The W16 engine that powers the Bugatti Chiron today is nearing its 20th birthday. The engineering marvel set a new standard for performance when the Veyron arrived in 2005, and the car has undergone serious revisions since then that have only increased its power and dominance. 

Development for what would become Bugatti’s W16 engine began as a drawing on an envelope in 1997. VW Group’s Chairman of the Board of Management at the time, Ferdinand Karl Piëch, first envisioned an 18-cylinder engine that’d eventually become the quad-turbocharged 8.0-litre 16-cylinder engine we know today.

Gallery: Bugatti’s Quad-Turbocharged 8.0-Liter W16 Engine

The engine underwent its first test in 2001, reaching the required 1,001 PS (987 bhp / 736 kilowatt) output. The engine’s sheer power required Bugatti to develop new ways to test the engine, including the engine test bench.

Engineers were flying blind as, according to VW’s Head of Engine Development Karl-Heinz Neumann, “there was no literature or empirical data” for cars that could go faster than 350 kilometres per hour (217 miles per hour) with a production engine with more than 12 cylinders. One major hurdle during the car’s development was ensuring it stayed grounded and could put the power to the asphalt. 

The Bugatti Veyron and its W16 engine wouldn’t arrive until 2005, giving Bugatti engineers four years to hone the engine’s smoothness and reliability, which required more technical innovations. The W16’s design made detecting misfires or engine knock difficult, so the company developed Bugatti Ion Current Sensing. It was designed to monitor each spark plug’s ion current, and it could deactivate the cylinder, slow the timing, or reduce the boost pressure if it detected a knock or misfire.

Bugatti’s Quad-Turbocharged 8.0-Liter W16 Engine
Bugatti’s Quad-Turbocharged 8.0-Liter W16 Engine

Bugatti upgraded the W16 engine for 2010, adding larger turbochargers and other mods, which increased its output to 1,200 PS (1,183 bhp / 882 kW). However, the engine would receive a significant increase in output with the introduction of the Chiron. Bugatti chucked the old engine out the window and developed everything else as new. The new W16 delivered 1,500 PS (1,479 bhp / 1,102 kW), which Bugatti attributes to turbochargers that feature new sequential turbocharging.

Today, the W16 can crank out 1,600 PS (1,578 bhp / 1,176 kW), which you get in the Chiron Super Sport and Centodieci. It takes two people six days to build the W16, which has 3,712 individual parts. Once complete, the engine leaves VW’s Salzgitter engine plant for Molsheim, where engineers marry it to the transmission and start the car’s final assembly.