For the last twenty years this modern car factory in northern Italy has been abandoned, quietly fulfilling a lonely existence behind overgrowth in a gated compound.  From 1991 until 1995 it was the most avant-garde factory in the world, home to Bugatti Automobili SpA and the place where 240 people built some of the world’s fastest cars.

Bugatti Automobili was an Italian revival of the classic French nameplate, which for five years produced history’s forgotten supercar, the Bugatti EB110.  When the company ran into financial problems in 1995, it filed for bankruptcy and was forced to abandon its state-of-the-art facilities.  Almost miraculously, the complex has avoided redevelopment and serious vandalism for more than two decades.

Today the unloved Bugatti EB110 and its abandoned factory are little more than footnotes in history, however the well-preserved buildings serve as a time capsule for the legacy of a dream and the forgotten triumph in engineering it produced. 

cover photo courtesy Matt Zuchowski

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Bugatti: Path from France to Italy

Ettore Bugatti
Ettore Bugatti

Automobiles Ettore Bugatti was a high-end French car manufacturer established in 1909 by Italian-born French designer Ettore Bugatti.  For thirty years the company produced cars known for being the world’s most captivating and fastest automobiles.  Cars like the Bugatti Type 41 Royale and the Bugatti 57sc Atlantic are considered some of the most beautiful ever made, with the latter fetching $40 million at a 2010 auction.

Ettore Bugatti died in 1947 and his company ceased producing road cars in 1952.  The company shifted to aerospace and made a small resurrection before being swallowed by Hispano-Suiza in 1963, and later Snecma in 1968.  Snecma, a French government-sponsored aircraft supplier, merged two of its companies into Messier-Bugatti in 1977.  Until 1987, the only new Bugatti cars were reproductions, licensed by French coachworks Xavier de La Chappelle.

The idea to resuscitate the Bugatti name came in the summer of 1986, when current and former Lamborghini employees got together to discuss an idea to build a special car without corporate limitations or oversight.  The men were Ferruccio Lamborghini – who sold his stake in Lamborghini Automobili in 1974 and by 1985 was itching to return to cars – and former Lamborghini chief and father of the Countach Paolo Stanzani.  Also on board was designer Nuccio Bertone, from the famed eponymous styling firm.

Together the men had an idea, connections, design, and engineering know-how, but what the men lacked was financing.

The men with plans to revive Bugatti: 1) Ferruccio Lamborghini, 2) Paolo Stanzani, 3) Nuccio Bertone, 4) Romano Artioli, 5) Jean-Marc Borel
The men with plans to build the Bugatti EB110: 1) Ferruccio Lamborghini, 2) Paolo Stanzani, 3) Nuccio Bertone, 4) Romano Artioli, 5) Jean-Marc Borel

While at the 1986 Turin Car Show, Ferruccio and Paolo ran into a former Lamborghini employee who introduced the men to Romano Artioli, a wealthy Italian businessman with a similar desire to build a special car.

Mr. Artioli was a passionate car collector who had made millions as a dealer exporting Ferraris to Germany and importing Suzukis to Italy.  French professor Jean-Marc Borel was brought in to provide his branding experience, knowledge of automotive history, and political connections.  Borel began negotiations with French officials for the rights to the name – a delicate endeavor because the hesitant French did not want to see the brand abused.

In 1987 two Bugatti sales made worldwide news. The first was a beautiful 1931 Bugatti Royale, which sold in a Christie’s London auction for $9.8 million.  The second was the sale of the rights to the Bugatti name and its intellectual properties by French aerospace company Snecma to a group of Italian businessmen.

Early Bugatti Automobili SpA team flight, L to R: Romano Artioli (behind the plane), Jean-Marc Borel, Ferruccio Lamborghini, in the gray tie is Paolo Stanzani, and on the far right is designer Marcello Gandini.
Early Bugatti Automobili SpA team flight, L to R: Romano Artioli (behind the plane), Jean-Marc Borel, Ferruccio Lamborghini, in the gray tie is Paolo Stanzani, and on the far right, designer Marcello Gandini. (source)

Artioli and Borel presented the acquisition to the rest of the team in 1987, but the project had grown beyond the scope of what the others wanted.  Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to reduce his involvement and going forward, Nuccio Bertone limited his participation to the design process.  Paolo Stanzani was not enamored with all of Artioli’s grand ideas, but he decided to stay on with Artioli and Borel to establish the new Bugatti.

Luxembourg-based Bugatti International was established as the parent company, and in October of 1987 Bugatti Automobili, S.p.A. was founded with €2.5 million in start-up capital.

The goals were ambitious, but we had a fantastic large technical team who came from Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini. “

– Loris Bicocchi, Chief Bugatti test driver

 

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Bugatti Automobili SpA headquarters, circa 1992.
Bugatti Automobili SpA headquarters, circa 1992. (courtesy the Bugatti Registry)

Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. (1987-1995)

Designed by Giampaolo Benedini, Bugatti Automobili's Campogalliano headquarters was the "Bugatti of buildings."
Designed by Giampaolo Benedini, Bugatti Automobili’s headquarters was the “Bugatti of buildings.” (courtesy Benedini Partners)

Those behind the 1990s Bugatti revival had a dream to build an advanced supercar using the most sophisticated materials and technologies available.  To accomplish this from scratch required a turn-key infrastructure with easy access to the best designers, engineers, and suppliers.  These things were not easily sourced in Bugatti’s original home of Molsheim, France – but near Modena, Italy, they were easier to find.

Paolo Stanzani identified the site in Campogalliano to build the factory and headquarters.  The small city is firmly entrenched in the Modena corridor – the ‘Silicon Valley of Supercars’ – also home to such celebrated names as DeTomaso, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati.

