with many special Bentleys, the exterior was finished in British Racing Green, this time with a metallic finish.
The interior was done in luxurious Bentley brown leather with milled aluminum accents. The car featured a large center console that looks very similar to the production Veyron’s. To keep the concept’s interior looking clutter free, the designers hide the concept car’s HVAC and radio controls behind an aluminum panel.
To keep the clean look on the outside, the car didn’t have any mirrors. Instead, it had dual rear facing cameras. Twin monitors framed either side of the tachometer and speedometer to monitor the rear of the car.
So why was this built? VW wanted to see where they could take Bentley and they also wanted to make a big splash with their latest acquisition. They were obviously working on the Bugatti Veyron at the same time, perhaps with some of the same people.
At the time, Bentley stated publicly that they thought they could sell 300 copies of their first supercar at $400,000 (£250,000.) Whether they believed this or not is not known. It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to show its customers a concept and gauge response before deciding to proceed or shelf the project.
It could be that customer response to the Bentley was tepid, so the Board of Directors took a look at the responses they got from both cars and simply voted for the Bugatti. This seems plausible when you consider how different the Hunaudiéres was from the existing Bentley lineup. Alternatively, it could also be that it was never intended to be built and was just a different version of the Veyron designed to generate marketing buzz. Irregardless, it’s still eye-catching 15+ years later.
BONUS: Want even more fun? Check out this video of a young Richard Hammond covering the Bentley :