Blue blood. Fast, furious and misunderstood: the inside story of a supercar great. An all-time great yet misunderstood - until now. It was the fastest, most advanced car in the world - but its looks split opinion and sales bombed. In fact the EB110 is an all-time great. Here’s why. Words Richard Heseltine. Photography Paul Harmer, Mitch Pashavair.
There is little about the Bugatti EB110 that doesn't invite hyperbole. That and profanity. Drive one, and talk tends to be short and exclamatory. It's difficult not to ransack the cliche cupboard when describing its incendiary acceleration. Then there's the styling, which is oddly attractive in the best way, but which continues to polarise opinion. Yet the EB110 wears its weirdness without affectation; there is nothing cautious or bet- hedging here. When it was unleashed in 1991, it represented more a leap forward than a nostalgia trip. This was the ultimate marque revival, so the #Bugatti-EB110
had a lot to live up to. It tanked - but whether success eluded this remarkable machine, or it eluded success, one thing is clear: it was, and remains, brilliant.
In a very roundabout way, it was #Ferruccio-Lamborghini
who initiated the EB110. By the mid-80s he was no longer involved with the marque that bore his name, but the industrialist-tumed-vintner still enjoyed brainstorming with like-minded car types. He also harboured ambitions of becoming a manufacturer once again. As such, he was introduced to #Romano-Artioli
, then one of Europe's most successful Ferrari distributors, with assorted agencies in Italy and Germany. This self- styled entrepreneur also owned several pre-war Bugattis and dreamed of reviving the marque.
A discussion at the #1986
Turin motor show between Lamborghini and Artioli about reanimating Bugatti led to further talks, with the nucleus of what we now know as the EB110 emerging from them, although the former soon lost interest in the scheme. Undeterred, the immaculately coiffured Artioli persuaded French state-owned industrial giant Snecma to sell the rights to the name. This was no mean feat, given that it had steadfastly refused prior overtures from established - and homegrown - firms. Bugatti Automobili was registered in Italy in October #1987
. All that was needed now was a car to sell.
While Lamborghini may have exited the scene, other 'names' were sweet-talked into sharing Artioli's vision. A roll-call of superstars was recruited, including ex- Lamborghini man Paolo Stanzani as technical director. Unfortunately, this highly respected engineer didn't gel with the starry-eyed Artioli and was replaced by #Nicola-Materazzi
. This was no bad move, given that Materazzi was formerly project leader on the Lancia Stratos and also heavily involved in developing the #Ferrari-Testarossa
models for production. Styling great Marcello Gandini, by then a freelancer, was employed to shape the car. No expense was spared, a state-of-the-art factory being erected in Campogalliano on the outskirts of Modena in which to build the new Bug (the architect, Giampaolo Benedini, just happened to be Artioli's cousin).
The EB110s specification made other supercars look unimaginative. The basic layout was devised by Stanzani, early prototypes featuring aluminium monocoques, although these were deemed insufficiently rigid so French aeronautics company Aerospatiale was tapped to help develop and produce the carbonfibre tub. Then there was the engine, a 3.5-Iitre, all-alloy, 60-valve V12 equipped with four tiny IHI turbochargers. Power (up to 603bhp for the Supersport version) was transmitted to all four wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, while suspension was by conventional double wishbones with twin spring/damper units, and the carbon tub/superstructure was wrapped in a hand-formed
aluminium skin. Brembo provided the brakes, while Michelin developed special tyres for a machine that, during the homologation stage, established a production car top speed record of 212.5mph. What's more, Artioli insisted that the EB110 would be sold with a three-year warranty covering all servicing costs, including consumables such as brakes and tyres. The would-be motor mogul was determined that his brave new world would live up to the #Bugatti
legend; that he would forge a new chapter in marque lore with a no-excuses supercar.
There was, however, one slight stumbling block - the car's styling. Gandini may have penned many landmark supercars, but he chose to distance himself from the EB110. Artioli felt that the prototype's shovel nose and scissor doors made it look too much like a Lamborghini. He had a point, given that magazines ran spy shots in the belief that they had scooped a new Sant'Agata product. Artist and patron had a falling out after Gandini refused to rework his design. The task then fell to Benedini, who had no prior experience of styling cars. His take on the theme was in turn tweaked by others, the end result being a mite compromised.
Nonetheless, the car was introduced amid much hoopla. With a grand unveiling at the Place de Defence in Paris on 14 September #1991
to mark #Ettore-Bugatti
's 110th birthday (hence the initials and numerical designation), all looked rosy: the #EB110GT
was officially the fastest production car on Earth and arguably the most sophisticated. Then the world economy turned turtle. Artioli's prosperous Suzuki import concession was extinguished after the yen collapsed, although he still had the means to acquire Lotus in August #1993
. Somehow his buccaneering spirit would eventually win out, and win big. It had to.
WHAT CAME NEXT?