Romano Artioli commissioned his cousin, architect Giampaolo Benedini, to design the 140,000 sq. ft. (13,000 sq. m.) Bugatti factory site.  Benedini’s creation was impressive and consisted of three separate banks of structures surrounded by a small test track. Two glass-walled 3-story structures served as the corporate headquarters and were home to the designers, engineers, and executives.  In the middle were two windowless buildings that served as the development and testing facilities.  On the far end was assembly and production, easily identifiable as the two largest structures with the symmetric rows of angled roofs.

Layout of the Bugatti Automobili SpA abandoned EB110 supercar factory in Campogalliano, Italy
Layout of the Bugatti Automobili SpA abandoned EB110 supercar factory in Campogalliano, Italy

Construction of the Bugatti Automobili factory nearly coincided with the development of the first Bugatti Automobili car, beginning in 1988 and ending in September of 1990.

The instructions given to Benedini were to build “the Bugatti of factories,” something beautiful in design and operation, and featuring the latest in technology.  The architect complied by designing a factory that was avant-garde and modern, built to be as much a corporate showpiece as the car.

The round building of Bugatti Automobili's corporate complex hosted new car deliveries and Gala events, the designers and engineering departments, and the company's computer systems.
The round building of Bugatti Automobili’s corporate complex hosted new car deliveries and Gala events, the designers and engineering departments, and the company’s computer systems. (courtesy Benedini Partners)

The interior of Bugatti Automobili’s corporate center appears as if it was inspired by a top-secret government facility, albeit the Hollywood version found on a 1990s movie set.  Automatic doors, glass-walled offices, and restricted keycard systems control access to various floors and rooms.  Storage was cleverly designed with hidden closets integrated seamlessly into walls.

On the first floor of the circular building in the corporate center was an open ballroom used for special events, gala dinners, and customer deliveries; its impressive ceiling was designed by Benedini to resemble the wheel of a Bugatti Type 59.

The most unique feature of the factory is also its most authentic.  Tucked in the corner, at the base of the stairs to the second-floor mess hall, is the original door from the first Bugatti factory in Molsheim, France.  Above the door, a sign commemorates the artifact:

The crown jewel of the Bugatti Automobili factory was the transplanted original door from Ettore's 1909 Molsheim factory.
The crown jewel of the Bugatti Automobili factory was the transplanted original door from Ettore’s 1909 Molsheim factory. (source)

“Molsheim 1909 – 1990 Campogalliano”

Jean-Marc Borel confirmed no expense was spared on construction, later acknowledging Artioli spent “one billion francs” building the facilities.

After nearly three years of construction the Bugatti factory was opened on Ettore Bugatti’s 109th birthday, September 15th, 1990.  For the grand opening a group of 77 classic Bugatti cars symbolically made the drive from Molsheim, France to Campogalliano, Italy.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a factory of its quality anywhere, not only in Italy, but abroad as well.”

– Renzo Reverberi, Bugatti assembler

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Bugatti Automobili Factory and Headquarters in 1993

1993 Bugatti Automobili images courtesy Benedini Partners

Bugatti Automobili, SpA company photo, circa 1993.
Bugatti Automobili, SpA company photo, circa 1993.

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Bugatti EB 110 Design & Engineering

A model of an early Bugatti EB110 prototype is prepared for wind tunnel testing.
A model of an early Bugatti EB110 prototype is prepared for wind tunnel testing. (courtesy the Bugatti Registry)

To produce the world’s best car requires the best designers and engineers.  Fortunately for Bugatti Automobili it had access to these important things.  Right off the bat the group had the luxury of working with engineering wizard Paolo Stanzani, a V-12 guru and father of the Lamborghini Miura and Countach.

The company lured famed racing designer and engineer Mauro Forghieri, creator of Ferrari’s 312 series and Lamborghini’s V-12 used in the early Diablos.  Bugatti also recruited assemblers from Maserati and other personnel from Fiat.

“My colleagues in Lamborghini thought I was crazy to go to Bugatti, but I knew I was making the right decision as soon as we turned on the first engine of the prototype. All cars I’ve driven arouse different emotions in me, but the EB110 is the maximum

– Loris Bicocchi, Chief EB 110 test driver

Early testing of the 1991 EB110 prototype in the 'Prova Motori' room of the factory, while the car still had its Gandini lines. On the right is a 'Prova Motori' room today.
Early testing of the 1991 EB110 prototype in the ‘Prova Motori’ room of the factory, while the car still had its Gandini lines. On the right is a ‘Prova Motori’ room today. (courtesy the Bugatti Registry)

Bugatti also hired Marcello Gandini, the man who designed the Lamborghini Countach and Miura, and Lancia Stratos.  Gandini was also the inventor of the Countach’s revolutionary scissor doors, a feature that came to define Lamborghinis and carried over to the Bugatti EB110.

[ Did You Know?  Although they are colloquially known as “Lambo doors,” the first car to feature scissor doors was actually the striking 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept car, also a Gandini creation.  The original purpose of the scissor doors was to improve rearward visibility – the driver could easily swing the door up and lean out while backing up.]

In 1989 four Italian designers were hired to produce designs for the new Bugatti:  Paolo Martin, Giorgetto Giugiaro, Nuccio Bertone, and Marcello Gandini.  Paolo Martin’s proposal was the wild 110 PM1, which featured a sliding canopy cockpit and exaggerated rear wing.  Giugiaro’s design appeared at the 1990 Turin Car Show as the ID90, but it was too far from Artioli’s vision for Bugatti.

Early concept designs for the Bugatti EB110: 1) Paolo Martin's 110 PM1, 2) Giorgetto Giugiaro's ID90, 3) Nuccio Bertone's interpretation, and 4) Marcello Gandini's favored DMD80
Early concept designs for the Bugatti EB110: 1) Paolo Martin’s 110 PM1, 2) Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ID90 concept, 3) Nuccio Bertone’s interpretation, and 4) Marcello Gandini’s favored DMD80

Bertone’s version of a contemporary Bugatti made it all the way to the clay model phase, and in early 1990 was going through wind tunnel testing when the plug was suddenly pulled; after this Nuccio Bertone lost faith in the project and withdrew.  Marcello Gandini’s creation was known as the DMD80 and was the closest of the designs to Artioli’s vision.

