Growing up, the Bugatti EB110 had an almost mythical status for me. Sure, there were the more established and recognised Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches of the time, fighting for bedroom wall space among the impressionable youths of the world, myself included, but the Bugatti wasn’t as well known or acknowledged, at least not to an eleven year old from the south east of England, and that made it all the more exotic in my eyes. I had seen pictures of the thing and it ticked all of the boxes from an aesthetic standpoint – with those classic super car lines and scissor doors it was a young boy’s dream. I knew it was fast too, famously smashing that 200mph top speed ceiling that was recognised as a performance benchmark at the time, something I was partly aware of thanks to my collection of Top Trumps cards, but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of the thing. It simply did not have the usual associated level of fanfare upon release enjoyed by certain, more famous performance car brands and don’t forget, this was before the Internet and I was yet to develop my voracious appetite for all things automotive and so my sphere of influence was limited to what I saw on TV and various pools of second hand insight from around the playground.
But why this sudden resurgence of interest in a somewhat forgotten, early 90s Italian supercar then? Well, today marks the car’s 30th birthday so we thought we would celebrate that fact here at Car and Classic and remind ourselves why the EB110 was, and still is, such a great car that deserves to be revered, not just today, but forever.
Even though founder Ettore Bugatti was indeed Italian born, most people know Bugatti as a French auto maker (even though it was initially German due to the company’s location in Alsace before the Treaty of Versailles handed the area over to France). However, in 1987 Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli purchased the then defunct brand, moved its operations to Modena and set to work building a small numbers, exclusive sports car under the name Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. The EB110 was born.
Unveiled in Paris on the 15th of September 1991, the EB110 was an incredibly powerful production car deigned to be deserving of the esteemed Ettore Bugatti name. The 3.5-litre, sixty valve, V12 engine had not one, not two, but four turbochargers strapped to it which was rather incongruous at the time with rival manufacturers still favouring larger displacement, normally aspirated motors. Producing 553bhp and 451lb-ft of torque the V12 could propel the Bugatti EB110 to 60mph in around 3.5 seconds and on to a top whack of 212mph – straight into industry-dominating supercar territory. Not only was the choice of engine discordant with early 90s sports car norms but so was its drivetrain with power being delivered to all four wheels, not just the rears. This was matched only by the Lamborghini Diablo VT but not until another two years later. A six-speed manual transmission completed the setup and boy, what a setup it was.
Artioli wasn’t stupid, he knew exactly what he was doing, but he also knew he needed talented people to help him. Not only did he recruit former Lambo legend Paolo Stanzani as his chief technical engineer (Stanzani had famously worked on the Miura and Countach), he also cherry-picked a crack team of additional engineers and designers from industry big-hitters Maserati, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. If he was going to resurrect the Bugatti name, he was determined to do it properly. What’s Italian for “go big or go home”?
The design life cycle of the EB110 was a little more convoluted, however. After several notable designers were approached to pen the lines of the car based on chassis sketches, the job eventually fell to Italian Marcello Gandini. Gandini had quite the portfolio with some incredibly beautiful and successful designs already under his belt, including the Lamborghini Miura, but his initial concept was rejected by Bugatti Boss Artioli who sent Gandini back to the drawing board, quite literally. His second interpretation was also not what Artioli wanted but Gandini, fed up by this point, refused to make any more amendments and so was usurped by former racing driver and architect Giampaolo Benedini at the behest of Artioli. What followed was the final design of the EB110 that we know today and thankfully Benedini kept those famous scissor doors.
As part of the fallout of all of these design shenanigans Gandini left the project, followed closely by Stanzani who was swiftly replaced by fellow Italian engineer Nicola Materazzi of Ferrari F40 fame. Materazzi’s first job was to improve the current aluminium, honeycomb chassis which Artioli was also not a fan of – the result of which was a completely new carbon fibre design which greatly improved the car’s torsional stiffness. Finally, the apparently finicky Bugatti boss was appeased and along with some further fettling to the engine and front/rear torque split the EB110 went into (albeit limited) production.
Bugatti continued to improve upon the car and released a Super Sport version in 1992 to an appreciative crowd at the Geneva Motor Show. The EB110 SS featured the same quad-turbo, V12 engine as the original car but tweaked to over 600bhp, and combined with some weight saving jiggery pokery in the form of more carbon fibre parts, was quicker to sixty than the original GT variant. The SS was responsible for a lot of Bugatti press in 1994 when Michael Schumacher bought one. It’s quite the endorsement when the greatest racing driver in the world decides to buy one of your cars but unfortunately he then proceeded to bin it into a truck, with some sources reporting he was fiddling with the car’s stereo at the time and Schumacher himself blaming the brakes as the culprit (yes Michael, that’s what we would say too…). The car was subsequently repaired, however, and the F1 legend held on to his yellow EB110 for nearly ten more years.
With only 139 original cars produced the Bugatti EB110 remains a remarkably rare piece of automotive history. The star that burns twice as bright burns half as long and unfortunately 1995 marked the final year of production for this tip-of-the-spear supercar, along with the end of the Italian chapter of Bugatti’s rich history, leaving behind a one-of-a-kind sports car and a very large “what if?” The Bugatti EB110 should be remembered, and remembered fondly, and it is still well deserving of that prized piece of bedroom wall real estate. Happy Birthday.