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Xtreme Machines

Cars that extend the limits of what driving can be.
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Tiger Woods, May/June 2008

With so many sedans, coupes, crossovers and sports cars on the market, you'd think there'd be something for everyone out there. Yet when you get down to it, most of the 100-odd new models coming to market this year aren't all that different from one another—nor what's out there already. Sure, they may feature a little more chrome, a couple extra horsepower or a bigger sound system, yet the majority of the machines on the road today are pretty much interchangeable. • But not all. A rare few really pack a punch: whether you're talking about ultimate performance or breathtaking design, they're the extreme machines that stand out in a me-too market. • What do they have in common? Not much, and that's the point. With nearly 1,000 horsepower, Bugatti's awe-inspiring Veyron is truly one of a kind. But power isn't the only thing that defines an extreme machine. Mercedes' new smart fortwo is small enough to serve as a spare tire for some big SUVs, yet it'll grab you plenty of attention.

Here's a roundup of some of the most intriguing, exciting and unusual extreme machines on the road right now. We guarantee that none of them will make you feel as if you're driving a chromed clone.

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE—AND THEN SOME

Bugatti Veyron 16.4
Back in the 1980s, it took barely 250 horsepower to qualify as an extreme machine. These days, you'll get more from a minivan. But it's hard to imagine anyone ever exceeding the raw numbers of the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, its W-16 engine pumping a neck-snapping 1,001 horsepower through all four wheels. Named for Pierre Veyron, the Bugatti team driver who won the 1939 Le Mans race, the strikingly futuristic two-seater tops out at 254 miles an hour. And if you've got a place to keep foot to floor, you'll suck down a tank of gas very quickly.

Veyron is a showpiece for Volkswagen, which acquired the legendary Bugatti name and pulled the covers off a prototype at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show. The production version launched in 2005 with only one car a week rolling off the assembly line, in Alsace, France. The price tag? Since you have to ask, you probably can't afford it, but in case you're willing to bust the bank, it starts at $1.5 million.

If you've survived the stock market's tumble and have a need to speed up your morning commute, you don't have to settle for the basic Veyron 16.4. Last September, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, Bugatti introduced the ultimate version, called the Veyron EB 16.4 "Pur Sang," or "Pure Blood." It features a stripped-down body, cleanly polished down to its bare aluminum and carbon fiber, with distinctive, diamond-cut aluminum wheels. Only five Pur Sangs are being built.

LIFTING THE COVERS

Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Roadster
Few cars have the visual stopping—or staying—power of the Mercedes-McLaren SLR. It's been a surprisingly long four years since the automaker's race-derived supercar first screamed onto the scene, but only now are we getting the long-awaited ragtop version. Like the original coupe, the SLR Roadster looks both elegant and menacing, with an impossibly low-slung nose that was derived from the McLaren Formula One race car. Only the most subtle changes have been made to accommodate the convertible roof, mostly to keep the top in place when you nudge full speed, at 206 mph.

Both coupe and cabriolet have a venerable heritage to uphold, tracing their roots from the 1955 300SLR "Uhlenhaut Coupe" with a stop along the way at the 1999 Detroit auto show, where Mercedes and its racing partner rolled out the first of two concept cars that eventually evolved into the production SLR.

The roadster retains the SLR coupe's unusual mid-front engine layout, and the basic stats remain the same: the 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 pumps out 617 horsepower and 575 screaming foot-pounds of torque. It's easy to spin the big tires, but the sound you'll more likely remember is that distinctive, resonant "brap" that bellows from the SLR's chromed tailpipes.


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