The Bugatti EB 110 is among the best supercars of the 1990s and rightfully deserves a place in the pantheon of superb engineering masterpieces. Equally impressive is how Romano Artioli – an Italian entrepreneur, importer, and distributor of Ferrari, GM, and Suzuki vehicles – acquired the Bugatti brand in 1987 and went on to build the EB 110, a supercar like no other. More importantly, the EB 110 incorporated ground-breaking engineering features that kickstarted the hypercar race while building upon the foundation of Bugatti’s greatest supercars, the Veyron and Chiron.
Bugatti EB 110: A Brief History
Milan-born Ettore Bugatti established the brand in Molsheim, France, in 1909, and its first cars gained prominence for their engineering, build quality, and attention to detail. Ettore’s philosophy of “Nothing is too beautiful, nothing too expensive” proved both an asset and a liability as the automaker faced a string of financial difficulties in making the world’s best and fastest cars.
Early Bugatti cars like the Type 35, Type 41 Royale, and the legendary Type 57 SC Atlantic are more Art-Deco pieces than automobiles. Moreover, the automaker had a wildly successful racing career in the following decades after the first World War. Things began heading south when Jean Bugatti, son of Ettore Bugatti and purported company heir, died after crashing a Type 57 Prototype in 1939. Three weeks later, World War II broke out, and Nazi Germany invaded France. Ettore Bugatti fled to Paris after refusing to use his car factory to build German torpedoes.
The elder Bugatti returned to Molsheim and found his beloved factory in ruins after the war. He died not long after in August of 1947, and the company closed its doors in 1952 after making a last-ditch effort to appear at the Paris Auto Show that same year. There were attempts to revive the Bugatti name throughout the 1950s to the 1970s. It wasn’t until 1987 that Romano Artioli stepped in to establish Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. “I was 20 years old when news arrived that Bugatti had stopped producing cars, and it took me 39 years to finally be able to achieve my goal,” Artioli said in a 2019 interview with Classic Driver.
The newly-minted chairman of Bugatti immediately got the ball rolling by erecting a 240,000-square-meter factory in Campogliano, Italy. He assembled a team of brilliant engineers and designers to build the new company’s first production car: The EB 110.
“Romano Artioli loves the Bugatti brand, but more than that, he understands it intimately,” said Achim Anscheidt, Bugatti Design Director. “When he bought Bugatti, he knew that simply building a car that copied the rest of the industry was not truly in the spirit of the founder.”
To Ettore From Romano
Development work for the Bugatti EB 110 began in 1987 under the watchful eyes of technical director Paolo Stanzani, an Italian engineer and automotive designer known for imbibing magic into iconic Lamborghini cars like the Miura, Espada, and Countach. Yet the Lamborghini connection goes further. Few are privy that Ferrucio Lamborghini, founder of Lamborghini, was instrumental in conceptualizing the EB 110 and Bugatti’s late-80s revival.
Stanzani sent the chassis drawings to four legendary Italian auto designers: Paolo Martin, Nuccio Bertone, Girgetto Giugiaro, and Marcello Gandini. If all went according to plan, Bugatti could develop a mid-engine V12 supercar to debut in 1991, just in time to celebrate the 110th birthday of company founder Ettore Bugatti. The job went to Gandini, the iconic name behind four-wheeled masterpieces like the Countach, Lancia Stratos, De Tomaso Pantera, and Miura, but not without some trouble.
Artioli found Gandini’s rendition a bit hard on the eyes, but the latter was not content to alter his design. “His era was the wedge era when strong angles ruled, but he couldn’t look past that,” Artioli explained. “I told him this car was not a Bugatti and that I wanted something softer that would appeal more to enthusiasts.”
Paulo Stanzani also eventually left the project after having “conflicts of opinion” with the boss, one of which stemmed from Stanzani’s insistence on an aluminum honeycomb chassis for the EB 110’s backbones. “It was stupid that he decided on a more flexible honeycomb chassis rather than carbon fiber,” Artioli said. “He said it was better for the performance. Can you believe that?”
“While everyone else was creating racing cars for the road, his idea was to pursue the creation of the ultimate GT,” Anscheidt said of Romano Artioli. “And to do it with technologies never before seen in a road car and with a timelessly elegant design.”
Nicola Materazzi took the helm from Stanzani, and Artioli went to architect Gianpaolo Benedini – the man who built Bugatti’s new Campogliano factory – to improve upon Gandini’s earlier design. Benedini retained the scissor doors and wide greenhouse while improving the façade with air ducts in the front bumper, the “mousetrap” Bugatti horseshoe grille, and fixed headlamps. Meanwhile, Materazzi sought the help of Aerospatiale to develop the Bugatti EB 110’s revolutionary carbon fiber architecture.
Quad-Turbocharged V12 Engine
Hiding behind the Bugatti EB 110’s rear seats is a 3.5-liter quad-turbocharged V12 engine with 12 throttle bodies and 60 valves. It pumps out 553 horsepower and 451 lb-ft. of torque. Since the EB 110 weighs only 3,571 lbs. (1,620 kg), it could rush to 60 in 3.26 seconds, ultimately topping out at 212 mph, enough to make it the fastest series-production car of the time.
Bugatti later unveiled a lighter, track-focused variant of the EB 110 called the SS or Super Sport. It came with a more potent version of the turbocharged V12 with 611 horsepower and 480 lb-ft. of torque.
In addition, the Bugatti EB 110 had all-wheel drive, active aerodynamics, and titanium bolts to go with its massive engine and lightweight carbon fiber monocoque chassis, unheard-of ingredients for a 1990s supercar. Aided by a six-speed manual gearbox, the Bugatti EB 110 gained the attention and deep pockets of seven-time Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher. “Once he drove the EB 110, Schumacher said it was a car unlike any other and simply beyond compare,” Artioli recalled. “He came to Campogliano and bought a yellow Super Sport with a blue GT interior, and he didn’t ask for any form of discount.”
EB 110 & The Future of Bugatti
The Bugatti EB 110 debuted simultaneously at Versailles and the Grande Arche La Defense in Paris on September 15th, 1991, 110 years after the birth of Ettore Bugatti. However, it entered production during a global financial crisis, which created a less-than-ideal economic climate for a $200,000 supercar (the EB 110 SS had a base price of $240,000). Making matters worse were allegations of espionage where Bugatti directors allegedly pocketed money from rival automakers (and Romano Artioli’s acquisition of Lotus didn’t help).
Production ended in 1995 after only 86 units of the EB 110 GT and 40 Super Sport models left the factory. Volkswagen acquired Bugatti in 1998 and introduced the Veyron in 2005 and the Chiron in 2016 to succeed the short-lived EB 110. If not for the unfortunate events, Bugatti would have released the EB 112 super saloon under Artioli’s supervision, the inspiration behind the fantastic 16C Galibier concept that first debuted in 2009. Bugatti is now under the control of Croatian automaker and technology company Rimac as the automaker forges its all-electric route.
“We at Bugatti today have much to thank Romano Artioli for. He is such a warm-hearted man with a great passion for our brand,” Anscheidt said. “Out of his generosity in reviving Bugatti in the ’80s and defining a vision for it in the modern day, he laid the foundations for the creation of Veyron and the character of Bugatti today.”
Alvin Reyes is an Automoblog feature columnist and an expert in sports and performance cars. He studied civil aviation, aeronautics, and accountancy in his younger years and is still very much smitten to his former Lancer GSR and Galant SS. He also likes fried chicken, music, and herbal medicine.