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When writing about vintage supercars, the Bugatti EB110 can’t be skipped. The name Bugatti is deeply entrenched into collective concrescences. From impressive specs of the massive Type 41 Royale from the late ’20s, seductive shapes and outstanding performance of the Type 57 from the late ‘30s, or astonishing power and out-of-this-world technology of current Chiron, this company stole the heats and captured the imagination of millions of car lovers.
Established over 110 years ago, Bugatti was a unique player in the early days of motoring, offering sophisticated technology, race-car performance, and unmatched luxury for those who wanted to pay for the privilege. The quirky nature of its founder, Ettore Bugatti, and its unique production process meant that Bugatti cars were never mass-produced. Still, it guaranteed that they always were special, valuable, and timeless pieces of engineering. However, between the last classic Bugatti made in 1956 and the modern Veyron and Chiron hypercars of the 21st century, there were few attempts at revival, but only one could be called a success. From 1987 to 1995, the glorious Bugatti name was reborn.
Although the resurrection was short, it did leave a tremendous mark on the automotive industry and gave birth to a car that would make the old Ettore proud – the Bugatti EB110. This is its story.
As a brand, Bugatti was one of the first to develop a cult following and started the classic car trend. From the early ‘50s to the late ‘80s, there were a few attempts to restart this brand, but none of them was successful due to a lack of funds, ideas, and production capacities. However, the resources weren’t the only problem. To properly re-introduce this brand, there needs to be a specific individual: part businessman, part engineer, and part artesian. Somebody who fully understood the particular approach of Ettore Bugatti and is capable of turning that unique philosophy into another breathtaking machine.
That somebody was Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli. Once the biggest Ferrari dealer in the world, he was very involved in the Italian sports car scene and was a close friend to Ferrucio Lamborghini and other well-known automotive figures. In the late ‘80s, Romano got the idea to revive the Bugatti on the wings of a strong economy and demand for exclusive automobiles. As a car collector, he was very fond of the brand, and he was sure he could pull it off with a friend like Ferruccio Lamborghini.
After acquiring the rights to the name Bugatti, Artioli started assembling his all-star crew of engineers, designers, and technicians. Marcello Gandini, a man well-known in the supercar world, was chosen to design the new models. Paolo Stanzani, who worked on such cars as Lamborghini Miura and Countach, was responsible for the prototype, along with Nicola Materazzi, who was the production engineer. Financed by Artioli’s successful business ventures and with the help of fellow investors, Bugatti Automobili S.p.A was established, and production facilities have been constructed near Modena, right in Italy’s supercar county.
However, at the start, Artioli on the other side and Gandini and Stanzani on the other had a falling out over topics regarding the chassis construction, leading to their leaving the company. Initially, the idea was to make an aluminum monocoque chassis with a honeycomb structure. However, the early prototypes didn’t have the desired torsional rigidity, and Artioli decided to try carbon fiber instead. It was the first carbon-fiber monocoque chassis used in automotive constriction, and Artioli envisioned the new supercar to be filled with advanced technology as a specific tribute to Ettore Bugatti, whose cars always had something new under the glorious bodywork.
Continuing with that theme, engineers started working on an engine, and Artioli demanded massive power and a majestic V12 layout but also wanted something unique and first in the world. He got it in the form of a 3.5-liter V12 engine with a unique quad-turbo setup, which was relatively light but immensely powerful. If you think that modern Bugattis with their quad-turbos are revolutionary, Artioli did it decades ago. Such a configuration resulted in fantastic power, which was the reason for the next innovative feature – all-wheel-drive. Engineers realized the car would have enormous problems with traction since it was reasonably lightweight but overly powerful. So, they designed the unique all-wheel-drive system to provide it with the traction it desperately needed. For the transmission, the 6-speed manual was chosen.
