Sleeping Beauty Nº14: Bugatti EB110
Sixty valves, four turbochargers, 550+bhp, permanent four-wheel drive – and a Bugatti badge on the car’s squat nose.
Wealthy businessman Romano Artioli was the man behind the hare-brained but passionate scheme to create this car from nothing. More than 30 years after the last Bugatti had been built, he acquired the Bugatti name and somehow raised the capital (to this day, no one is quite sure how) to develop a car, build a factory and employ a workforce. But the market collapsed and, by February 1993 (when the EB110 was finally launched in the UK), only three cars had been registered in Italy and they all belonged to Bugatti.
Only around 150 cars were ever built and eventually the money dried up – not helped by Artioli’s £30 million purchase of Lotus in 1993. The story is a tragedy in financial terms, yet there are so many reasons to celebrate the Bugatti EB110. As a stunning piece of engineering; as a rare and courageous attempt to create something totally outstanding; and as a car that is shockingly entertaining to drive.
The engine chatters, the turbos chirrup and the transmission whirs; yet all this is muffled by the sound-deadening of a luxury sportscar. Artioli wanted outstanding performance with a docile nature, and that’s what he got. The clutch is light and the gearlever moves with easy precision, backed up by effortless power steering: a far cry from the heavy stomp-and-snatch of many supercars of that era.
Put your foot down and it feels like an aeroplane on a runway – civilised at first, but then the speed builds and builds and keeps on building without drawing breath. Yet drive hard into a corner on a wet road and the four-wheel drive pulls you through, the car’s bulk changing direction with the ease of a slot car. And then there’s the wonder of the rear-view mirror. All you can see is a slit of sky, a strip of spoiler and a vast, glittering expanse of engine – twelve cylinders and four IHI turbochargers, no less…
Text: Classic Driver