Romano Artioli and Paolo Stanzani had been butting heads over various aspects of the venture.  At this point the frustrations began to boil over during the design of the car and the speed of its development.  As Paolo tells it, “we developed the first prototype quickly, but Artioli was not happy with Gandini’s design proposals.  He kept saying that we were trying to do another Lamborghini, so he brought in his cousin Giampaolo Benedini [to redesign the car].

Bugatti EB110 final & prototype: On the left is Giampaolo Benedini's chosen design, on the right is Marcello Gandini's earlier iteration.
Bugatti EB110 final & prototype: On the left is Giampaolo Benedini’s chosen design, on the right is Marcello Gandini’s DMD80 prototype EB110. (source)

In October of 1990 Stanzani left Bugatti over creative differences.  Artioli didn’t miss a beat, immediately replacing Paolo with Nicola Materazzi, the engineer behind the Ferrari F-40 and Lancia Stratos, and Pavel Rajmis, one of the engineers behind Audi’s Quattro system.

Benedini’s alterations to the EB110 included the rounding of the front end, the addition of the trademark Bugatti horseshoe to the front grille, recessed (as opposed to popup) headlights, the venting downforce ducts just outboard of the headlights, and the car’s softened and rounded tail lamp treatment.

Giampaolo Benedini's design was ultimately the one chosen for the Bugatti EB110.
Giampaolo Benedini’s design was ultimately the one chosen for the Bugatti EB110. (courtesy the Bugatti Registry)

His changes made the car appear less like a Lamborghini and helped establish a unique identity for the new Bugatti.  But the modifications to the design didn’t please everyone; original group members and Gandini allies thought Benedini’s “shape, style was devoid of personality.”

When it came time to select a name for the car, the company chose EB110, an homage to the car’s namesake and debut on Ettore Bugatti’s 110th birthday.

“Bugatti put together the best of what was available in the world market.”

– Gianni Sighinolfi, Head of Bugatti Production

 

An artistic rendering cutaway of the Bugatti EB110 supercar
An artistic rendering cutaway of the Bugatti EB110 supercar (source)

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EB110 Introduction, Production, Sales

French cinema star and Bugatti collector Alain Delon hosted the EB110 unveiling at the Bugatti Expo on September 15th, 1991.
French cinema star and Bugatti collector Alain Delon hosted the EB110 unveiling at the Bugatti Expo on September 15th, 1991.

For the launch of the EB110 GT, Romano Artioli paid for each of the company’s workers to fly to Paris, France, to attend the Bugatti Expo Gala event.  The grand unveiling took place in front of Versailles and the Grand Arche de la Defense on September 15th, 1991, Ettore Bugatti’s 110th birthday.

The Bugatti Expo was hosted by 1960’s European cinema star and passionate Bugatti collector Alain Delon, who along with Artioli’s wife Renata Kettmeir, performed the official unveiling of the EB110GT for the crowd.

After the unveiling three EB110s made an escorted parade from the Defense square to the Palace de La Concorde, through the Champs Elysées.  That evening 1,800 guests descended upon the Palace of Versailles for a dinner party, and the following day two EB110 prototypes made the trip to Molsheim for an introduction in Bugatti’s spiritual home.

Alain Delon and Renata Kettmeir Artioli reveal the EB110 at the Bugatti Expo in Paris on Ettore Bugatti's 110th birthday, September 15th, 1991.
Alain Delon and Renata Kettmeir Artioli reveal the EB110 at the Bugatti Expo in Paris on Ettore Bugatti’s 110th birthday, September 15th, 1991. (courtesy the Bugatti Registry)

Taking a page from Ferrari’s book, Artioli wanted to ensure the EB110 remained exclusive.  He insisted the company maintain full control of distribution, selling cars factory-direct to buyers – who had to be interviewed and meticulously screened before they were approved for ownership.  The delivery process was white glove, usually involving a cadre of engineers who traveled with the car and spent a week with its new owner to demonstrate proper operation.

[ Did You Know?  In May of 1992 a Bugatti EB 110 GT recorded a top speed of 212.5 mph (342 kph) at the Nardo test track, surpassing the top speeds set by the Ferrari F40, Porsche 959, and Lamborghini Diablo. ]

In 1992 Bugatti released a lighter and more powerful EB110 dubbed the Supersport (SS).  To create the SS engineers unlocked another 50 horsepower by increasing the boost and put the car on a diet to the tune of 330 pounds (150 kg).  This was achieved by replacing the motorized rear wing with a lighter fixed unit, removing the air conditioning system and electric windows, and replacing the side and rear windows with plexiglass.  The up-rated SS sacrificed creature comforts but for a time it was the fastest production car, capable of running to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and topping out at 218 mph.

The EB 110 Supersport received positive publicity after a 1994 test by German car magazine Auto Motor und Sport. The magazine published a supercar comparison with F1 champion Michael Schumacher at the wheel, evaluating a Ferrari F40, a Jaguar XJ220, a Porsche Turbo, a Lamborghini Diablo, and a Bugatti EB110 SS.  Schumacher was so taken with the Bugatti he decided to buy one.

In April of 1994 Michael Schumacher visited Bugatti Automobili in Campogalliano to pick up his yellow EB110 SS. His EB110 crashed in 1994, was rebuilt, and in 2003 was sold to Modena Motorsport, a Germany-based Ferrari garage.
In April of 1994 Michael Schumacher visited Bugatti Automobili in Campogalliano to pick up his yellow EB110 SS. His EB110 crashed in 1994, was rebuilt, and in 2003 was sold to Modena Motorsport, a Germany-based Ferrari garage.

