Home » The Bugatti Tourbillon’s Revolutionary Steering Wheel Setup Was Done Over 50 Years Ago By Maserati

The Bugatti Tourbillon’s Revolutionary Steering Wheel Setup Was Done Over 50 Years Ago By Maserati

Bugatti Maserati Top

As you likely saw, Bugatti just unveiled their new Toyota GR Yaris-killer, the 1,775 horsepower, V16 Tourbillon, and it’s an impressive tour-de-farts of advanced tech and stunning Bugatti-heritage designs. I’m sure you’ll be seeing these in every TJ Maxx parking lot from Lansing to Arlen, so you’ll be familiar with these new Bugattis soon enough. As you have likely inferred by the name (tourbillon is a horological term for the mechanism in a watch made from compressed fairy scat that gives a watch its monetary value) the new Bugatti has a sort of fancy watch theme, which is perhaps most noticeable in its novel, watch-like instrument cluster. That instrument cluster was also lauded as being revolutionary, with some outlets even proclaiming it a reinvention of “the (steering) wheel.” Here’s the only problem with that idea, though: Maserati did it half a century ago.

So, let’s go over what the big deal here is: the instrument cluster of the Tourbillon, which Bugatti describes like this:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom


Inspired by the timeless elegance of watchmaking craft, the TOURBILLON prioritizes an analogue design. The instrument cluster is constructed by Swiss horologists, built to precise watchmaking tolerances featuring over 600 components.”

… is not just watch-inspired, but actually made by Swiss watchmakers, it seems. And, yeah, it’s pretty incredible-looking, with all sorts of gears and escapements and bezels and needles and only one small digital display screen. I mean, look:

Bugatti Instruments

So, yeah, it’s a visual treat. But, even more exciting is how it’s set into the center of the steering wheel, and how that wheel moves around it while the instrument cluster stays still. That’s the real punctum of the whole thing, as its mechanically interesting and keeps all those gauges clear and unblocked so you can really see if you’re at 1/8 of a tank or more like 2/17 of a tank while you’re taking a long sweeping turn at 178 mph. Look, you can see it here:


Spinningwheel Bugatti

That’s a hell of a party trick, and I get why everyone is so turgid about it. But, I think it’s worth noting that this car was doing just that back in 1971:

Boomerang 1

That striking wedge-shaped spaceship is the Maserati Boomerang, designed by Italdesign and first shown at the 1971 Turin Auto Show, where it became the platonic ideal of the wedge-shaped sports car design of the 1970s.

Boomerang 2


The exterior is pretty striking and revolutionary, but we’re here to talk about the instruments and the steering wheel, which had this setup:

Boomerang Dash 1Look familiar? While I don’t think any Swiss watch craftsmen were involved with any of this, the concept is the same: instruments remain stationary in the middle, the steering wheel rotates around them. There were at least two versions of the instrument cluster, too; one with the multiple small round gauges, and off-the-shelf switches, and one that was custom-made for the Boomerang:

Boomerang Dash 2

I’m not even certain the Boomerang was the first car to try this, either; I believe there were earlier examples of this, but I think this Maserati concept car is likely the best known, and likely the best realized.

I guess we could also the 1978 Lancia Siblio, though it didn’t exactly have instruments, just a small display screen and some buttons/warning lights:


Sibilo 1

That one is deeply weird. And brown, so very very brown.

Anyway, with everyone primed and ready to heap effusive praise onto Bugatti’s latest creation, I wanted to just make sure that those who came before, who paved the way for center-wheel instruments so that the Tourbillon could do its thing and go on tour with billionaires, got their due.

Yes, it’s cool, but Bugatti did not do it first. So there.





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27 days ago

Great. Now I gotta unload this Yaris.
And Bugatti is notoriously stingy about trade-ins.

28 days ago

It’s interesting that the selling point here is: “the dashboard is all analogue, there’s physical switches for everything, and there’s only one tiny screen”.
Perhaps this is the start of a movement away from touchscreens and digital dashboards?

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