A Bugatti Journey

October 8, 2010: Berlin, Germany

In 1939, Jean Bugatti was killed in an accident just as he was really starting to transform the company into a sustainable manufacturer of premium automobiles. Bugatti had always been a company run by one man's vision, and although it seemed like the transition from father to son would have been successful, when Jean Bugatti died, effectively so did the company.

Yet, as in any great soap opera, the popular characters don't stay dead forever. In the late 1980s, a debonair Italian named Romano Artioli devoted millions of dollars of unknown origin toward resurrecting the Bugatti name. On September 15, 1991, exactly 110 years after the birth of Ettore Bugatti, the 560-hp EB110 made its public debut in Paris. A fitting fete for a brand that had been dead for decades but remained "an icon in the presence of all automobile enthusiasts," to quote design editor Robert Cumberford, the Parisian launch was an event to rival a royal wedding, a procession of Bugattis from La Défense to the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs Elysées to the Place de la Concorde.

Cumberford was there -- and wholly unimpressed. He blasted the organizational mess and then lambasted the EB110's backside for being "ugly" and described its horseshoe grille as "amateurish." We're used to that kind of criticism from Cumberford, but even Monsieur le Grump had to concede that the EB110 was a technological tour de force. Mounted in its middle was a 3.5-liter V-12 with not one or two turbochargers, but four. It had not three or four valves per cylinder, but five. It revved to not a usual supercar's 7000 rpm or an otherworldly 8000 rpm, but to nearly 9000 rpm. Its transmission contained six forward gears. And to top it off, it was four-wheel drive.

The most extreme EB110 came a few years later in the form of the EB110SS, which had 610 hp -- also from just 3.5 liters. That was enough power to haul this supercar to a top speed of more than 215 mph or to complete a lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7 minutes and 44 seconds.

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