Michael Schumacher swung by Bugatti’s Campogalliano headquarters to pick up his bright yellow EB 110 Super Sport (serial #39020) on April 28th, 1994, and the event garnered a lot of positive attention.

Michael Schumacher Bugatti EB110 photos courtesy the Bugatti Registry

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Watch: 1995 Bugatti EB 110 production and testing

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Bugatti EB110: The Forgotten Supercar

The Bugatti EB110 was advanced even during its design process, using the latest in computer technology.
The Bugatti EB110 was advanced even during its design process, using the latest in computer technology.

From an engineering perspective the EB110 was a success, using new and uncommon technologies to set several production car ‘firsts’ during its short five-year reign.

In order to stand up against rivals like the Ferrari F40 and Lamborghini Diablo, engineer Paolo Stanzani chose to equip the car with the most advanced engine technologies available at the time.  He was the first to commingle five valves per cylinder, all-wheel-drive, and the use of titanium and composite materials into a quad-turbo production car.

Inspiration for the EB110’s styling came from jet fighters, and propulsion came from an explosive ordnance mounted amidships in the form of a hand-built, quad-turbo 3.5-liter V-12 engine.  It was small for a V-12 but it was rev happy and a sledgehammer north of 5000 rpm, above which air was quickly pressurized by the EB110’s four IHI turbos.  Two of the turbos were smaller to allow the engine to build boost in lower revs; the larger turbos took over above 5000 rpm, and carried the car to its lofty 10,000 rpm redline.

Bugatti EB110 highway cruising
source

Engineers extracted more than 900 horsepower from the first test engines, but found this was not suitable for road use.  They de-tuned the first ‘GT’ car engines to a more reliable and streetable 550 horsepower; the later Supersport models ratched that number back up to a seat-compressing 611 horsepower.  When summoned, the car’s quartet of hairdryers could whisk the EB110SS to 60 mph in a brutally fast 3.2 seconds.

All-wheel-drive gave it a cornering dexterity and a launch out of the hole not seen in competing exotics of the era.  Compared to the raw and rear-wheel-drive Ferrari F-40 – which in comparison tries to rip its driver’s face off as it is wrestled around the track – the EB 110 was a compliant and composed dance partner, offering its driver more balance and neutral handling.

 “It was really the first complete carbon fiber chassis to exist.”

– Federico Trombi, head of Bugatti R&D

A row of EB110s are built in 1993 at the Bugatti Automobili factory in Campogalliano, Italy.
A row of EB110s are built in 1993 at the Bugatti Automobili factory in Campogalliano, Italy. (courtesy Benedini Partners)

The EB110 was really an international supercar.  While the design, engineering, and manufacturing were Italian, Artioli pumped a healthy dose of France into the car.  Lubricants were supplied by ELF, tires by Michelin, and the carbon fiber frame was molded by Aerospatiale.  Other influence came from Japan in the form of a stereo by Nakamichi and turbochargers by IHI.  Bugatti used German companies for its wheels (BBS) and measurement and balancing systems (Schenck).

As any Bugatti should be, the EB 110 was also advanced.  It had all-wheel-drive when most others were rear-wheel drive, it featured a fully carbon fiber monocoque structure when others were aluminum and steel.  The EB110 had a six-speed transmission when others had just four or five cogs.  The engine had five valves per cylinder when four was common.  Bugatti engineers pioneered a floating brake system and were using antilock brakes (ABS) years before the rest of the auto industry adopted it as standard.

A Bugatti EB110 undergoes testing.
A Bugatti EB110 undergoes testing. (courtesy Bugatti Registry)

Tremendously under-appreciated was the car’s fuel-sipping 3.5-liter V-12, which returned greater than 21 miles per gallon during testing by Autocar – more than double results from other supercars.  The EB110 was also celebrated for its usability; after spending a week with the car, Autocar Magazine saidThis side of a Honda NSX, there isn’t – and never has been – a supercar that is so friendly and easy to get beneath the skin of.”

If there was a knock on the EB110 it was the car’s turbo lag.  The turbochargers were variable in size, but being set to high boost and having only 3.5 liters of exhaust gases to motivate them resulted in a late power surge.  The driver doesn’t really feel the forced induction until 4000 rpm, but from 5000 rpm to 9000 rpm the car feels chained to a rocket.  Keep the 110GT’s snails on full boil and the car will eventually reach a top speed of 212 mph (341 km/h) – or 216 mph (347 kph) for the SS.

Dealer announcement for the U.S. version "Bugatti America" of the EB110 supercar.
Dealer announcement for the U.S. version “Bugatti America” of the EB110 supercar. (source)

As one might expect, a car with features like no other sold for a price like no other.  Depending on how the car was optioned the price of the 1991 EB 110 GT ranged from $400,000 to $600,000.

Pre-sales were ‘limited’ to 150 units per year – the magic ‘break-even’ number for Bugatti – and the company only sold cars to those deemed worthy of ownership.  Said Bugatti president Romano Artioli:

You must of course have the means to acquire one, but above all you must have the right moral qualities.  Otherwise we don’t sell to you.”

 

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Bugatti Expands: Luxury Goods, Foreign Markets, Lotus

Bugatti still sells luxury goods today, continuing the trend started by Renata Kettmeir Artioli in 1993.
Bugatti still sells luxury goods today, continuing the trend started by Renata Kettmeir Artioli in 1993.

Because of the sizeable investment in its facilities, Bugatti executives knew the company’s survival could not be assured with the success of a single model limited to the European market.

Artioli and Borel began to examine options to diversify company resources into other symbiotic ventures.  In 1993 Romano’s wife Renata Kettmeir Artioli formed the Ettore Bugatti SRL luxury goods maker, which shared the bold ‘EB’ logo with the auto manufacturer and produced items such as handbags, perfume, sunglasses, and watches.

