The Bugatti EB110 is one of the most interesting cars of the 1990s for a variety of reasons. Mechanically speaking, the EB110 existed on the cutting edge of the tech available in its day, with a quad-turbocharged, five-valve V12, four-wheel-drive, and carbon fiber chassis. The EB110 is also interesting in the way it just sort of appeared out of nowhere—and disappeared just as quickly.
A new documentary from Swiss car dealer explores the EB110's strange history, with a unique focus on Romano Artioli, the Italian man who briefly owned a car company that built Bugattis.
A brief refresher on this odd chapter in Bugatti's long history: Artioli, a wealthy Italian businessman, bought the rights to use Ettore Bugatti's name and many of his other assets from the French government in 1987. Artioli intended to bring back the Bugatti marque with a high-tech new supercar that recalled the spirit of the classic Bugattis of the 1920s and 1930s. He opened a new factory near Modena, Italy and debuted the EB110 in 1991.
Things seemed to be going well–Bugatti had a fantastic car in the EB110, and as the documentary points out, an enthusiastic workforce to build it. Artioli even bought British sports car legend Lotus from GM in 1993! But just two years later, the for failing to pay $125 million in debt.
That version of the story makes a lot of sense: The world was in an economic recession at that time, making a $300,000 supercar's chances of success pretty slim. What's more, Artioli seemed to have spent money too loosely in purchasing Lotus. In this documentary, though, Artioli tells a rather different story. Essentially, he claims that Bugatti's efforts were sabotaged by competing automakers.
And Artioli tries to present evidence for his bombshell claim: He talks about a sudden drop in orders, and suppliers who stopped working with the company. Most shockingly, he alleges that certain Bugattiss were malevolently tinkered with before they were delivered to customers—a number of Germany-bound EB110s, he claims, were delivered with loosened steering columns, making the cars dangerous to drive at high speed. Artioli alleges this was done to generate damaging press for the company.
The former Bugatti boss presents himself as the victim of a highly-coordinated effort against his company, though he doesn't reveal any names as to who he suspects was behind it.
Artioli and Bugatti were forced to sell Lotus Cars to its current owners, Proton, in 1996, and the Volkswagen Group acquired the Bugatti name in 1998. Volkswagen then set up a new factory in France and launched the huge (and hugely expensive) project that culminated in the debut of the Veyron in 2005.
The Italian Bugatti factory still stands today, abandoned and virtually untouched since 1995. As portrayed in this documentary, it's a haunting monument to the dream of the EB110.
It's difficult to know exactly what happened to Artioli's Bugatti—whether the failure of his company was a result of malicious sabotage, or garden-variety financial mismanagement. One thing is certain, though: This 20-minute mini-documentary is a fascinating watch for any fan of 1990s supercars.