The Bachelor meets the Bugatti
L.A.'s nightlife impresario takes delivery of the most exclusive production car in the world - and invites Fortune's Sue Callaway to help break it in.
(Fortune Magazine) -- This is about superlatives. A car, the Bugatti Veyron, that is unlike any other production car on the planet. And an entrepreneur, Sam Nazarian, CEO of SBE Entertainment, who is out to transform nightlife as we know it.
First things first: the wheels. In a risky corporate move, the VW Group revived the Bugatti marque in 1998 and started down the road to building the ultimate production car - in looks, in technical refinement, in exclusivity. Founder Ettore Bugatti, who died in 1947, became legendary for crafting amazingly advanced high-performance cars that behaved well on the street and were nothing short of art on wheels. His motto: "Nothing is too expensive, nothing is too beautiful."
To date, VW's Bugatti has taken 135 orders, and delivered 52 of the 300 Veyrons that will be made. And true to Ettore's vision, the two-seater makes good on all promises, from bespoke componentry to highest-caliber craftsmanship. And cost: $1.4 million.
I wanted to know who buys such a thing and what it's like to own one. So I hitched a ride with Nazarian, who just took delivery of a gorgeous red and black version. If you don't spend time on the Left Coast, you may not have heard of Nazarian - yet. A son of Qualcomm co-founder Younes Nazarian, Sam is 31, ambitious, and on a tear. He's building a network of high-end restaurants, clubs, real estate developments and hotels designed by Philippe Starck.
He also has a movie production company; his latest project, "Mr. Brooks," starring Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, and William Hurt, is due out in June. And he's doing it all with Bugatti speed. (To put that into perspective, the car goes zero to 62 in 2.5 seconds, faster than many current Formula One cars.)
"In terms of hotels, I want to build the Four Seasons of our generation - a chic, tasteful experience," he explained. "And I want your room key to give you VIP access to our clubs and restaurants."
Nazarian and I took a Saturday-night tour of his white-hot spots. As we carefully climbed into the low-slung Veyron, he laughed. "It's like high heels - putting them on is tough, but you look great once you're in - or so I've heard."
I was engrossed in admiring the machine-turned center console surround, the yards of creamy Austrian leather, the START button calling my name. Alas, Nazarian drove first.
First stop: his restaurant Katsuya (think Nobu crossed with Philippe Starck, who crafted the swish interior). We sampled the delectable fare and toured backstage, where Nazarian demonstrated the fingerprint-access security system and proprietary software that will link all his properties. "We'll be able to have your brand of vodka waiting in your room and your favorite appetizer on the table when you travel here," he explains.
Back outside, it was my turn to experience the driver's seat. As I opened the door, I looked longingly at the second ignition tucked alongside the seat track. It is with a second key engaged that the Veyron can achieve its 253-mph top speed (without it, speed is "limited" to 233 mph). The crowd swooned as I launched us into the night, all 16 cylinders lighting up behind us in a whoosh of jetlike power.
Finally, with a clear block in front of me, I laid the pedal down - and slapped my head into the seat back as we bulleted forward. It felt eternal, that G-force-drenched speed blur, but after about three seconds I let up and checked the speedo: 73 mph. Horsepower used: 449 (so said the very trick horsepower gauge) - only half her potential.
The Veyron's insane power (1,001 hp and 922 foot-pounds of torque) needs a lot of help to actually get all that oomph to the ground. Hence the weighty components (6,000 pounds' worth), all-wheel drive, four turbochargers, and silky-smooth seven-gear DSG gearbox. Yet the car feels lithe; it begs you with its ease to push its limits. Believe me, you couldn't see those limits with binoculars, no matter how good a driver you are.
Next stop, the Abbey, a club so popular that even on this rainy night more than 100 people were lined up, waiting to gain entry. After a quick tour, we headed to Area, L.A.'s hippest club of the moment. Gaggles of Paris Hilton wannabes stood outside, unable - despite their lack of clothing - to get past the bouncer.
Last stop: Hyde, a lounge so exclusive that a Web site posts which celebrities don't get in. The copper-lined boţte was teeming with TV types and scions; Nazarian and I ate a signature kobe burger as we talked.
I asked him why he wanted the Bugatti, since he's owned every other modern supercar ever made. "This car is about dedication to perfection, precisely what I want to achieve with my businesses." He sends Ivanka Trump a bottle of Cristal before we head back out to our cherry ride - and one last heavenly three-second blast.
Is that exhilaration worth $1.4 million? For most people, probably not. But I can tell you, having driven just about everything, I cannot imagine finding such a sensation anywhere else.
And so it was with more than a bit of wistfulness that I walked away from the Veyron at the end of the evening. And in a wonderfully Freudian move, I forgot to return the second key. When Nazarian politely asked me later how he might get it back, I came up with the perfect solution: Rent a track. Then I'll have to be there to witness all 1,001 horses at full gallop.