The Incredible 1999 Bentley Supercar That Foreshadowed The Bugatti Veyron

When seeking the inspiration and precursor to the almighty Bugatti Veyron, Bentley might not be the first carmaker that springs to mind. Per Free Map Tools, there's 545 miles as the automotive-inclined crow flies between Bugatti headquarters in Molsheim, France and Bentley's native Crewe, U.K. There's at least as much distance between the design philosophies of the two firms. 

Bugatti is legendary for prioritizing peak performance, complete with 1000+ horsepower, 16-valve engines. Bentley builds mighty steeds too, but also ranks with the most luxurious of luxury brands — striving in every respect to deliver the most comfortable, sophisticated, entirely indulgent customer experience.

At least, that's usually the case. In fact, an all-important connection between Bentley and Bugatti led to the production of a Bentley hypercar that clearly inspired the paradigm-shattering, 1000-horsepower Veyron. At first glance, it even seems Bentley got there first: Per TopSpeed, the working concept for the Bentley Hunaudieres debuted in 1999, while — as even Bugatti confesses — the Veyron stewed in development for several years prior to release, only hitting pavement in 2005.

It certainly seems like Bentley should have beaten Bugatti to the W16-powered punch. What happened to this concept?

Bugatti and Bentley riding down parallel roads

The biggest element the Hunaudieres and Veyron had in common was also the biggest thing they had, period — both vehicles had enormous, overclocked W16 engines. Both cars also had smooth silhouettes, almost without the vents, dents, and scoops common in hypercars of the time. Each car was also of an age: According to The Car Connection and Autoblog, the Hunaudieres debuted as a concept at the Geneva Auto Show in March of 1999, while the first concept car to use the Veyron name appeared in Tokyo in October of the same year.

The similarities aren't an accident. The Bugatti Veyron and Bentley Hunaudieres, plus the strikingly similar Audi Rosemeyer that Motor1 rightly commemorates, are the vehicular equivalent of triplets separated at birth. Bugatti, Bentley, and Audi are all just brands, after all, different marques belonging to a single company — the Volkswagen Group. 

The Hunaudieres, Rosemeyer, and Veyron represent Volkswagen trying different spins on what they were sure was a winning core design: a distinctively styled, ludicrously powerful hypercar to end all hypercars. In the end, the Bugatti-branded build was the one that came to market, but in a slightly different world, it could have been Bentley or even Audi that reinvented the wheel for 21st century motorheads.