In March of 1993 Bugatti Automobili introduced the concept for a second car, the Giugiaro-styled EB 112 sedan.  The EB 112 featured four doors and had a six-speed transmission mated to a 6.0-liter V12.  Production of what would have been the world’s fastest sedan was supposed to begin in September of 1993 (on Ettore Bugatti’s 112th birthday), however delays pushed the estimated production date back to 1996.

Inspiration for the Porsche Panamera? The EB112 sedan concept was introduced in 1993 and could have saved Bugatti, but it was never built.
Inspiration for the Porsche Panamera? The EB112 sedan concept was introduced in 1993 and might have saved Bugatti, but it was never built.

In the summer of 1993 Bugatti launched the EB 110 in Japan.  A delegation of four EB 110s and one EB 112 concept were shipped to the Tokyo debut.  The Japanese introduction was deemed a success after each of the 110s were sold.

While the crucial-to-survival EB 112 was still being developed, in August of 1993 Romano Artioli spent £30 million to purchase the ailing Lotus from General Motors.  Artioli valued the brand, rated the esteemed Lotus engineers, and desired its established distribution network.  The move was bold but proved to be divisive and was the beginning of the unraveling of Bugatti.

The Lotus Elise was named for Romano Artioli's granddaughter Elisa.
The Lotus Elise was named for Romano Artioli’s granddaughter Elisa.

Artioli served as chairman of Lotus from 1993 until 1996, at which time he sold his remaining stake in Lotus to Proton of Malaysia for $82.7 million.

[ Did You Know?  The Lotus Elise was named for Romano Artioli’s granddaughter Elisa.  Ironically, the Elise would go on to be a good seller and help save Lotus from its own threat of bankruptcy. ]

 

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A Financial End for Bugatti Automobili

The company began to realize repercussions of its spendthrift behavior in 1995.  At the outset, Bugatti President Jean-Marc Borel claimed that to stay solvent the company “had to sell 150 cars per year,” but after four years the company had only sold 139 cars.

Currency fluctuations had rendered the Japanese launch of Bugatti a financial failure after the rise in Yen eroded profits.  The EB112 was still a whisper and a prayer, nowhere near ready for production.  The acquisition of Lotus levered the company’s balance sheet to the tilt and put Bugatti in a precarious position of debt.  And the best-performing division was the Ettore Bugatti Luxury Brand, which in 1994 made more money in sales than the car manufacturer.

Bugatti Automobili SpA chief executive Romano Artioli's office as it appeared in 1993 and 2014.
Bugatti Automobili SpA chief executive Romano Artioli’s office as it appeared in 1993 and 2014. (courtesy Benedini Partners)

Strict U.S. safety regulations had delayed the stateside release of the EB110 ‘Bugatti America’ for several years, which in turn pushed the car’s financial break-even point further down the road.  Demand reportedly wasn’t an issue; the company amassed a list of sixty willing buyers stateside who reportedly plunked down $1.5 million in deposits.

By the middle of 1995 Bugatti was in full-on crisis mode, but the employees were mostly led to believe things were fine.  There was an attempt to float a public stock offering, but it went nowhere.

Bugatti Automobili CEO Romano Artioli stands in the conference room in this 1993 press photo. On the right, the same room in 2014.
On the left, Bugatti Automobili CEO Romano Artioli stands in the conference room in this 1993 press photo. On the right, the same room in 2014. (courtesy the_gallas27)

“Artioli wasted money on useless things, like the extravagant factory. And our suppliers began to get nervous when he began to verbally disparage Ferrari.”

– Paolo Stanzani

In August of 1995 newspapers announced two “Indian princes” arrived in Campogalliano to open discussions with Romano Artioli about saving Bugatti.  This rumor reinvigorated hope of the brand’s survival among employees, who repeated whispers that Bugatti’s outstanding debts could be resolved by September 20th.

But at the last minute a withdrawal was announced due to a “hostile attitude taken by the Italian press.”  Some speculate this was a ‘faux investor,’ meant to give Bugatti executives a false sense of financial safety and prevent them from securing elsewhere the funds necessary for survival.

The "Blue Building" at Bugatti Automobili, pictured here in 1993 and 2014, was home to the EB110's engine development and testing.
The “Blue Building” at Bugatti Automobili, pictured here in 1993 and 2014, was home to the EB110’s engine development and testing. (courtesy Boitierrouge)

The final ‘Hail Mary’ came from Florence businessman Lisio Bartali, who along with a group of fashion executives were interested in the Bugatti name and its continued linkage to luxury items and haute couture.  As Bartali tells it, Mr. Artioli declined to relinquish management control of Bugatti International, and when bankruptcy was declared he rescinded his offer.  Artioli’s attorney claims Bartali’s offer was declined because he failed to guarantee financing by the deadline.

In 1993 the top floor of Bugatti Automobili's round building housed engineers and a state-of-the-art computer system. In 2014 the site's groundskeeper has placed buckets to catch water under its leaking roof.
In 1993 the top floor of Bugatti Automobili’s round building housed engineers and a state-of-the-art computer system. In 2014 the site’s groundskeeper has placed buckets to catch water under its leaking roof. (courtesy the_gallas27)

Just days before the scheduled bankruptcy court appearance, two investment groups – La Fin First Group and Franklin Enterprise Limited – reportedly stepped forward with interests in acquiring Bugatti, however the Italian courts did not consider the late salvage attempts to be reliable.

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Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. Bankruptcy

By September of 1995 Bugatti Automobili was overextended and bankruptcy was inevitable.  What struck Romano Artioli as odd was the sudden drop in orders and refusal of parts suppliers to continue working with Bugatti.  Checks to suppliers started to bounce, and at the urging of Bugatti’s competitors the company was examined by the courts.  The process was so fast and pronounced, Artioli believes the downward spiral was accelerated by sabotage.