WHEN BUGATTI Automobili SpA tanked in #1995
, it wasn't the end of the EB110 - not even close. A number of partially built cars, and a large quantity of spares, were acquired by Dauer Racing of Nuremberg, Germany, which had made its name building six #Porsche-962
-based road cars in the early 1990s; it even claimed overall victory in the #1994
Le Mans 24 Hours with one of these supposed GT cars. Now company principal Jochen Dauer followed through by launching the Dauer EB110 in 2001.
Carbonfibre was used for all body panels, which resulted in a weight saving of 230kg over the standard EB110. In addition, Dauer tweaked the 3.5-litre V12, improving gas flow within the turbo installation, which helped increase peak power to 645bhp at 8000rpm. An optional sports exhaust system and a modified ECU meant 705bhp was possible and, in that spec, the Dauer EB110 managed 0-60mph in a verified 3.3 seconds. It wasn’t all about speed, though, cabin upgrades including a Kenwood sat-nav system.
The most extreme variation on the EB110 theme, however, was the Edonis (pictured right) from Italy’s B Engineering, a company that employed many former Bugatti employees, including Nicola Materazzi.
While the Edonis used an EB110SS chassis, engine capacity was increased from 3499cc to 3760cc and two larger IHI turbos replaced the original quartet from the same manufacturer. The Edonis was claimed to produce 680bhp at 8000rpm and 542lb ft of torque at 3200rpm, and to have a top speed of 227mph. In addition, the four-wheel-drive system was replaced with a simpler (and lighter) rear-wheel-drive transaxle, which shaved 70kg off the donor car’s weight.
The most radical part, however, was the carbonfibre body, which bore only a passing resemblance to the car that bore it, Evo magazine describing it as being ‘seemingly constructed entirely of cooling ducts'.
B Engineering planned to build 21 cars, with monocoques made by Bugatti subcontractor Afrospatiale. With a #2001
launch price of around £450,000, it remains unrecorded whether this figure was ever reached, although the car was still technically available as late as 2006.
Except it didn't: Bugatti was on borrowed time from the get-go. The proposed Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned #EB112
super-saloon was quietly dropped as production of the EB110 coughed and spluttered, sales never getting near the once-envisaged 300 units per year. The first delivery was made in December #1992
, the last in September #1995
. The final tally was only 102 'entry-level' GT editions, along with 38 Supersports.
But that wasn't quite the end. Following the bankruptcy sale, former Le Mans-winning entrant Jochcn Dauer bought a batch of partially built cars and assembled them, while B Engineering developed the EB110-based Edonis (see panel, previous page). Volkswagen subsequently acquired the rights to the Bugatti name for an undisclosed sum (rumoured to be around £20m) and sunk vast numbers of euros into creating the awe-inspiring 16-cylinder #Veyron
The sad part is that the EB110 deserved more. The example pictured here was once Artioli's personal car and, while arbiters of beauty might purse their lips in disgust, the styling is as compelling as it is left-field. The passing of time has certainly softened opinions, and it's no more challenging than a great many supercars that followed in its wake. It's also a lot smaller than you remember; being five inches shorter than a Ferrari 458 Italia and only 0.1 in wider.
This SS edition - 603bhp rather than the 553bhp of the GT, carbonfibre panels rather than ally - is revelatory. Everything feels meticulously honed and focused rather than lashed together as with some supercars from the period. That said, the cabin is disappointingly normal given the external drama. Somehow you expect something a bit more outx6. Pull down the scissor door and the base of the window is at neck level, which is slightly disconcerting.
Headroom is surprisingly tight but the leather-dad seats are ultra-comfy, the pedals are only slightly offset towards the centreline and the instruments are all visible. It even has proper ventilation, something of a novelty for exotica of this vintage. All-round visibility is a mite compromised, though, but that does rather come with the territory. There are a few ergonomic quirks, but you would almost be disappointed if there weren't. The biggest is the positioning of the interior door release handle, which is concealed under the armrest (and we do mean 'concealed').
This being a supercar built before starter buttons inexplicably made a comeback, you fire up the EB110 using a key. And while you might expect the V12 behind you to erupt with a surround-sound fanfare, there's just a muted burble. It's all very civilised. Ease in the dutch, give it some gas and heading out over calloused UK roads immediately inspires confidence: there are no creaks, groans or clunks through the structure. The suspension soaks up the worst road imperfections and, at moderately enthusiastic speeds, the EB110 is remarkably easy to drive. It doesn't feel intimidating. The gearchange is super-slick while the power-assisted steering, just 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, doesn't feel edgy.
So far, so ordinary. Then comes the good bit. Hit 4000rpm and the turbos start to inhale air. Acceleration builds abruptly but effortlessly. Back off and you can hear all four huffers exhale sequentially left to right, left to right. Power on again, keep the throttle nailed open this time and forward thrust is astounding. So often with machines of this type, fast doesn't feel fast, but this is one supercar in which you do get pinned back in your seat. Peak torque (479lb ft) arrives at 4250rpm and the four-wheel-drive transmission and broad Michelins ensure otherworldly levels of grip.
