Car Culture: Mad Cars for Mad Men

A weekly look at all that sucks in the car world, and some good bits


Bugatti Veyron, ludicrously expensive and fast, with a fireplace for a grille

Costly cars, you see them every day drifting sedately through busy city streets, men and women driving to Tescos, collecting Barry, Harry or Mhairi from private school. £90,000 Range Rovers will never see more than winter slush, not a farm field in sight for which the original was designed. They are bought as a status symbol. Luxury Lexus (Lexii?) clog the streets around schools. Black Bentleys tell pedestrians the children in them have a head start in life, but the owners won’t tell us their machines have serious built in faults that cost ten times as much to fix as your humble Suzuki Jimny tin can. And they all rely on a  battery to work.

The occasional supercar will break wind to get your attention, startling you and rattling shop windows; a bright yellow wedge of Lamborghini designed to look intimidating will thunder by; a bright red Ferrari show its ample girth just about able to encompass the driver’s head. A James Bond wannabee behind the wheel of an Aston Martin rumbling at idle at the traffic lights, expensive coats of arms miles away from any race track for which they were built.

Rich men collect expensive cars like we collect old socks and shoes. How they manage to keep tyres inflated, batteries charged, oil from not coagulating in the sump, or drive them all is another matter. They buy them because they accrue in value, and anyhow, they know bugger all about fine art. They call their expensive acquisitions ‘rolling sculpture’ to give the impression they have a soul. The bland enveloped in the grand.

Here’s a larger than life example to show how the rich pay through the nose for believing everything car manufactures tell them. First, let’s not forget high-end vehicles are just as susceptible to grazes, scuff, dings and battery failure as any other car, and expensive does not denote reliability or durability.

The Bugatti Veyron was created at the instruction of the autocratic chief of VW, and his half-a-dozen other car makers he took over in the decade of expansion. (Autocratic is a euphemism for, a sod to work under.) Piech was a very talented engineer, but his vanity grew exponentially with the expansive success of VW. He wanted the maker of good everyday family cars to build the fastest sports car ever made that would beat all rivals. So he pinched the legacy of Ettori Bugatti – perfectionist and maker of great cars in his day – to clothe his grand folly. Instead of lightness and innovation, he produced a big fat lump that lost money on every model produced and cost a million squid to buy before all the running costs are met.

He got the process the wrong way around, started with a shape and tried to squeeze everything into it. Very soon his team of engineers were adding bits to compensate for the white hot heat generated by other bits, and even more bits to stop the 250 mph wunderkind taking off like a plane. Each solution to a problem added another problem that demanded a solution.

What does a Bugatti cost to run? Once you’ve given the company an arm and a leg, and the shirt off your back, just to have a dealer be over-deferential and unctuous, you’re faced with astronomical running costs. Where to begin?

Bugatti recommends all fluids changed each year, same as other cars, but … that costs a hefty £19,000, the price of  decent conventional car.

Replacing the oil and other fluids takes a lot of time and fiddling about the Veyron’s massive engine. The car has a whopping 16 drain plugs or twice as many compared to another exotic from the VW Group, the Lamborghini Huracan. The drain plugs are not easily accessible. The mechanics have to take out the rear wheels and brakes, as well as the lining on the rear quarter panels along with the one underneath the back of the car. That petrol pump pound sign is now birling faster than your eyeballs can take in the flashing numbers.

Moving on to the wheels, Bugatti advises all Veyron owners to “change the tyres once every couple of years”. New tyres costs a killer £30,000. As for the wheels themselves, they have to be replaced every 10,000 miles for a staggering £40,000. Without anything else to buy – yes, there’s more – an owner is watching about £77,000 in maintenance costs in just a couple of years.

The insane costs of maintaining a Veyron were revealed when an EPA certification application surfaced on the Internet. (US Environmental Protection Agency.) Among its statistics were £4,900 to replace each individual turbocharger and approximately £7,000 in labour costs to replace a pair. An air cooler is £7,000 and heavens above, there are two of them. Labour for each is another £1,500.

The camshaft adjusters might only be about £615 per piece, but an owner has to pay around £16,000 in labour because the procedure requires engine disassembly. Ouch! How mad is that? And I though £120 to change a hard to get at Smart Car headlight bulb was theft. The cost of each individual item would shock a Saudi prince. No Bugatti owner will do less than pay for a detailed valet three times a year, which might work out the cheapest part of ownership. Don’t envy the driver, lend him a quid.

The faux Bugatti was a dinosaur when it was created. And still, after all that financial madness and engineering pain, not a road anywhere to drive it at 250 mph!


