Reinvigorating an old brand is a complex and tricky endeavor. Knowing which elements of the past version of the company are worth carrying over into the new entity is almost as difficult as appreciating which ones to leave behind. For an automotive firm as well-regarded as Bugatti, taking on a new vision can be perceived as personal to those who drove, collected, and cherished the pre-war models. Making a new company that represents the qualities of ultimate speed and exclusivity would be only the first step to reviving the classic marque; for a new venture to honestly embody Bugatti, they would need to build the best car in the world.
In a recent, extensive retrospective compiled by Sports Car Digest, the author posits that the groundbreaking work completed by Romano Artioli and his all-star team of designers, engineers, and architects to create the brand-new Bugatti EB110 was the third such re-invention for the storied Alsace-based firm. Attempts to re-start the marque after WWII by Ettore’s sole living heir, Roland, count as the first. Virgil M. Exner, Chrysler’s former “Forward Look” designer, was responsible for the second attempt. Now that the EB110 has celebrated its thirtieth birthday, Artioli’s singular vision has been accepted by Bugatti themselves, bringing this early nineties supercar in line with perhaps the most elevated hypercar brand of the modern era. This renewed attention has brought increasing values. Certain to draw a hometown crowd when it crosses the block in Paris on the eve of Rétromobile on 2 February 2022, RM Sotheby’s is proud to present this now-classic nineties Bugatti:
1994 Bugatti EB110 GT
Estimate: €1,000,000 - €1,200,000 EUR
Sporting wedge-shaped styling and a quad-turbocharged engine, in many ways, the EB110 was a blend of the foundational elements that birthed the 1970s supercar mixed with the highest level of engineering possible in the 1990s. Comparing the overall ethos of this Italian-built example with other icons of the supercar world is not a fundamental stretch. After Artioli acquired the rights to the Bugatti brand in 1987 from Hispano-Suiza (another storied automotive marque which had then fully transitioned into the aerospace industry), he hired two preeminently respected automotive figureheads to help: Paolo Stanzani and Marcello Gandini, two veterans of Lamborghini whose collaborations included both the groundbreaking Miura and Countach.
Astoundingly, Artioli’s team was not limited to these two former legends. After he acquired the rights to the Bugatti brand, he commissioned design proposals from some of the most noteworthy names in terms of classic Italian styling. Paolo Martin, Giorgetto Giugiaro, and Nuccio Bertone turned in impressive full-scale designs for the newest Bugatti, joining the great Gandini’s modern wedge-shaped prototype. Even American designer Tom Tjaarda, perhaps most famous for the De Tomaso Pantera, accepted Artioli’s challenge to shape the newest Bugatti. Gandini’s efforts were the most fruitful, with several styling attempts reaching prototype production. Ultimately, Artioli wanted to try something truly different and selected an outsider in terms of automotive design, the architect Giampaolo Benedini, who also created a modern factory for Bugatti outside of Modena.
While Benedini, Artioli’s cousin, was not a trained automotive designer, his work on the Bugatti factory was undeniably state-of-the-art. Moreover, in terms of supercar styling, the finished EB110 could be said to bridge the gap between the wedge-shaped supercars of the 1970s and the more organic shapes emerging from the 1990s. A horseshoe-shaped air intake crowned the front fascia underneath the unmistakable Bugatti ‘Macaron’ badge, both hallmark details calling back to classic models from Bugatti’s past. This example is easily recognizable as a European-delivery variant of the EB110, with its relatively uncluttered front graphics compared with the American variant, which needed a taller bumper due to stringent US crash safety laws.
While the EB110 was not the first production car with a retractable rear spoiler (that honour goes to the 1984 Lancia Thema), it was certainly the first supercar to sport the now-ubiquitous feature. Underneath the skin, the EB110 featured a novel carbon fibre chassis. Fascinatingly, this monocoque-style construction weighed the same as the honeycomb aluminum chassis that Artioli’s engineering team proposed, yet the carbon fibre version delivered double the stiffness of the aluminum. Unlike the spoiler, the chassis, co-developed by French firms Aérospatiale and Composites Aquitaine, could claim to be a world first on a production car.
Underneath the forward-hinged engine bay cover, the true centerpiece of the re-launched Bugatti was on display. Featuring no fewer than four turbochargers and plenty of Bugatti blue satin finishes and carbon fibre components, the V-12 powerplant in the EB110 is decidedly worthy of upholding the lineage of exquisitely detailed Bugatti engines. Sporting five valves per cylinder (an innovation that at that point was typically reserved for Formula One engines), the Tecnostile-engineered V-12 was a certifiable masterpiece and credibly inspired the modern era of Bugatti engine design. Moreover, the 560-horsepower motor was sufficiently strong to push the wedge-shaped supercar to over 212 mph in period testing by Road & Track, good enough to make the EB110 one of the fastest cars in the world, a record which was later bested by its EB110 SS sibling.
Perhaps most impressively, the Road & Track automotive journalists (former motorsports veterans Phil Hill and Paul Frère) were positively blown away by the refinement of the EB110 while driving at high speeds on VW’s test track at Ehra-Lessien. American legend Phil Hill commented, “it drives like the most beautifully developed car you could imagine. It’s the most stable car I’ve ever driven here.” An astounding verdict for a brand-new automaker, let alone one that is attempting a supercar that can achieve over 200 mph. Beyond its signature scissor-style doors, this EB110 GT example features a ‘Special’ dual-tone gray interior with stripe-stitched leather seats and perhaps the ultimate accessory for any 1990s supercar: A six-speed manual transmission.
By now, the unfortunate conclusion of Artioli’s supercar venture is well-known. A worldwide recession, precipitated by a loss in value of the Japanese Yen, caused demand to slow, right at the moment that Artioli’s new firm needed to ramp up production. A mere 139 were built of both EB110 variants. And yet, the Bugatti story did not end there. With its thirty-year anniversary recently passed, even Bugatti’s new owner, the VW Group, joined in the celebration. A limited-production supercar mimicking the EB110, dubbed the Centodieci (for “one-hundred and ten”), was unveiled at Pebble Beach in 2019 with a reported $8 million price tag. Even Bugatti themselves have been commenting on increasing values in the EB110 market. For those who missed out when they were initially produced, RM Sotheby’s Paris 2022 auction represents a rare opportunity to see why this modern, wedge-shaped supercar completely deserves to wear the ultra-exclusive Bugatti nameplate.