There's also laughter-inducing - and seemingly never- ending - boost, but without any faltering or flat-spots: you're almost left feeling detached from the surreal madness of it all. That a car packing more than 600bhp can be this easy to drive - so refined, so exploitable - is a feat of breathtaking creativity although, remarkably, it was criticised in period for being too refined; for lacking the sense of theatre and bombast expected of a supercar. Like that's such a bad thing.
So why did the EB110 fail? Where do you start? The man who envisaged it succeeded in upsetting the supercar establishment on so many levels, suppliers included. Insiders also claim that Artioli was something of a dreamer, in love with the idea of making cars but not the day-to-day reality. He certainly wasn't alone in that. So many decisions were made on the hoof, and it showed. What actually did for the EB110, though, was timing. Its arrival coincided with a global financial meltdown, demand for supercars falling off a cliff. The early '90s weren't a great time to be a start-up operation, especially one making a technologically daring supercar. You could also argue that vanity got in the way, that the showy factory was perhaps an extravagance too far.
What really rubbed salt into the wounds was the arrival of the #McLaren-F1
. The EB110 was touted as being the best supercar in the world, and in many ways it was. However, once the F1 came on line, it uprooted the goalposts and ran away with them. Even if it hadn't been 'better' per se, it was perceived as such and that perception still holds even today.
And, truth be told, the critically canonised FI was better in just about every quantifiable way. Given that the #F1
has surged past the £5 million mark, you could conceivably buy ten EB110s for the same money.
Which isn't to say that the McLaren is ten times the car. The EB110 combines brain-scrambling acceleration, molten grip and very un-supercar levels of comfort. This is a car you want to keep driving, one that deserves some long-overdue respect. Whether it lives up to the Bugatti legend is a moot point, but what is beyond question is that we would still be raving about the EB110 even if it didn't wear the fabled badge. You ache for its continued company, which says it all really.
THANKS TO Gregor Fisken, www. fiskens. com.
EB110 IN MOTOR SPORT
The EB110 could conceivably have added to Bugatti’s lustre in the Le Mans 24 Hours had fate been a little kinder. Publishing magnate Michel Hommell commissioned Synergie to prepare a Supersport for the 1994 event and, with Alain Cudini, Jean-Christophe Jules' Boullion and the previous year's winner. Eric Helary, on the driving strength, much was expected. However, a petrol leak early on cost valuable time, as did stops to replace the turbos - all four of them (one of them twice over). Even so, the car was running in eighth place overall after 16 hours, only to be forced out following an accident late in the day.
There would be no EB110s on the grid for the #1995
running, although Monegasque entrepreneur (and current Venturi principal) Gildo Pallanca-Pastor did much to publicise the model in the #WSC-GT
class that year. He was joined by Grands Prix winner Patrick Tambay for selected rounds, the undoubted highlight being fifth place overall on the Monaco Racing Team's debut at Watkins Glen. That same season also saw 28-year-old Pallanca-Pastor drive his EB110 on the frozen sea in Oulu, Finland, where he established a Land Speed Record for driving on ice: 184.14mph using regular Michelin rubber rather than spiked tyres. The record wasn't beaten until former rally star Juha Kankkunen averaged 199.86mph aboard a #Bentley-Continental-GT
Pallanca-Pastor was then joined by #Olivier-Grouillard
for the February #1996 #Daytona-24-Hours
. Hill, the son of #1961 #Formula-1
World Champion Phil, who was an advisor to the team, was running in seventh place overall at one point, only for electrical problems to end play after seven hours. A few months later, the car’s owner attended pre-qualifying for the #1996 #Le-Mans
24 Hours. Unfortunately, the car’s monocoque was damaged during a testing shunt with Tambay at the wheel and therefore did not appear in the race itself. There would be no further frontline competition entries for the EB110.
Right and below. Magnificent, in-house-built V12 engine. Four small #IHI
turbochargers were the key to extracting 600bhp-ptus from just 3.5 litres. Highlights of a short racing career included an appearance at Le Mans in 1994, where the car ran as high as eighth.
ENGINE 3499cc all-alloy 60-valve V12, four #IHI
POWER 603bhp @ 8250rpm
TORQUE 479lb ft @ 4250rpm
TRANSMISSION Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
STEERING Power-assisted rack and pinion
Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, adjustable gas dampers, anti-roll bar
BRAKES Vented discs
PERFORMANCE Top speed 218mph
‘THIS IS A CAR YOU WANT TO KEEP DRIVING. WE WOULD STILL BE RAVING ABOUT THE EB110 EVEN IF IT DIDN’T WEAR THE FABLED BADGE'
'THAT A CAR PACKING MORE THAN 600BHP CAN BE THIS EASY TO DRIVE - SO REFINED, SO EXPLOITABLE - IS A FEAT OF BREATHTAKING CREATIVITY’
‘THE 12 WAS EQUIPPED WITH FOUR TINY TURBOCHARGERS...
THE EB110'S SPECIFICATION MADE OTHER SUPERCARS LOOK UNIMAGINATIVE!
Right and opposite. Race-style seats in this #EB110
Supersport are surprisingly comfortable. Looks are ageing well - largely because the Bugatti was relatively restrained in an age of Teslarossas, Diablos and XJ220s.