Bugatti Automobili CEO Romano Artioli
Bugatti Automobili CEO Romano Artioli

“What surprised me was a sudden drop in orders. How Come? Who knows… Very strange things.  In fact orders were coming in but they were… put aside.  The factory had to collapse.  Do you understand?  It was organized very well.  It was done by specialists.  They knew who our suppliers were, they took them one by one and brainwashed them.  They said “if you supply another spare part to Bugatti, you won’t work with us again. You choose.  One part a day [for Bugatti] against one thousand you make for us.”

– Romano Artioli

Bugatti met its fate before a Modena judge late at night on September 22nd, 1995.  Overnight, the court-appointed trustee closed down the Bugatti corporate offices, shuttered the factories, and locked down the entrance gates.  The 200+ remaining Bugatti Automobili employees did not find out they were out of jobs until their keycards failed to work the following morning.

On September 23rd the paperwork was filed and it was official: Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. was closed.

The 2nd floor of Bugatti Automobili's round building once housed designers and engineers. Today it is empty.
The 2nd floor of Bugatti Automobili’s round building once housed top designers and engineers. Today it is empty. (source)

Accumulated debt figures ranged from $125 million dollars as reported by the New York Times to the ₣300 million francs as reported in the French press.  On bulletin boards, car forums and fan sites, the claims sometimes ballooned to the fantastically large “200 billion” number.

If we take the $125 million number and divide it by the 139 cars sold, Bugatti’s debt service alone was consuming $900,000 for every car it made – a car it was only selling for between $400k and $600k.

Notes and documents left behind at the abandoned Bugatti Automobili SpA factory in Campogalliano, Italy
Notes and documents left behind at the abandoned Bugatti Automobili SpA factory in Campogalliano, Italy.

The special entity Bugatti Fallimento (“Bugatti Failure”) was created to liquidate assets.  The bankruptcy auction took place on April 4th, 1997, in which the machinery, tools, and the remaining EB 110 chassis and parts were sold.

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Disbursing Bugatti Automobili: What Went Where

Dauer Racing GmbH
Dauer Racing GmbH

German firm Dauer Racing GmbH purchased seven of the semi-finished cars, fifteen engines, and the rights to the “EB110” name.  The company hired ex-Bugatti engineers and technicians and went on to produce nearly a dozen Dauer EB 110 SS cars, which were lighter and produced more horsepower than their Bugatti cousins.  Dauer eventually faced their own bankruptcy in 2008, after which all of the remaining Dauer Bugatti parts were purchased in 2011 by Toscana-Motors GmbH in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

The concept EB 112 sedan prototypes landed in the hands of Gildo Pastor, owner of French car manufacturer Venturi.  Pastor and the Monaco Racing Team reportedly built three EB 112 models; the first went to a collector in Switzerland, the second was kept by Pastor, and a third was assembled for a German collector.

The B Engineering Edonis is based on the EB110 and built by former Bugatti employees behind the old factory.
The B Engineering Edonis is based on the EB110 and built by former Bugatti employees behind the old factory.

One EB 110 chassis and engine were sold to B Engineering, who incorporated both into its €760,000 Edonis supercar – a vastly updated, re-tuned, and re-bodied EB 110 SS – built between 1999 and 2000.

B engineering has notable ties to the defunct Bugatti Automobili, established by Jean-Marc Borel and staffed by former Bugatti employees.  The company operates an EB 110 maintenance and repair shop out of the warehouses behind Bugatti that used to belong to the Padane Bus Company (Google satellite view still shows the Pandane busses).  B Engineering initially planned to produce 21 cars, however only two copies of the Edonis were built.

The billion-franc factory was sold to a furniture-making company that was well on its way to insolvency before it was able to move in.  At one point Horacio Pagani scoped out the campus while looking for a place to build his Zonda supercar.  Then in 2008 it was sold to Stefim SRL, an Italian real estate investment company who envisioned building a €55 million “Urban Style Area” shopping center that would open in late 2012.  The group set up a website and put together a video to promote their concept, however as of late 2016 there has been no visible progress.

Proposed "Urban Style Area" redevelopment for former Bugatti Automobili factory site, as proposed by Stefim Srl.
Proposed “Urban Style Area” redevelopment for former Bugatti Automobili factory site, as proposed by Stefim SRL.

As for the nameplate, private equity investor group CVC Ventures attempted to purchase Bugatti in 1996, however the £100 million-pound deal failed at the due diligence stage.

The Bugatti name was eventually purchased in July of 1998 by Volkswagen Group, who re-launched the brand as Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. and introduced the world’s most well-known Bugatti, the Veyron.

The Bugatti EB110 and its baby brother, the Veyron.
The Bugatti EB110 and its baby brother, the Bugatti Veyron. (courtesy Autocar)

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Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. Factory Today

Dishes from the last Gala event are still stacked in the abandoned Bugatti Automobili factory
Dishes from the last Gala event are still stacked in the abandoned Bugatti Automobili corporate headquarters. (courtesy the_gallas27)

In the meantime, the factory has sat vacant for more than twenty years.  Items left behind are undisturbed and appear as if the building was vacated just months ago.  Amazingly, the unused factory has passed through the years virtually unscathed from vandalism and graffiti.

With the exception of a missing bust of Ettore Bugatti and stolen lettering on the street-facing letter boards, most of the property sits as it was left by the bankruptcy trustees more than twenty years ago.

A handful of rooms have trash scattered about, but the only obvious damage to the buildings are the exposed cracks, a lasting reminder of the region’s 2012 earthquakes.

The reception desk at Bugatti Automobili was vacated in a hurry. Mail, unanswered phone messages, and a guestbook were among the items left behind.
The reception desk at Bugatti Automobili was vacated in a hurry. Mail, unanswered phone messages, and even the guestbook were among the items left behind. (source)

Walking through the site today it’s apparent that life here ended abruptly and without much warning.  Used champagne glasses and dishes from the last event are still stacked in the corner, and the cluttered reception desk still has phone messages scribbled on notepads.

The computers and monitors that were probably obsolete in 1995 were left behind, and neatly stacked against walls of rooms.  Incredibly none have been smashed, perhaps a testament to the respect the youth of Campogalliano must have for Bugatti (or “no trespassing” signs).