The last piece of the puzzle was the design, and it was the work of Giampaolo Benedini, who refined Gandini’s prototype work and gave it a host of unique and retro-inspired details. First, the horseshoe-shaped grill detail is reminiscent of classic Bugatti grilles of the past. The design of the wheels was almost identical to the aluminum wheels used on classic Bugatti Type 35 racing cars.
Interestingly, Ettore was the first constructor to use aluminum wheels on his racing cars. Even though the overall shape was typical supercar form with a low profile and vertically-opening doors, the details, front fascia, and rear-end design made it unique. Following the idea of the “world’s first,” engineers installed an active aerodynamic package in the form of an active rear spoiler, which automatically rises when the vehicle exceeds a certain speed. The interior might seem spartan by modern standards, but it was comfortable with a reasonable amount of space, full instrumentation, wood trim, and leather seats.
Introduction and Reception
By the early ‘90s, the car’s development was finished and ready for reveal. A simple introduction at any of the car shows would be too banal for such an exclusive car. Artioli decided to unveil the car on the 15th of September 1991, exactly 110 years from the birth of Ettore Bugatti, in two separate events in Paris. The car world was stunned by the looks of the new Bugatti and with its name – EB110 GT (short for Ettore Bugatti). The supercar fans were pleasantly surprised by the new Bugatti, and in a very short time, the EB110 was the talk of the community. In those days, the Ferrari F40 was only a turbocharged supercar, but the EB110 made it look outdated with its all-wheel-drive, carbon chassis, and quad-turbo V12.
The specifications of the EB110 were astonishing, even by today’s standards. The relatively small V12 delivered 553 hp and 610 Nm of torque, which were amazing numbers. Due to the relatively lightweight (1,620 kg) and competent AWD system, the EB110 could sprint to 100 km/h in just 3.5 seconds and had a top speed of 336 km/h (206 mph). Those figures firmly positioned the Bugatti at the top of the global car industry. The 3.5-liter V12 was definitely potent, but the engineers gave it another exciting feature – a high red line. It could rev up to 8,000, which was unheard of at the time, especially for quad-turbo units. In the best tradition of Italian supercar building, the engine was covered with glass so bystanders could marvel at this mechanical gem. As expected, running at full load, the EB110 produced incredible noise, which enhanced the unique experience.
Right from the start, wealthy customers were interested in this special supercar. The Bugatti name, along with the all-star team of engineers behind it, attracted a lot of attention, which resulted in an encouraging number of orders. The base price for EB110 was eye-watering $350,000 ($800,000 in 2023), which was a massive amount of money for a newcomer in the segment despite the famous name. However, the Bugatti EB110 was still somewhat cheaper than the Ferrari F40 but significantly more than the Lamborghini Diablo. Still, there were enough customers to make Artioli happy, at least for a while.
As with all small boutique manufacturers, production difficulties are a reality, and Bugatti had its share of costly delays and problems. However, in 1992, the company delivered its first examples to eager customers and gave several cars to motoring journalists. The first test revealed that EB110 is a heroic achievement in engineering and design, but it still needs to be further developed and smoothened to be a proper luxury item. Some magazine testers even reported slightly faster acceleration than advertised, showing some differences between cars, which often happens in hand-built production. Nevertheless, it was one of the fastest cars of the previous century.
Just half a year after the presentation of the standard EB110 GT, Artioli proudly introduced the EB110 Super Sport – a lighter and faster version of the standard car. Even though the 1.6-tone weight of the EB110 GT wasn’t that much, Bugatti’s engineers found a way to shed some 200 kg due to the use of carbon and aluminum. Recognized by special wheels and a spoiler, the EB110 SS was significantly faster at 355 km/h (221 mph) and 0 to 100 km/h possible in just 3.2 seconds, making it the quickest production car in 1992.
