30 Years Of Fabbrica Blu: An Italian Bugatti Reunion
Photography by Andrea Casano
In the early 1990s, after decades of intermittent but inevitably failed revival attempts, fractured assets, and ownership shuffling, the Bugatti marque reemerged at the forefront of the automotive scene with a quad-turbo supercar.
Romano Artioli, an Italian entrepreneur and longtime admirer of Ettore Bugatti’s legacy, purchased the famed French automaker in 1987 and promptly moved its operations to the Italian commune of Campogalliano, where a world-beating car was to be produced in a factory that looked like an art installation.
It was a magical rebirth of a dormant legend, and better yet, it was a wholly genuine one. Rather than reproduce the classic Bugatti road and race car designs to cash in on the history or license a preexisting car to wrap in a Bugatti-badged skin, Artioli ensured that the company’s future would carry the traditions of Ettore’s exquisite workmanship, but it would carry them categorically into the modern era.
A combination of macroeconomics, automaker politics, and other misfortune made it such that Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. only produced one car from its ambitious playbook, but it’s something to be proud of, three decades and counting after the fact. The EB 110 incorporated the marque’s trademark horseshoe grille, but at the time of its release it was pure future.
Artioli had assembled (and reassembled) a team of engineers and designers that ultimately produced a carbon monocoque supercar with four turbochargers attached to a mid-mounted V12 that fed power to all four wheels via six manually shifted gears. It could accelerate to 60 in 3.5 seconds and continue on to 220mph, and that was just the GT trim version, which was down about 50 horsepower to the lighter and more powerful Super Sport’s output of 610. The EB 110 was the fastest production car of its time, and it’s by no means slow according to the standards of today either.
The production car’s final technical director was the great former Ferrari engineer Nicola Materazzi, whose earlier work on projects like the 288 GTO and F40 had provided him with ample experience with forced induction supercars. Materazzi took over where the previous team of had left off, optimizing the engine and its escargot while also addressing other areas, such as the chassis which evolved from an aluminum honeycomb design into the carbon tub that made it to production.
The design of the car was originally tasked to Marcello Gandini, but before production began company president Artioli employed Gianpaolo Benedini to soften and refine its appearance from the more brutal, wedged prototype. Benedini was also the lead architect of the futuristic “Fabbrica Blu” that was built to build the EB 110, which I visited this past weekend to join the celebration of Bugatti’s years in Italy.
The factory has sat unused for the past 30 years, but it was completely alive for this gathering. The event “30 Years of Fabbrica Blu,” was organized by Ezio Pavesi, the caretaker of the campus who still keeps its spirit alive, and his son Enrico, who managed the day’s activity. Fans and disciples from all over the world arrived in Campogalliano to be part of the event—some of them in their EB 110s—and they were joined by the likes of Artioli and Benedini, in addition to the current president of Bugatti, Stephan Winkelmann.
It was a joyful meeting with old and new friends in what has now become a place of worship for Bugatti adherents, and although the signs of age and disuse are clearly visible, the factory seemed as if it were in motion again. The factory still presents a very contemporary design, which gives the peeling “Bugatti” on the blue exterior wall an anachronistic appearance—it has aged, but it is far from dated.
During lunch, in a context as unique as the old assembly line of the EB 110, Winkelmann, Artioli, Benedini and Dr. Pulsoni (the current owner of the factory), took turns speaking to the history and future of Bugatti, highlighting the temporally brief but eminently impactful Italian era led by Artioli.
I am doing my best to listen to each word as I try to find openings to shoot the cars, and along the way I pick up snippets of many different languages whispered among the crowd, a testament to the diversity and dedication of these fans and supporters. Just after lunch, men, women, and children alike flock to admire the EB 110s that have made the pilgrimage back to their birthplace. Taking a photo through the throngs is tricky, but I am happy to have this issue. These cars deserve to be studied up close.
For fans like me, it was an opportunity to spend the day with some of my automotive idols, both metallic and living. For those that were instrumental in this story, it was a family reunion, a celebration of one of the greatest comeback stories in the world of cars.