Bugatti Automobili's cluttered reception desk is a time capsule to 1995.
Bugatti Automobili’s cluttered reception desk is a time capsule to 1995.

At the reception desk the guestbook was left behind and still shows an entry from the last visitor in July of 1995.  The Bugatti Type 35 that once sat parked in the reception area of the corporate center is long gone, but around the corner from reception the Japanese flag from the EB 110’s Tokyo launch still hangs on a pole.

A calendar hanging in the factory still shows September 1995.  Almost cryptically, the 23rd is circled in blue, and underneath is written “Here be dragons.”

Cracks in a bathroom of the former Bugatti Automobili headquarters are a reminder of northern Italy's 2012 earthquakes.
Cracks in a bathroom of the former Bugatti Automobili headquarters are a reminder of northern Italy’s 2012 earthquakes. (source)

In 2012 the factory was damaged by a series of earthquakes that struck northern Italy, the cracks from which are still visible throughout the buildings today.  The most recent threat of redevelopment came in 2015, with rumors businessman Jacometti Piero would build the Wild Twelve supercar at the former Bugatti Automobili factory. This was quickly refuted by property owner Stefim SRL.

As of October 2016 the factory remains unoccupied, but the site’s original groundskeeper Ezio still volunteers his free time to maintain the facility.

 

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Bugatti EB110 Legacy

These mammoth computer systems cost six figures and were state-of-the-art in 1991. By 1995 they were obsolete, and failed to sell at Bugatti's bankruptcy auction. For the last 20 years they've sat undisturbed in the former Bugatti Automobili corporate enter.
These mammoth computer systems cost six figures and were state-of-the-art in 1991, but by 1995 had become obsolete and failed to sell at Bugatti’s bankruptcy auction. For the last 20 years they have sat undisturbed in the former Bugatti Automobili corporate enter. (courtesy the_gallas27)

The EB110 was an engineering marvel but it was not a sales success, and today it is often referred to as “the forgotten supercar.”  What went wrong?  Ask ten former employees and you might hear ten different reasons.

Bugatti Automobili lacked economies of scale, and production was far from efficient.  Because everything was hand-made the process was slow; each station produced an EB 110 every 54 days – as opposed to Ferrari, who was producing more than one car per day.

Bugatti Automobili was spending 400,000 francs per year just to honor the car’s 3-year, unlimited mileage service warranty – which included oil changes and tires.  When newer versions of the EB 110 were released, older cars were offered upgrades at no charge.  And while the factory was pretty, from a thermal efficiency perspective it was an operational nightmare, generating out-sized heating and cooling bills.

One former body assembler thought the Bugatti re-launch was too ambitious a project. “The cost of a shift lever exceeded 40,000 francs, the price of the Fiat Cinquecento!  If we sold a car in Saudi Arabia, [it required] ten employees to leave for a week to deliver the car and explain the functions and maintenance.

The Bugatti factory was a radical, if not timeless design. Twenty five years later, the buildings still look good.
The Bugatti factory was a radical, if not timeless design. Twenty five years later, the buildings still look good. (source)

Some will cite the poor economic condition for supercars during the early 1990s, and others will point to financial mismanagement, the Lotus acquisition, or insufficient sales.  And yet others believe there was a bit of collusion, extortion, and corporate espionage between Bugatti’s competitors and suppliers.

Romano Artioli believes if Ferrari didn’t force suppliers to withhold from Bugatti, it convinced them to alert the judge of the commercial court the moment Bugatti was late paying a bill.  He also points to the fact somebody tinkered with a shipment of Germany-bound EB110s, loosening the steering columns and making the cars dangerous to drive.  And there was the unpopular but oft-repeated rumor was that Bugatti was “the best way to launder Mafia money.”

Documents, notes and receipts left behind by Bugatti Automobili S.p.A.

Drawings & technical manuals courtesy the_gallas27

As for Artioli’s claims of collusion, he has produced no evidence.  However by connecting the dots it is easy to see the potential for bad blood.  When he re-booted Bugatti, Artioli left one of the largest Ferrari dealerships in the world – which we know caused a disagreement with Enzo and led to Ferrari “severing all ties” with Artioli.  Bugatti Automobili further ingratiated itself by poaching engineers from Ferrari and Lamborghini and luring assemblers and technicians from Maserati.  Fiat (Ferrari’s parent company at the time) would surely have the parts volume to make any threat to suppliers credible.

From a distance it appears the Bugatti logo was painted over in blue, however the bank-applied covering is actually a series of stickers, which are now beginning to peel off.
From a distance it appears the Bugatti logo was painted over in blue, however the bank-applied covering is actually a series of stickers, which are now beginning to peel off. (courtesy the_gallas27)

Conspiracy theories aside, in the pantheon of supercars you’re only as good for as long as you can hold your title.  The introduction of the McLaren F1 in May of 1992 and the Jaguar XJ220 in June of 1992 – just months after the Bugatti – might have played a role in pushing the EB110 to the sidelines.

Like the Bugatti, the McLaren and Jaguar were also engineering marvels and both immediately challenged the Bugatti’s claim to fastest production car.  More importantly, both had the backing and blessing of large auto manufacturers – Jaguar with Ford and McLaren with BMW.

Official EB110 production was estimated to be 139 cars, thirty-three of which were Supersport models.  The cars have held their value well, although the EB110 hasn’t appreciated in value as fast as some of its contemporaries.  In 2015 a yellow 1995 Bugatti EB110 Super Sport sold at a Sotheby’s auction for £627,200 (or close to $950k at the pre-Brexit exchange rates).