However, despite the stellar performance, the company soon faced financial trouble. The global economic climate had changed, recession was on its way, and Artioli’s primary business interests suffered, which meant that he was no longer able to finance the expensive Bugatti venture. However, he wasn’t stopping, and in 1993, Artioli bought Lotus from General Motors in a surprise move that upset some players in the supercar segment. At the time, Lotus was also in a dire financial situation, but it had a very competent engineering team and research department. However, after the initial interest, the Bugatti orders have dried up, so in 1995, the company announced bankruptcy. Interestingly, Artioli owned Lotus until 1998 and supervised the release of the ground-breaking Elise model, named after his granddaughter, Elise Artioli.
So, in 1995, the Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. closed its doors after only 139 cars were delivered to customers. The 128 cars were road-going examples, and 11 were racing cars, finished by hand and sold to privateers. Amongst the road-going models, only 32 were in desirable Super Sport specs. Car historians believe that one of the biggest reasons for such a quick failure was Artioli’s big ambitions and the fact that Bugatti never homologated the Bugatti EB110 for sale in the lucrative American market. The cost of the homologation procedure was too high for a small company, and Bugatti basically looked for customers only in Europe and the Middle East.
Even though the Bugatti closed its doors in 1995 and creditors took control of the facilities, machines, and parts stock, the life of the EB110 wasn’t over. In an unexpected turn of events, German company Dauer, well-known to Porsche fans, bought all the remaining chassis, parts, and components and introduced its own Bugatti EB110. Very slightly changed and with Bugatti badges and names, four cars were completed between 1999 and 2000. However, Dauer’s engineers realized that there was considerable potential in the EB110 chassis, so a couple of years later, they produced five Dauer EB110 Super Sport Light Weight models. Further lightened and with whole carbon bodies, those cars had modified engines that delivered 645 hp, resulting in a fantastic performance. The Dauer EB110 SS Light Weight could top 370 km/h and sprint to 100 km/h in just 3.3 seconds.
For years, the Bugatti EB110 was out of the automotive mainstream and regarded as a failed supercar. The recent rise in prices and interest from the world’s removed collectors shows the true nature of this unusual but astonishing supercar. Yes, it might be underdeveloped and rushed into production, but at the same time, it displayed exceptional levels of engineering excellence, patrician background, and world-beating performance. It was all that supercar should be and featured a unique design that is still fresh even over 30 years after its debut.
On the other hand, the EB110 proved highly influential. Not only has it introduced the layout that almost all modern supercar has copied with turbocharged engines and all-wheel-drive. It has also set the template for the next Bugatti revival in the early 2000s and used quad-turbo W16 engines. However, the most significant praise came from the current Bugatti, which in 2019 introduced a fantastic and retro-futuristic hypercar, aesthetically based on EB110. The Bugatti Cientodieci (110 in Italian) is a rolling testament to the importance and influence of Artioli’s vision.
What does ‘EB110’ stand for?
‘EB’ refers to Ettore Bugatti, the founder of the Bugatti company. The ‘110’ signifies the 110th anniversary of his birth, hence the model paying tribute to both the man himself and the legacy he started.
How many EB110s were built?
During its production period, Bugatti manufactured only around 139 units of the EB110, making it a very rare vehicle. This limited run has contributed to its allure among collectors.
What was the initial price of the EB110?
When new, the EB110 had a price tag of around $380,000, a substantial sum in the early ’90s.
What is the price of a Bugatti EB110 today?
Today, due to its rarity, historical significance, and the lore surrounding Bugatti, the EB110’s value has soared, often trading for well over $2 million, depending on the car’s condition and history. Some models like the SS even sold over $3.5 million.
Who designed the Bugatti EB110?
The EB110 was designed by Italian architect Giampaolo Benedini, who was not traditionally an automotive designer. Despite this, Benedini crafted a car that was futuristic and remained true to Bugatti’s heritage.
Has the Bugatti EB110 participated in any racing competitions?
Yes, the EB110 raced in the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans, among other events. Its involvement in motorsport, though brief, was significant due to the car’s advanced features and performance capabilities during that era.