"Have you ever wrecked one of these?" I ask as our burnt-orange Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse bursts onto the Julia Tuttle Causeway like a fireball from Hell. Butch Leitzinger shakes his head. The mild-mannered former racer is Bugatti's official driver, but a better title would be "pilot." With a top speed of 260 mph, the Veyron is more turbojet than Toyota.
"I had one crazy Canadian who tried to," Leitzinger yells over the roar of the 1,200-horsepower engine just behind our heads. "We came up on a 180-degree turn against the mountain, and he steps on the brake and the car goes 'pop'" — Leitzinger turns his hand sideways to show how the car skidded on the ice — "And I think, OK, we're dead."
Instead, the supersmart car righted itself just in time. I squeeze out a nervous grin.
Leitzinger and I are on a high-octane, two-hour test drive of the Vitesse. As he steers us south onto I-95, my stomach puckers — after a quick demo, I'll be the one behind the wheel of the world's most expensive car. At $2.5 million, this beast would take me 70 years of work to buy. And that's if I didn't pay taxes. Or eat.
"Let me pull back a bit so I can show you the acceleration," Leitzinger says cheerily a few minutes later. "I'm taking it down to second gear and..."
Vrrroooom! The air seems to split in front of us. My head hits the cushion. My skin ripples back on my skull, and my eyes dilate with delight. Bath salts? Try a Bugatti.
Leitzinger exits onto the Rickenbacker Causeway and pulls over: My turn.
Adjusting the mirrors, I'm doubtful New Times would cover a $2.5 million auto claim. I start by driving slowly — or at least what feels slow. When a flashing road sign alerts me to slow down, I realize, Holy shit, I've been doing 75 mph in a 45 zone. "They had to make the speedometer bigger because at first, people didn't realize how fast they were going," Leitzinger says.
Next, we head to South Beach because dammit, I've got a Bugatti for two hours and I might as well impress some chicks. It doesn't take long. Driving a $2.5 million car is like handing out hundred-dollar bills with David Hasselhoff: You quickly attract attention.
"Go, Michigan State!" screams a gorgeous blonde wearing a ponytail and eye black. Noticing our confusion, she says, "Your license plate says Michigan. You're here for the basketball game tonight, right?"
When we cross Lincoln Road, it's like taking center stage at Wimbledon. Random strangers yell at us: "Hell yeah!" and "What kind of a car is that?" while snapping photos and touching the car. Two Scandinavian models actually stop and tilt down their sunglasses to stare at us. My life has become a motion picture.
On Fifth Street, a pearl-white Ferrari 458 Spider stops behind us and the driver screams for us to pull over. We duck into a gas station. "What the hell is going on here, boys?" croaks the man, who turns out to be a 54-year-old insurance mogul named Eric Giglione. "This is the most beautiful fucking car I've ever seen. Is this your bad boy?" he asks me. When he hears I'm a journalist, he laughs. "I thought you were Justin Bieber.
"I bet this baby's got a lot of ugh," Giglione says, performing a hip thrust. "It's all about the pussy, after all. You know what I'm talking about."
As I drive us back to New Times HQ, I have one last request.
"Well, that's a first," Leitzinger says as we pull into a Taco Bell drive-thru. I order the cheapest item on the menu: a bean burrito with no onions.
"Are you sure that's all you want?" the dude at the cash register asks when I pull up. "Damn, that's a nice ride!" the teenager says as he hands me a steaming tube of trans-fat-filled lard. "I'd have to sell a lot of tacos to buy that thing!"
Moments later, I step out of the Bugatti and back into my life as a professional journalist whose only flirtation is with poverty.
As Leitzinger pulls away in the car I never knew I always wanted, I count my change. Taco Bell Boy stiffed me 9 cents. I guess he figured that if I was driving that car, I didn't need it. I shake my head and shuffle inside to fill out an expense report for $1.06.