The location we chose as the décor for our photo shoot, perfectly suits the oldest contender of this trio. Both the abandoned ship wharf and the Bugatti T54 were built for eternity and gracefully show their age and the scars of time. The faded blue paint on the sleek body is covered in layers of oil, filth and dust, gathered during decades of hard work. The average concours d’élégance judge will probably hide in a corner and weep quietly when they see this, but a true Bugattist likes his cars as original as possible. The EB110 next to this pre-war veteran looks much cleaner, but the bright blue aluminium body panels are far from waxed and polished. Owner Johan Arendsen drove his nineties supercar more than seventy miles through heavy morning traffic to get here and is looking slightly surprised at the blue truck sporting large Bugatti logos that is pulling up in front of the wharf.
The Mercedes-Benz transporter is here to drop off the Veyron. When the loading bay is tilted backward and the ramps touch the ground, the quad turbo W16 barks into life and the hypercar creeps from its temporary enclosure like an alien visiting planet earth for the first time. Once in between its older relatives, it looks menacing, almost like it is about to burst out of its tightly wrapped carbon fibre skin that covers almost two tons of space-tech engineering. The polished body and shiny aluminium ornaments reflect the dim light inside the wharf like a seventies disco ball and the Veyron grabs the attention exactly like the Germans who are responsible for its design intended.
To understand the way Ettore Arco Isidoro Bugatti designed and built his cars, you first need to know how he grew up in the late nineteenth century. His father Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940) was a furniture and jewelry designer who was so obsessed by art that he even called one of his sons Rembrandt, after the old Dutch master. Etorre was fascinated by motorized vehicles and started by making designs for Prinetti & Stucchi, Deutz and De Dietrich. In 1909 he established his company in what was then the German Alsace region, but also kept designing for other companies, like Peugeot. Bugatti’s designs were also successful on racetracks, proven by the fact that William Grover-Williams won the first Monaco Grand Prix in a Bugatti and Jean-Pierre Wimille won the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1937, with Pierre Veyron repeating that success in 1939.
While I respectfully admire the T54 and absorb its history through my fingertips, owner Olaf Glasius opens the engine covers to reveal the brushed metal surfaces of the engine block. The enormous 5-litre straight eight stands proud in the chassis and forms a load bearing part of the construction. With the help of a compressor, this engine reaches a maximum power of 300 bhp, making it one of the most powerful racing engines produced by Bugatti in this era. ‘This car can reach 250 km/h (152 mph), but trust me, you don’t want to drive that fast in it’, says Glasius with a cheeky smile on his face. The T54 was already dated when it was launched, so it never achieved any significant victories like the famous T35 that became one of the most successful racing cars ever produced.
The engine in the Type 41 was a 12.7 litre straight eight derived from the design for a 16-cylinder aircraft engine
The most impressive street car ever produced by Bugatti, was the 1927 Type 41 Royale, for which Ettore’s son Gianoberto Maria Carlo, better known as Jean, designed several bodies. His uncle and Ettore’s younger brother Rambrandt designed a mascot of a ‘dancing elephant’ for this behemoth and with a total length of 6.4 metres (21 feet) this is probably the only appropriate radiator ornament. The engine in the Type 41 was a 12.7 litre straight eight that was derived from the design for a 16-cylinder aircraft engine. In the early thirties Ettore passed responsibility for the company to Jean, but in 1939 he was killed in an accident while testing a Type 57 ‘Tank’. The company got into financial trouble and was forced under German control just before the war. In 1947 founder Ettore died and at that point the future looked extremely dark. Jean’s younger brother Roland tried to save the family’s honor in the early fifties, but after roughly 8,000 cars the Bugatti legacy came to an end in 1956, after 47 years
Bugatti Automobili SpA
After an inglorious existence under the wings of Hispano-Suiza, making parts for the aircraft industry, Italian business mogul Romano Artioli purchases the rights to the Bugatti name and establishes Bugatti Automobili SpA in 1987. As an Italian, he replaces the Alsace region for the global epicenter of supercar design, and erects a brand new, state-of-the-art factory in Modena, Italy. Engineer Paolo Stanzani and designer Marcello Gandini started work on a supercar to resurrect the Bugatti name, and on the 15th of September 1991, exactly 110 years after the birth of Ettore Bugatti, the Bugatti EB 110 GT is launched. This technical marvel lands a painful blow on the nose of the competition with high-tech features like a carbon fiber chassis, a 3.5 liter V12 with four turbos and four-wheel drive. And as if 560 bhp was not enough, a 600 bhp Super Sport was launched in 1992.
Artioli commissioned Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign to develop an ultra-luxury limousine called the EB 112, but this car never made it into production. Buying British sports car manufacturer Lotus didn’t do Artioli any good, and with the financial crisis of the early nineties Bugatti Automobili SpA was heading for disaster. In 1995 the legendary name was forced to swallow its pride, being forced off the market and into receivership, eventually leading to the second downfall of the Bugatti brand. Around 150 examples of the EB 110 GT and SS were built, or slightly more if the creations of Jochen Dauer and Edonis are included. Dauer is a German race engineer who bought the left-over parts from the production process in Modena, hoping to restart production. The Edonis was an extreme lightweight creation from B Engineering, based on the EB 110 carbon tub and V12 engine, but like the Dauer EB 110, it did not have any success.
In an almost compulsive attempt to cover every possible segment of the automotive industry, Volkswagen purchased the rights to the Bugatti name in 1998 from Artiol, during a spending spree that also brought the Bentley and Lamborghini brands under their control. In quick succession three concept cars were launched, starting with the EB 118 coupé in 1998, followed by the beautiful EB 218 limousine in in 1999 and later that year the 18/3 Chiron supercar was launched in Frankfurt. Giugiaro was again responsible for the design of these three concept cars, but there were no production plans yet.
The main reason being that Volkswagen was still working on a new production facility at the original location in Molsheim where even the old family chateau was being restored. In 2000 Volkswagen patriarch Ferdinand Piëch announced the 18/4 Veyron, but this time the design was not penned by an Italian, but by the German in-house designer Jozef Kaban, working under Volkswagen design director Harmut Warkuss.
One of the biggest technical difficulties the development team encountered, was the fact that the exhaust manifold of the cylinder bank in the middle was too close to the inlet ports of the adjacent bank. The W18 idea was ditched altogether and a solution was found in adopting the Volkswagen VR6 setup with its narrow 15-degree angle, translating it into a VR8. A second VR8 bank was put under a 90-degree angle and four turbos are added to get to an initial output of 1,001 PS, or 987 bhp. The Veyron 16.4 was launched at the Geneva Auto Show in 2001 as the fastest, most powerful and most expensive production car ever. A very bold claim that became the Damocles sword for the design team, since Piëch was in no way going to recall his claim.
The initial deadline was pushed backward from 2003 to 2005 to resolve a multitude of technical problems, but in the end the Veyron reached its promised top speed of 400 km/h. It actually trumped that goal by achieving 407 km/h (254 mph) and the 1,200 PS Veyron Super Sport even reached 431 km/h (267 mph) in 2010. After a ten-year production run and a total of 450 cars, the Veyron La Finale marked the end of the most extreme sports car in the world that went into the history books as the third descendant in a bloodline that started more than a century earlier. With the latest Chiron, Bugatti has upped its game and pushed the limits even further, hoping to set a record again for the fastest production car in the world.