Home » The Bugatti W16 Mistral Is The Swan Song For The Incredible W16 Engine

The Bugatti W16 Mistral Is The Swan Song For The Incredible W16 Engine


The end of an era is upon us as Bugatti is signaling the end of its famous W16 engine. But it’s not going out without a bang. Being showcased at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering during Monterey Car Week is the Bugatti W16 Mistral, an open-top swan song to one of the wildest powertrains in recent memory. And before you ask, it’s already sold out.

If you’ve played a racing game, watched some Top Gear, or read some car news in the past 17 years, chances are you’ve at least heard of the wild work of Bugatti. I certainly remember watching Top Gear and its tests to see if the Veyron could really hit its incredible top speed of 253 mph. Part of the magic behind the speed is Bugatti’s legendary W16 engine. And like many awesome bits of history with Volkswagen AG brands, it comes back to Ferdinand Karl Piëch.

04 Bugatti Roadster Launch Set Dynamic (1)

In 1993, Piëch took control of VAG. Under Piëch control, Volkswagen acquired names and marques like Bentley, Lamborghini, and Rolls-Royce Motors. It also developed the Lupo 3L, the Porsche Cayenne and the Volkswagen Phaeton. Volkswagen of this era was even developing the city car that would later be known as Smart, but dropped it in favor of the Lupo development.

As Volkswagen notes, Piëch also had his hands in powertrain and engine development. The company credits his help on the development of Audi’s Quattro system, TDI diesel engines, and the company’s straight five engine. But Piëch is perhaps best known for the W engine, a design that Volkswagen says came from the man himself.

75 Piech

Volkswagen tells the story like this:

The W engine’s journey began in an unlikely place: The Shinkansen express train running between Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan. In 1997, after a conversation with Karl-Heinz Neumann, then head of powertrain development at Volkswagen, Piëch grabbed an envelope and sketched out an idea that had been rolling around in his head for some time. The six-cylinder VR6® engine was in wide use by Volkswagen by the mid-90s; its uniquely offset cylinder banks made it compact enough to fit transversely even in small cars like the Volkswagen Golf. By marrying two of the relatively narrow engines in a further “V,” a compact 12-cylinder could be made. The offset cylinders of the merged VR6 engines formed a “W,” and the nomenclature was born.

And the W engines that came out of the other end were part mind-boggling, part pure madness. One design was a 555-horsepower, 6.25-liter W18, an engine consisting of three VR6 engines smashed together. There was only one problem, and it’s that Piëch couldn’t find a place for this engine. As it happens, Bugatti was for sale, and Piëch sought to restore the marque’s fame, using the engine as a centerpiece.

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David Tracy

Bugatti would soon put out prototypes sporting the 18-cylinder beast before landing on a production car, the Veyron 16.4. The engine lost two cylinders on its way to a production vehicle, but gained four turbos and output was rated at 987 horsepower. Ignoring the blistering top speed, the Veyron was incredible just for what it took to keep it running. It had 10 total radiators serving the vehicle’s various systems.

Bugatti Veyron 2005 1600 01

The W16 has remained at the core of Bugatti ever since, and has only gotten more powerful over the years. But the party is coming to an end, and we were warned about it back in 2018. Then Bugatti CEO Stephan Winkelmann said that the W16 found in the company’s cars would be the last, noting that legislation would eventually force radical steps. Back then, Winkelmann talked about hybridization as a way to reduce emissions.

According to Bugatti Rimac CEO Mate Rimac, the end of the road has come. And the company has decided that the roadgoing W16 will go out in a roadster:

“For the final roadgoing appearance of Bugatti’s legendary W16 engine, we knew we had to create a roadster. Well over 40% of all Bugatti vehicles ever created have been open-top in design, establishing a long lineage of performance icons that – to this day – are revered the world over.”

That car is the W16 Mistral, a roadster named after a wind that blows from the Rhône River valley, through France’s Côte d’Azur, and into the Mediterranean.

Power for the W16 Mistral comes from the 8.0-liter quad-turbo W16 from the Chiron Super Sport 300+. In the W16 Mistral it’s making the same power that it did in the Chiron, 1,580 horsepower.

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For a reminder, that’s the same engine that took a Chiron to 304.773 mph back in 2019. That run managed to spark some comments from John Hennessey, who thought that the Bugatti had to be making more power than advertised.

While this car is based on the Chiron, Bugatti says that it did more than just cut the roof off. Instead, the monocoque has been reformed to work without a roof while still providing the strength expected from a Bugatti. It also gains a new design for the front and the rear, with the front being particularly striking. A set of stacked daytime running lights run up the front, and a giant wing-shaped taillight forms the rear. I wouldn’t call it beautiful, but I do find myself staring at those lights.

