Many auto companies have created spectacular engines. Bugatti’s most modern incarnation is likely unique in having reversed that equation. This was a car company built around an engine—and not even the one its cars ended up using. The origin story really does involve a sketch on the back of an envelope, the one on which Volkswagen boss Ferdinand Piëch scribbled his proposal for an 18-cylinder powerplant in 1997. At the same time, he was leading VW through its empire-building expansion, crushing his enemies and delighting in the lamentations of their women. The company was then also deep in negotiations to buy Rolls-Royce. Piëch seems to have been thinking of a motor worthy of this proposed acquisition.
Yet this would be one of the few battles in the auto executive game of Risk he wouldn’t win. BMW swooped in to nab Rolls-Royce at the last moment. Rather than give up on the engine or offer it to a lesser brand, Piëch started to think of a worthy alternative for such an outlandish powerplant. At which point, legend has it, the youngest of his 13 children, three-year-old Gregor, asked for a model of a Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic. Inspiration struck. Within months, Volkswagen had negotiated to buy rights to the Bugatti brand, which had gone bankrupt in 1995. For the full story, check out this article from Road & Track.