Safest car

I hear from insiders latest crash test results. Some cars are no more than papier mache. There is one stand out machine. The Tesla Model X is an electric luxury SUV par excellence, and if safety is high on your list of priorities, it sits top of the list scoring 98% for adult occupant protection and 94% for advanced driver safety assistance features. That latter score is the joint-best to date for this category – ever, being achieved by just one other car: the Tesla Model 3. Alternatively, you could invest in a VW Sharan and watch the rear doors fall off in a crash, the rear, you know, where the kids sit. You pays yer money and ya takes yer chances.

Hospital car park

A visit to the Royal Hospital at Little France (lovely name) in Edinburgh, not to visit a friend in a ward, but to determine if I have a future. My usual laid back demeanour covered a multitude of anxieties. After making small talk with nurses and specialists, I left disconsolate and disorientated. I reached the car park barrier pay machine thinking it would take a bank card. It didn’t, but it took my ticket. Pressed the button for help and a disembodied female voice asked how she could help. I felt like saying ‘cure me’ but only explained my predicament. She told me the pay machine was back at the hospital. Putting the car in reverse met with an almighty horn blast behind me. I hit the brakes. Missed the poor bugger by inches. Waved an apology. Parked in my old spot, walked to the pay machine but didn’t have the ticket to put in it, eaten by the exit barrier machine. The disembodied woman spoke her reassuring voice and asked me to pay £2,20 for my three hours stint, and she would raise the barrier so I could leave. For the cheap stay thank you SNP, for the help the sweet lady gave a befuddled puddle of a man, my gratitude.

Eddie Stobart RIP?

Once upon a time their immaculate red and greed big rig trucks were everywhere, their drivers the most courteous on the road. The Eddie Stobart transport business, famed for its super-clean machines, is teetering on the brink of collapse with its future looking at £200 debt. Brexit put the lid on its recovery plans. Unions said up to 6,500 Eddie Stobart workers are at risk of becoming victims of “bandit capitalism”. The dice is thrown at a key shareholder vote in London this week. The vote will pit William Stobart, third son of the company’s founder, against his childhood friend and former brother-in-law, Andrew Tinkler. If their competing bids fall through, the company could collapse months before its 50th birthday.

Happy motoring!



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4 Responses to Car Culture: Mad Cars for Mad Men

  1. broonpot says:

    Veyron is not unique in having stupid design decisions as the reason for exhorbitant maintenance / repair costs.
    My BMW has the windscreen wash reservoir in a position where it can only be flushed and cleaned by removing it, after removing the front wing! Fortunately the job was done at no cost under warranty.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    Amazing. Vorsprung durch Technik, ha-ha! Years ago I had a poorly built new Brit sports car that placed the battery in the passenger footwell, reducing leg room by 10 inches. It wasn’t even secured behind the carpet and fell out when the brakes were applied. And the glove box lid was held fast by an upright standard Philip’s head screw. It was like being back in the Sixties.

  3. greig12 says:

    I had a similar car parking jamboree at Edinburgh airport during the summer. Having turned into the wrong car park I had to spend £4 getting back out. The pay at machine at the barrier was so worn that it took me a wee while to work it out. This I did to impatient peeps from the impatient cnuts behind me. I don’t know if they thought it would speed me up or what so I proceeded to take my sweet time about it pausing only briefly to give a guy the finger. I don’t know if it’s a good idea in your 60s to be getting bolshie with younger and presumably handier guys but I was so furious at having to pay just to get out that I wasn’t much bothered. The lack of signage or my inability to see it for the pick up car park caused me to end up in the drop off point where one of my passengers was waiting. Lady Luck smiles at last I thought only to sit there waiting because my other passengers luggage took a while. When finally I left the pick up point the machine wanted £15 to lift the barrier. With fuel it cost me about 30 quid to pick 2 folk up from Edinburgh airport. No good deed goes unpunished eh. A mixture of being a dottery auld git and not being a regular at the airport + I believe a piss poor system designed to fleece the unwary, had me raging.

    Sorry about the length of the rant there GB. I hope your medical situation alluded to in your piece will have a satisfactory outcome. All the best.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    Edinburgh Airport Authority knows no accountability. It raises charges as easily as you raise a finger at a pissed-off driver. Independence has to get a tight grip on the greedy bastards. Just dropping off or picking up at the collection point can run up at £10 charge for a few minutes. A short stay visit to Edinburgh Airport is a ride to a heart attack. It used to be one pf the most pleasant airports in the UK to use.

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