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Bugatti Veyron has lead in speed contest
Clocking 268 m.p.h., Bugatti reclaimed the title of world's fastest production car last month with its new Veyron 16.4 Super Sport. Is the elite Volkswagen division worried about losing the record to upstart Shelby SuperCars, which took the honor away once before? Not really. Executives say they've set their sights higher.

"It's not that we have to target Shelby," says John Hill, Bugatti's sales chief for North and South America. "It's about how do we go further with what we have developed."

But at Shelby SuperCars, founder Jerod Shelby is raring to take back the speed crown -- and he has a prototype that could do it.

"Bugatti is like Goliath," the auto entrepreneur says. "We're David."

Such is the state of competition among companies making cars that can rocket to speeds more than three times the legal speed limit. Appealing to only a few hundred megarich customers, supercarmakers have turned back to the oldest page in their marketing book: Who goes fastest?

The rivalry was on display in this exclusive coastal enclave for the wealthy, just south of San Francisco. While Bugatti courted potential patrons at its unveiling of the $2.1-million Super Sport at the stately Quail Lodge Golf Club, Shelby entertained customers at a plush hilltop estate in Monterey, a couple of miles away.

The competition began in 2005 when Bugatti, taking the name of the prewar Italian builder of both racing cars and luxury sedans, knocked the auto world on its ear with its first supercar, the 16-cylinder turbocharged 1,001-horsepower Veyron 16.4. Never before had supercar fans seen a car so fast, at 253 m.p.h., and so expensive, topping $1.2 million.

Bugatti vowed it would build only 300.

Along came Shelby (no relation to legendary Mustang customizer Carroll Shelby) who started his supercar company in 1998 after striking it rich in medical devices. His small company, based in West Richland, Wash., has made about 15 of his Ultimate Aeros so far at prices starting around $740,000. The cars' eight-cylinder turbocharged engines develop 1,183 horsepower.

In 2007, one hit what was then a record of 256 m.p.h. The company motto: "Life begins at 250."

To take back the record, Bugatti boosted Veyron's horsepower to 1,200 to create the Super Sport. It is to be available for sale by year's end. The two-seater can go from zero to 200 m.p.h. in 17.4 seconds. "It's a beauty -- and a beast," says the record-setting test driver Pierre-Henri Raphanel. Detroit Free Press

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