26 Bugatti Roadster Launch Set Interior

As for the roof, well, it doesn’t really have one. Bugatti says that the car comes with a clip-in panel that should at least keep things dry in the rain. Top speed is expected to be at least 260 mph, and Bugatti is hoping for it to become the world’s fastest convertible.

If you’re reading this and are about to grab your bank-sized wallet, I’m afraid to say that you’re already too late. Bugatti is building just 99 of them and each costs $5 million. All of them have already found a buyer. So maybe you’ll see one at a car show someday.

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Admittedly, I expected the W16 to go out in a bigger blaze of glory, but this will work. What Bugatti’s future looks like from here on out is unclear. In an era where tough emissions regulations and ICE sales bans loom in the future, it’s probably safe to say that we’ll see some electrification experimentation. But for now, the W16 is enjoying its swan song.

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32 Responses

  1. Don’t forget, Ferdinand Piëch was at Porsche, because he is one of the Porsche grandchildren, and was responsible for the 917. Also he was so hard to get along with that all Porsche family members were banned from working for the company.
    I had an opportunity to meet him at the Rennsport reunion at Laguna Seca when they were showing off 917-027 the test mule for the 16-Cylinder engine and he just sort of walked up. He was not a pleasant guy.

  2. It’s like they were going for the Anime Rat look.

    The big rounded nose kinda calls back the Type 34, but the angling of the lights and strakes look unfortunately whiskery to me. I don’t hate it, tho: it almost carries it off.

  3. A good friend already has a Mistral, it is alot prettier than this, has a 4 litre V8 and, for a 52 year old car, it is still quite rapid.
    It is a Maserati.

      1. Not to nitpick, but all VWs were named after winds for almost 3 decades. Maybe the Mistral is actually paying homage to my base 98 Polo 😉

            1. Oh wow, I never knew that. Thanks for nitpicking, I always assumed the it was based on the Gulf Stream winds, but it’s the Gulf Stream itself.

              Self-nitpicking a bit more, “Vento” also isn’t a specific wind, but rather just the word “wind” in some languages (like my own). Someone at the Volkswagen naming department was really phoning it in at that point, which is bizarre because they could’ve just kept the Jetta nameplate like they did in the US.

  4. This is probably my favorite looking Bugatti of the modern generation Bugatti’s. I like it. But then again I do own a Delorean so most people would consider my taste in car styles quite questionable.

    1. Don’t sell yourself short! Deloreans look fucking awesome, everybody loves to see a Delorean!

      My favorite modern Bugatti is the Bolide. Their other designs are pretty meh to me (including this one) but that thing looks like it’s from another planet, and I love it.

    2. I think styling is quite literally the only thing that’s unanimously loved about the DeLorean. I mean, I love other things about it too, including the infamous PRV V6 engine that sane people usually hate. Is yours still running? Or did you go the sensible way and swapped it out?

  5. I love the W16 and everything it stands for but.. man, that things ugly as sin.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of the styling of Bugattis but that’s just awful. Especially after seeing that amazing looking Koenigsegg earlier today!

    1. I’ve not heard either the W16 or the W12, but there are a couple W8 Passats around town, and man do those sound good. Not sure if the exhaust is stock or not. But I would love to have a W8 in some kind of hot rod.

      1. I’ve ridden in a Bentley with the W12. Unfortunately, there is so much sound insulation that the engine symphony is very muffled. But when the driver stepped on it a bit, there were hints of a very satisfying growl.

  6. It’s okay that they’re sold-out. I’ll just pick one up when it comes off-lease in 36 months – let the original owner eat the new-car depreciation.

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    1. Oh… I thought it was much better looking than the past few that left the Bugatti factory.
      I saw a Veyron in person (pulled up next to me at a Shell just outside of DC) and didn’t particularly like the look. This seems a bit more refined to me.

      1. I wasn’t impressed by the Veyron, either, other than its size being less than I imagined. I think all these “Bugattis” are ugly. There might be some interesting elements here and there, but the overall shape and prewar grille shape shoehorned onto a modern hypercar has never worked for me. The whole exercise has never worked—German mega ego buys resurrected once long-dead brand dictates ridiculous specs and goofy bodystyle, forcing engineers to take years to get to work since form followed ugly function and ridiculous engine’s cooling requirement exceeded the design-first-engineer-later shape. If it was designed around its specs, there’s no way it would look the way it did. (Of course, then it could probably end up looking like so many other generic “Get this 1980s Group C template and build yourself a hypercar at home for only $19.95!” out there.)

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