Founded by the Italian emigrant Ettore Bugatti in Alsace at the beginning of the 20th century, a territory then under the German flag, the car company of the same name, however, has always considered itself completely French. A brand that from its first steps has challenged fashions and times by producing vehicles admired by all but purchasable only by a few.
The story of the cosmopolitan Bugatti stems from the vision of the Milanese Ettore, eldest son of Carlo Bugatti, an important designer of Art Nouveau furniture and jewelry.
Like his younger brother, who was not by chance called Rembrandt, Ettore, who will study at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, seems to have art in his destiny like his whole family, at least until after some fragmentary experience at the beyond the Alps in the world of four wheels, the naturalized Frenchman from 1903 decides to become “The Patron” (as he will forever be nicknamed) of his own car company. It was 1909 when in little Molsheim, a town about 30 km from Strasbourg, Ettore Bugatti’s four-wheeled dream is born.
The Bugatti dream comes to life
He rents an old spinning factory for 5,000 marks a year and begins the production of his cars. The factory originally consists of 65 workers manufacturing 75 Bugatti Type 13s: the first real Bugatti.
However, Ettore wasted no time and already in July 1911 registered one of his cars at the French Grand Prix, entrusting it to Ernest Friedrich. The latter will even manage to finish the race in second place behind Hemery’s imposing Fiat. The newspaper of this historic race for the Patron Outdoor Life wrote that Bugatti “looked like a mouse chasing an elephant”. This performance was essential to bring new life to the factory, which soon received new orders from France, Germany, England and Belgium.
The unexpected, when the dream now seems to be on the launching pad, takes on a terrifying name: July 28, 1914 World War I breaks out. Ettore buries the last three looms of his production near the factory and with difficulty manages to reach Milan. In 1919, after the war, he returned to Molsheim where his factory – now yes, after the defeat of the Central Powers in French territory – was miraculously not damaged by the world conflict and, having unearthed his looms, resumes his interrupted dream.
The first great successes also arrived for the company that in 1920 won the victory on the iconic Le Mans track in the Cart Cup, at the astounding average for the time of 90 km / h, a success repeated by another great triumph the following year, when the Patron shows up in Brescia with 4 Type 13 Grand Prix cars, placing them in the first four places in the standings. Since that day the Type 13 will be the “Bugatti Brescia” for everyone.
Another three years pass when, in 1924, on the occasion of the French GP, in Lyon, Bugatti decides to make his masterpiece debut: la Type 35.
The debut was not sparkling, tire problems prevented her from doing well and taking a prestigious position. Unparalleled, however, was the one of which the T35, produced in only 460 units between 1924 and 1931, was capable of thereafter.
The car characterized by the flamboyant French Racing Blue color gets the stratospheric figure of 1851 successes in the following 3 years12 of which in Major Grand Prix, the elite of the origins of motoring. No track seems impossible to conquer, not even the very tough Targa Florio that winds along the sunny Sicilian roads.
The engine-grinder race par excellence also demonstrates the strength of the French eight-cylinder in-line capable, in its first version, of touch 180 km / h managing to establish itself in Sicily for five consecutive seasons, from 1925 to 1929.
In the Twenty-nine also comes the victory in the first ever edition of the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix. Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Mercedes must all bow to the progenitor of the famous, from then on, thoroughbred Bugatti. Nobody in the golden years can touch them.
From Bugatti Royale to road trains
When it seems difficult to come up with something even more incredible, Bugatti decides to produce, between 1929 and 1933, the prestigious Bugatti Royale, the car that in the Patron’s intentions should have outclassed the British Rolls Royce. The cost of £ 650,000 was staggering at a time when these figures didn’t even cost a house.
The Royale, as its name suggests, is not a car for the “normal wealthy”, it is a car tailor-made for crowned heads: only they could have had one.
Of the 25 cars planned, however, only 6 were built since the Great Depression, which had other plans for 1929, fell like an ax on the brazen display of wealth conceived by Monsieur Ettore Bugatti. Of the six Bugattis “Gold” – another name by which she was known for the numerous gold parts scattered throughout the prototype – only three will actually be sold.
