Can you imagine forking out Dh32.7 million for a car? That's an outlay that could get you two or three luxury villas on Palm Jumeirah. But as absurd as such a scenario may seem, some people have actually done it. The healthy appetite among wealthy automotive collectors and connoisseurs for exclusive limited-edition supercars has prompted several purveyors of wheeled exotica to roll out low-volume specials with price tags steep enough to make your eyes water.
Bugatti has been rewriting the automotive rule book ever since the 1,001-horsepower Veyron debuted almost 15 years ago. Besides its top speed of 407 kilometres per hour and mind-bending acceleration, the Veyron's Dh6.3m cost in 2005 placed it in a different galaxy to every other supercar on the market. But the French carmaker is now upping the ante with a Dh32.7m low-volume model known as the Centodieci, with The National given a sneak preview of the model before its public unveiling this weekend at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in Monterey, California.
Bugatti will only build 10 of the 1,600hp Centodieci – Italian for "One Hundred and Ten" – and each unit has already been sold in advance to hand-picked VVIP customers of the marque, which is part of the Volkswagen Group's multi-brand empire. The new model's name reflects the fact it's a tribute to the EB 110, a quad-turbo V12 supercar that Bugatti produced 139 of in the early 1990s.
Bugatti design director Achim Anscheidt describes the EB 110, which was built from 1991 until 1995, as the "start of the Bugatti trinity, for which the Veyron and Chiron have been the successors". "The EB 110 was designed from a clean sheet of paper," he says. "Its combination of a carbon-fibre chassis, all-wheel-drive and four turbochargers was unique at the time to Bugatti."
The Centodieci pays homage to the EB 110's pioneer status via an assortment of styling cues that link it to the yesteryear supercar, such as the oval perforations in the upper-rear section of its flanks and headlights set well back in the nose. However, Anscheidt is adamant he didn't merely want to design a "retro car", as their appeal is often short-lived. To understand what he means, you need only think of Volkswagen's "New Beetle", which sold like hot cakes after its 1998 launch, but then fizzled out.
As extravagantly priced as the Centodieci is, it's not the company's most expensive offering to date. That honour goes to La Voiture Noire (The Black Car), a Dh68.4m one-off revealed earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show. Although unconfirmed by Bugatti, the latter vehicle is rumoured to be earmarked for former Volkswagen Group chairman Ferdinand Piech.
But what sort of person would buy the Centodieci? And why? For starters, they obviously need to be immensely wealthy. The average Bugatti customer – and we're referring merely to owners of the "regular" models – owns 84 cars, three jets and one yacht, according to former Bugatti president Wolfgang Durheimer. Clearly, those customers have the wherewithal to purchase the Centodieci without breaking the bank.
The added lure of such low-volume specials is that they invariably become appreciating assets. Consider the hallowed McLaren F1, of which 106 were built and sold in the 1990s. When it was new, the car cost about Dh2.9m. Today, if you are lucky enough to find one for sale, you could expect to pay about Dh40m. It would have been a gilt-edged investment back in the day, if you had the money and foresight to purchase one and nurture it for a couple of decades.
Supercar manufacturers have obviously cottoned on to this trend and jumped on the low-volume bandwagon. In 2016, Lamborghini unveiled the Centenario, which marked 100 years since the birth of the company's founder, Ferruccio Lamborghini. Only 40 were rolled out – 20 coupes and 20 roadsters – with a price tag of a little under the Dh7m mark. A quick Google search reveals a pre-owned Centenario now fetches up to Dh14m. That's double the purchase price in only three years and a tidy investment, wouldn't you say?
Less exclusive, but also assured of future collectible status, are the Ferrari Monza SP1 and SP2, inspired by past prancing horse greats such as the 750 Monza, 250 Testa Rossa and 166 MM. The striking pair – the SP1 is a single-seater, while the SP2 has two buckets – aren't exactly practical, as they make do with small scissor doors and no windscreen, but with a production run of fewer than 500 cars, rarity is assured. As such, the entry price of Dh7.2m won't deter prospective owners.
Meanwhile, hallowed Turin styling house Pininfarina recently unveiled the Battista, a "hyper-EV" that eschews a combustion engine in favour of a lithium-ion battery pack and a quartet of electric motors that generate a towering 1,900hp – an output equivalent to 10 Toyota Camrys. Production will be capped at 150 units, with each car requiring an outlay of Dh8m. It's not yet known whether electric vehicles have the same collectible potential as combustion-powered cars, so the Battista represents an interesting toe-dipped-in-the-water exercise.
British manufacturer McLaren also capitalised on its formidable Formula One legacy, via the outlandish-looking Senna, a winged and scooped 500-unit special named after the late Ayrton Senna, a McLaren pilot from 1988 until 1993 and rated by many as the greatest driver in F1 history. The carbon-fibre-laden Senna is priced at a hefty Dh3.4m, but each model is spoken for already, so even its unique styling hasn't put buyers off.
The inescapable conclusion is that there is a healthy market for exorbitantly priced low-volume specials, particularly in the Gulf region, which generates the highest per-capita sales in the world for brands such as Bugatti, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini.
But it's not enough to merely offer the customer a mega-horsepower engine or fabricate the car from titanium or carbon fibre. An essential element to guarantee collectability is a compelling storyline – preferably with legitimate historical links – that endows the vehicle with a deep emotional appeal. That is why Bugatti, with its venerated aura and 110-year history filled with drama and racing laurels, can actually get away with charging Dh32.7m for a car.