Even today, nobody wants old CRT monitors. Surprisingly, the ones left behind at Bugatti Automobili's former headquarters have not been smashed.
Even today, nobody wants old CRT monitors. Surprisingly, the ones left behind at Bugatti Automobili’s former headquarters have not been smashed. (source)

Despite the relative unpopularity of the EB110, it cannot be overstated how impressive the car was for its time.  Consider the most powerful American cars of the era were the 1993 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 and Dodge Viper, which made 375 and 400 horsepower, respectively, and neither could touch 200 mph.

When it was introduced in 1994 the Porsche Turbo was the highest-performance regular production car available in America; it made 355 horsepower and topped out at 174 mph, while the Ferrari Testarossa created 390 horsepower from its twelve cylinder and ran out of steam at 180 mph.

Access to rooms inside the former Bugatti Automobili headquarters required keycard access.
Access to rooms inside the former Bugatti Automobili headquarters required keycard access. (source)

The closest competitors when the EB110 was launched were the Ferrari F40 (471 hp, 199 mph), Lamborghini Diablo (485 hp, 200 mph), and the Porsche 959 (440 hp, 195 mph) – but none could match the 611 hp, 216 mph EB110 SS.

Only the Jaguar XJ220 (540 hp, 213 mph) and McLaren F1 (618 hp, 240 mph) were able to challenge the EB110’s acceleration, horsepower and top speed crowns in the 1990s, but those cars also sold for twice the price.

The Bugatti EB110 was the paradoxical supercar; it was a failure, but it was also a success.  Bugatti Automobili did not survive, but it respectably served the nameplate and there’s no doubt it produced a car to which Ettore would have been proud to assign his name.

If there was a lesson for Romano Artioli and Bugatti Automobili, perhaps it was the road to bringing your own car to market without support of the majors is never easy.  Just ask Jerry Wiegert, John DeLorean, or Preston Tucker.

photos courtesy the_gallas27 & Matt Zuchowski

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Watch: The Forgotten Supercar

 

Special thanks to the_gallas27, Matt Zuchowski, and Johann Petit.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. One small error to point out: they couldn’t have paid 300 million Euro to buy Lotus in 1993, as that currency was still six years away from introduction.
    That old Bugatti campus is indeed beautiful, and I usually have a jaundiced eye for buildings from the late 80’s and early 90’s. Sad that that ostentation in architecture and general company culture contributed to its downfall. I can’t help, however, having a cartoonish image of all these Italian businessmen and engineers all shouting loudly and gesticulating at each other as I read this. I guess there’s something about building spectacular cars that requires a fiery Mediterranean temper? Is there a similar story about a shuttered Saab factory?
    Terrible stereotypes aside, great article as always!

    • Thanks for the currency correction, my friend. When I was ‘virtually exploring’ the factory the first thing I wondered was how limited sales of one vehicle could pay for all this? Then I thought about Tesla, who spent a similarly egregious amount of capital at the outset yet that company has experienced different fortunes. Of course one major difference is Musk got the public to back him.

      I have to wonder if a stock offering would have saved Bugatti Automobili – but then I also wonder if that would have been a good thing? If VW never purchases Bugatti, we don’t see the Veyron. From what I’ve read, some Bugatti purists wouldn’t mind.

  2. Incredible article… It’s a very interesting story for a morotsport-(and-abandoned-places)-enthusiast!!! If you go on holiday in Emilia Romagna, you can see still the factory from the highway. As usual, amazing story but… what a shame too for a great name as Bugatti.

    • Thank you Paolo. 🙂 As a car enthusiast myself, I was especially intrigued by this story the entire time I was researching it. This was a wonderful combination of two passions. I grew up a fan of the EB110 but never knew the story, this made me appreciate the car that much more! Cheers for the comment my friend.

  3. Marble in the bathroom, an assembly room that wouldn’t be amiss on the Star-ship Enterprise, these people really knew how to spend money. The biggest issue I had with the EB110 when I was younger and loving supercars was is hideous. I remember this came out around the same time as the McLaren F1 which is a gorgeous car and the Bugatti was the ugly duckling.

    Amazing buildings though and excellently written – as usual. Thanks SI.

    • Ha! The car is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it design. I guess I am one (of the few?) who really like the styling. I’m glad Benedini redesigned the car too, I thought Gandini’s design did look a lot like a Lamborghini. Of the other suggested designs I thought the Bertone and Giugiaro designs looked best (what’s wild is how new and fresh the Bertone design still looks today). I thought in this case, Artioli hiring his cousin to design the car and buildings was a rare case of nepotism working out pretty well; how many architects can also claim to have designed a sleek supercar? But I will admit the EB110 is more divisive in design than the F1, I can see why history treats one better than the other. Thanks for the comment potedude!

      • Yeah I thought the Bertone design is the most attractive, and still attractive today. I think it has plenty of Ferrari F50 in it’s look and is very pleasant to the eye.

        I’m sure you know but the Bugatti today made by Volkswagen makes them a loss of around $6 million per car. Seems like the name Bugatti is a moniker for losing money.

  4. Loved the Article, Very inspirational for me, I own a little Trattoria in Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa. My Trattoria is called “Bucca Bugattis” My dream one day is to own a Bugatti and on a Sunday park it outside My small Italian Restaurant and take underprivileged kids for a ride around the famous Chapman’s Peak drive. Long Live Bugatti :))))

  5. Very nice journalistic peace you have made. Congratulations! I don’t believe that buying Lotus was one of the reasons, Bugatti went bankrupt. it was sold with a profit at the end, Right? Personally I believe that there must a lot of truth regarding the corruption and pressurbe by its adversaries from Ferrari and Lamborghini to end this resurgence of Bugatti.

    Best regards.

    João Pifre.

    • Thanks for the comment and kind words João. You’re right, Lotus itself didn’t make Bugatti go bankrupt. I think what hurt was the lost opportunity cost, as in those resources that were used to purchase & re-tool Lotus could have been spent on the next Bugatti. But it sounds like there were enough other headwinds, like you referenced with the other manufacturers. Perhaps it was just the perfect storm? Thanks for the comment!

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