What's the difference between Bugatti and other automobile brands? Unlike his competitors, Ettore Bugatti did not design and build his cars, he "gave birth" to them. His ideas sprouted into a myriad of projects that would later outrun some of the best known automobiles on Europe's racing tracks.
The story of Bugatti is not that of a company that had to face countless financial problems, nor that of a company that spread all over the world by establishing sales venues or building plants across the Atlantic; the story of Bugatti is the tale of a rebellious visionary, of a young genius who could trace his origins back to a row of artists and artisans. Born in Milano, Italy, 1881, Ettore was the son of Carlo Bugatti who not only worked as a painter but also as a silversmith, sculptor and wood carver.
Still in his adolescence, Ettore was sent to study sculpture at the Brera Art Academy, but quite soon after that he discovered his passion for automobiles. Following his decision of becoming an engineer at the age of only seventeen, young Ettore started working and in only one year, he had designed and built a three-wheeled vehicle powered by two engines.
Despite its small size, Ettore's prototype almost wiped clean the prizes thrown in at the local races, having won an amazing 8 out of 10 events. Fueled by his tricycle's success, an enthusiast Ettore entered his 'baby' in the Paris-to-Bordeaux. The buggy came in third. Ecstatic with the result, Ettore returned to Milano determined to continue building cars.
By the age of nineteen, Ettore Bugatti had just completed building his first real car. Deeming the overall technological development at the time - it was the beginning of the 1900's - his automobile seemed almost futuristic. The auto featured a four speed gearbox, a four-cylinder overhead-valve engine and a variety of engineering improvements that only a gifted builder could have come up with.
From that point on, his dream took off and evolved into a very profitable business, with lots of orders coming in. Soon enough, Ettore would raise enough money to buy his own establishment. In 1909, receiving financial support from banker de Vizcaya, he purchased a large property in Molsheim, on the German territory of Alsace. Soon after his newly acquired factory, Ettore decided to go a step further and built a small, lightweight racing machine to compete in the Le Mans race.
Although it looked like a four wheeled dwarf as compared to its giant competitors' cars such as a Fiat, De Dietrich and others, the little but swift and powerful automobile came in second proving that Ettore was a more talented car designer as compared to many of the older engineers at the time. The year was 1911.
Three years later, the war came and Ettore, much like the majority of car builders, had to redistribute his attention to the much needed aircraft engines. As soon as the war was over, Ettore resumed his work and soon became a 'baron' leading a baroque lifestyle that earned him the title of 'Le Patron'.
In 1922, Bugatti introduced a revolutionary car shaped like a cigar (Type 29/30) which featured hydraulic brakes and the manufacturer's first eight-cylinder engine. Dubbed "the Cigar" the car made its debut at the AFC grand prix in 1922 and took second place. One year later, Bugatti introduced the Type 32 which caused sensation due to its wing-like design, short wheelbase and covered wheels. The Type 32 was dubbed "the Tank" and boasted a redeveloped version of the previous 8-cylinder engine.
In 1924 Bugatti entered the Type 35 in the French Grand Prix held in Lyon. While the car's design turned to its time's traditional open-wheels design, the Type 35 retained the previous 8-cylinder engine and steadily became the car to beat for the next decade.
Ettore Bugatti finally realized his dream of creating the most automobile of all time in 1926 when he introduced the Type 41 Royale. This was actually the most expensive car to build, with a relative price that still surpasses anything produced since. However, with the Great Depression just around the corner, the Type 41 Royale also proved to be one of Bugatti's greatest financial threats. Sales of the Royale reached only 3 units.
In 1931 the global economic crisis reached French shores, and Bugatti received a great financial help in the form of a government contract to built a high-speed train. And that is how the Autorail was born, a train using the huge engine from a Type 41 Royale, which held the world speed record for railed vehicles with combustion engines.
Bugatti's last great victory in motorsport happened in 1939, when at his son's request, the company prepared a supercharged Type 57 which won at Le Mans, driven by Pierre Wimille and Pierre Veyron. Unfortunately that very same year on August 11, his only son Jean died in a testing run of the same Type 57 car. Only a few days later World War II broke out.
After the war, several attempts to revive production were made, but to no distinctive result. In 1947 on August 21, Ettore Bugatti died at age 66 of pneumonia in a military hospital in Paris. After that, the brand's heritage continued in the form of several unfruitful partnerships.
The aircraft company Hispano Suiza bought Bugatti in 1963 and in 1987 entrepreneur Romano Artioli purchased the rights to the Bugatti name and built a new factory in Campogalliano, Italy, to manufacture a new super car. In 1991 Bugatti unveiled the EB 110 supercar in Paris, celebrating the 110th anniversary of Bugatti Ettore's birth. In autumn 1995, Bugatti Automobili S.p.A files for bankruptcy and three years later German car maker Volkswagen, takes over the company in an effort to revive the sports luxury brand.
During the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show, Bugatti unveils the EB 16.4 Veyron model, with a 16-cylinder and four-turbo engine. In September 2005, the production of the Veyron 16.4 begins. The car receives several media praises and establishes itself as the most expensive contemporary production car while also holding the fastest production car title for 2 years, with a homologated top speed of 408.47 km/h (253.81 mph).