The extravagant car, even for an era of bold and pioneering experimentation, weighed more than three tons and it exceeded 6 meters in length, of which 2.20 meters only for the bonnet. Its massive mass was propelled by a 12.7-liter 8-cylinder engine capable of delivering up to 300 hp and, through its three-speed gearbox, reach 160 km / h. The car turned out to be, also due to the unfortunate economic contingencies, a heavy financial failure that prompted Bugatti to plan another exploit: reuse the gigantic redundant engines to equip railway trucksalso from Bugatti production.
With their proceeds, the Patron was able to avoid tragic financial consequences for his company. Of these WR (Wagon Rapide) 88 were made, characterized by exceptional performance.
Suffice it to say that during a series of tests they were able to reach a maximum speed of 172 km / h and 150 km / h cruising: a sort of high-speed train of the time.
With the Type 35, Royale and other extraordinary models such as the magnificent car touring Type 44a best-seller by the standards of the Molsheim company and probably the most refined product of the company, the French house can with good reason boast the title of queen of the builders between the two wars.
In the second half of the Thirties, Jean Bugatti, father Ettore’s protégé, acquired more and more influence within the company by personally designing great models such as the Type 55 e 57 also because his father – deeply embittered by the strike of his workers who in 1936 decided to occupy the factory in Molsheim – decides to spend more and more time in Paris.
The 57 will show all its worth by winning the race par excellence, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, twice, with transalpine drivers at the wheel: in 1937 with Jean-Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist, in 1939 with Wimille and Pierre Veyron.
The beginning of an irreparable series of disasters
These big hits will also be the latest for the Molsheim-based brand. A series of unfortunate events is in fact about to overwhelm the company, the first of which is the disappearance, just thirty years old in August 1939, of the son and designated heir Jean for an accident just as he was testing “his” 57.
Not even time to recover from the trauma that Nazi Germany on September 1 of that same year decides to invade Poland thus starting the second world massacre. All that remains for Bugatti is voluntarily sell the company to avoid judicial auctioning. He gets 150 million francs from it, about half of the real estimates. This time, unlike the first, the patron’s factory remains involved in the bombing; moreover, when the slaughter ends, it is confiscated by the French government which accuses Ettore of collaborating for his “sale” to the Germans.
Intent on getting the company back, he will never know he won the lawsuit against the government because will be extinguished on 21 August 1947, before the final sentence, for complications related to pneumonia contracted during one of his frequent boat trips, his other great passion.
At this point it was Rolando Bugatti, the youngest of Ettore’s sons, who took over the family company in 1951. Focusing at first on providing assistance to cars already on the market and on the production of military engines, the company succeeded then to return to the production of automobiles.
However, it was a short experience and already in 1956 Bugatti officially ends productionafter 47 years of activity and just under 8,000 assembled cars.
The history of the company resumes, returning to the Italic roots of the historic founder, at the end of the 1980s when the Modenese entrepreneur Romano Artioli – who was in charge of importing Suzuki for Italy – gave life to an Italian Bugatti. Thus was born the Bugatti Automobili brand which, shortly thereafter, created GT cars with exclusive technology.
Bugatti’s electric future
The new industry was installed in Campogalliano, in the Modena area, immediately starting the production of a V12 vehicle with a 3.5-liter engine. The car is called EB110in memory of the founder of the brand and presented in Paris in 1991, exactly 110 years after his birth.
The car immediately became a point of reference in its segment, also in terms of luxury, since it costs more than 600 million lire and over a billion lire in its most equipped version (from 1993), the EB 110 SS, able among other things to reach a maximum speed of over 350 km / h. Just before the company was preparing to unveil the superberlina EB112 – remained forever in the prototype stage – however, here is the cold shower of a new failure.
However, the brand’s fame still resounds today, albeit far from the binge of successes collected between the two wars, thanks to the name of two of its legendary pilots: Veyron and Chiron (let’s discover the secrets of the 1,600 HP Bugatti Chiron). The first winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the second multiple winner of the GP of Monte Carlo and the oldest driver to race an F1 GP. For almost all of these two names, however, today they are synonymous with power as they are associated with the company’s first two hypercars of the new Volkswagen era (since 1998): racing cars capable of breaking down the 1000 HP wallday 400 km / h (with the Bugatti Chiron at 417 km / h on the highway) and one million euros in the list price.
Bugatti has recently added the Croatian one to its already many nationalities, result of the Bugatti-Rimac collaborationa company specializing in the production of electric sports cars: a choice that we hope will guarantee the glorious (Italian) French brand a bright electric future. [Tutte le foto appartengono all’Archivio Bugatti]