Part 12: Bugatti and
By David Cavaliere
Bugatti – a legendary name. An automobile that combined form and function with art. It is also remembered as a French car, most recently produced as an enormously expensive supercar by the Volkswagen Group, but there is more to the story than that and the Italian roots of the company led to the resurrection of the Bugatti name and a spin-off company called B-Engineering.
Ettore Bugatti (September 15, 1881 – August21, 1947), was born into an artistic family in Milan, Italy. His father Carlo was an important Italian Art Nouveau furniture and jewelry designer. His younger brother Rembrandt Bugatti was a renowned animal sculptor. His aunt, Luigia Bugatti was the wife of the painter Giovanni Segantini. His paternal grandfather, Giovanni Luigi Bugatti was an architect and sculptor. Ettore’s father steered his son’s direction into manufacturing, but rather than furniture, the elder Bugatti believed that an apprenticeship with a motorized cycle builder would suit the boy. Ettore quickly demonstrated an intense and instinctive understanding of a wide range of applications for designing and building motor vehicles. In 1898, while with the shop of Prinetti & Stucchi, he constructed his first design – the Bugatti Type 1. Ettore was 17 years old at the time. With the financial support from his father, he developed a second prototype. This was to become a springboard for the young designer/builder. His exhibit won a prize at the Milan Trade Fair in the spring of 1901 and caught the eye of Baron de Dietrich, who offered him the opportunity to design automobiles at his car factory in Niederbronn in Alsace. In 1909, Bugatti founded his own company in Molsheim, in the Alsace region (of Germany until 1919, then reverting to France). The company became known both for the level of detail of its engineering in its automobiles and for the artistic way in which the designs were executed. The company also enjoyed great success in early Grand Prix motor racing. In 1929, a privately entered Bugatti won the first ever Monaco Grand Prix. Racing success culminated with driver Jean-Pierre Wimille winning the 24 hours of Le Mans twice (in 1937 with Robert Benoist and 1939 with Pierre Veyron).
The company’s fortunes increased between the wars. Bugatti and his son Jean created stunning cars in the Molsheim factory. Jean Bugatti was killed when he was only 30 years old, while testing a race car in 1939. After that, the company’s fortunes began to decline. World War II ruined the factory in Molsheim, and the company lost control of the property.
Bugatti Automobili S.p.A.
The name languished for years until resurrected in the late 1980s by Romano Artioli, when Bugatti Automobili S.p.A was formed and the Bugatti EB110 was designed. This was a mid-engine supercar produced from 1991 to 1995. It was the only production model made by the Italian incarnation of Bugatti.
The Bugatti EB 110 was unveiled on September 15, 1991, in both Versailles and in front of the Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris, exactly 110 years after Ettore Bugatti’s birth. The car was powered by a 60-valve, quad-turbo V12 fed through 12 individual throttle bodies, powering all four wheels through a six-speed gearbox. The 3.5 liter engine produced 560 HP initially and more than 600 HP by the time that production had ended. The car used a double wishbone suspension with the chassis built by Aérospatiale made from carbon fiber. It was equipped with lifting scissor doors and a glass engine cover that provided a view of the V12 engine. A very quick car, it accelerated from 0 to 62 mph in 3.2 seconds, and had a top speed of 213 mph.
Hard times hit the company in 1995 with chairman Artioli’s over-ambitious purchase of the Lotus cars and a quest to develop the EB112 four door car. The company went bankrupt after 139 EB110s had been produced. The price of the EB 110 was just under $400,000 when new. The Volkswagen Group purchased the Bugatti brand name in 1998.
B-Engineering was formed from the ashes of Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. The one model produced by B-engineering is called the Edonis. After the company went bankrupt, some of the key personnel from the EB110 created their own group called B-Engineering. The project was co-designed and overseen by Nicola Materazzi, the man behind the Ferraris F40, 280 GTO and the Lancia Stratos. The other designer was Marc Deschamps, the former head of design at Bertone. Heading the project were Jean-Marc Borel and Frederico Trombi, both ex Bugatti heads, with the help from ex-Bugatti engineers who had been originally picked from Lamborghini and Ferrari. In total, only 22 people worked on the project.
The B Engineering Edonis was launched in 2001 as a continuation of the Bugatti EB110 Super Sport. It was extensively re-engineered and only retained the Bugatti’s carbon-fiber chassis. Both the exterior and interior were completely redesigned and the 3.5-liter Bugatti engine was upgraded. The engine was increased from 3499 to 3760 cc and the four small IHI turbochargers were upgraded to two larger units from the same manufacturer. Engine power increased from 602 to 670 HP. In addition, the four-wheel-drivetrain from the original Bugatti was replaced with a much simpler and lighter rear-wheel-drive transaxle. At the time of its launch, B-Engineering claimed a maximum speed of 227 mph, while accelerating from 0 to 62 mph came about in only 3.9 seconds. B-Engineering originally planned to build 21 vehicles at roughly $1,000,000 apiece. It has been impossible to determine how many of these vehicles have been sold. The numbers reported vary considerably. Estimates range from two vehicles produced, to as many as 15. In any event, if you purchase one, you are quite unlikely to see the same type of car pass by while you whiz along.
Last month in Geneva, Switzerland, the Volkswagen Group launched the newest Bugatti – the Chiron. This 2017 model has a power plant producing 1,500 HP, propelling the car to a top speed of 261 mph. Price? $2.6 million!