Travel: Flashback 1993: Touring Through Turin, Bologna, And The Bugatti Campogalliano Factory With My Design Classmates

Flashback 1993: Touring Through Turin, Bologna, And The Bugatti Campogalliano Factory With My Design Classmates

Avatar By Markus Haub
April 14, 2021
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Photography by Markus Haub/Garage X

At the beginning of 1993, I started studying car design in Pforzheim, where I finally met some like-minded people to share my passion with. After getting to know each other in our classes, we decided to plan a group trip to Italy—not to join the tourist throngs at the Colosseum or along the Grand Canal, but to visit the great design houses. Bertone, Ghia, Pininfarina, and Italdesign were our targets.

So off we went, over the Alps and into Italy. Beyond the border, the guardrails became rusty, the radio started picking up Gianna Nannini, and the coffee had to be paid for with lire. Our pilgrimage took us first to Turin, then on to Bologna for the motor show. But the unforgettable highlight of our trip was a visit to the Bugatti factory in Campogalliano, which we had organized well in advance.

Torino

The capital city of Piedmont isn’t particularly pretty in the classic sense, and seeing as our journey took place in the wintertime, it looked even dirtier and more morbid than usual thanks to the seemingly ubiquitous fog that shrouded the city. But that’s also what made it so charming to us. We dragged the heavy industrial air through our noses like a fine perfume and reveled in the unevenness of the cobblestone streets that rattled the plastics in our dark blue Fiat Uno diesel—when you’re on an adventure, everything that’s new and different has a certain endearing quality that’s lost on the locals. Our route through the city took us past the Lingotto factory to Grugliasco, west of the city center where heavy manufacturing and industry dominated.

At that time, this was the headquarters of Carrozzeria Bertone and its production facility, in which parts and entire cars were built. To give a sense of the diversity of the machines born here, these production lines included the likes of the Lancia Stratos, Alfa Romeo Montreal, Fiat 850 Spider, Volvo 780, and Fiat X1/9. It also produced convertibles for Fiat and Opel, like the Kadett and Astra. The last automobile to roll off the line in 2005 was a special series of the MINI Cooper—a compensation from BMW for ending production of the C1 scooter early. Fiat bought the factory in 2012, demolished it, and built a new plant for Maserati. Today only a part of the original entrance area remains intact, including some steps and a small canopy.

Pininfarina was just around the corner—not the design department, but the factory—where it had stood since 1958. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, Duetto, and Fiat 124 were built here, but the wind tunnel was much more architecturally interesting than the production area. Built in 1972 as the first of its kind in Italy, the tunnel was used by the design house to create numerous aerodynamic prototypes over the years, and when the plant was sold in 2009, the tunnel remained in the possession of Pininfarina.

Our last stop in Turin was the gate of Italdesign in Moncalieri, where we imagined the old master Giugiaro at his desk drawing the world’s dream cars, like the Maserati Bora, Lotus Esprit, or BMW M1. We looked forward to seeing some of his latest designs in Bologna the next day.

Bologna

The Bologna Motor Show offered us a strong dose of motorsport from the outdoor areas of the exhibition, as well as some second class “world premieres” like the Citroën ZX estate and SEAT Cordoba, but also the Fiat Coupé, which elicited some controversy and a contrast of opinions within our group. At the Italdesign stand, we were amazed by concepts such as the Biga city car, the huge Columbus, the BMW Nazca C2 Spider, and the Fiat Lucciola, which Giugiaro later transformed into the Daewoo Matiz.

However, the highlight of our trip was Bugatti. The stand at the show was impressive, with the exhibits including a silver EB110 SS. This was the prototype of the SS trim level, which later served as a test car for the IMSA racing series. Unlike the production version, it had a black rear wing, a GT-style front wing, and no brake ventilation slots behind the front wheels.

Campogalliano

The next day we drove to Campogalliano and parked our car in the visitor lot. From there we could already see the round glass building where the offices and design studio were housed, and there was also an open showroom on the first floor for special occasions. The factory was built in the late 1980s—very close to those of Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ferrari on the A22 motorway—after Romano Artioli acquired the naming rights to Bugatti and poached a competent team from the competition. From 1991, the EB110 GT, with a 3.5-liter quad-turbo V12 engine, 550hp, and a top speed of 342kph, was built here.

We reverently entered the entrance hall, lined with white marble, and happily waited in awe until an employee approached and gave us a friendly welcome. We started the tour with him and walked past the heart of the factory, a blue cube with a huge Bugatti logo and white ventilation pipes on the exterior. This was the test and development department for engines, housing a then-unique four-wheel drive roller dynamometer. Continuing on to the assembly hall, the oversized “EB” logo was embedded in the concrete outer walls and the side windows went down to the floor to let the daylight in. You could feel the attention to detail that made this factory a real work of art—unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the inhabitants of the visitor parking lot!

Inside the approximately 5,000m² main hall, we got an impression of the final assembly process. You could eat off the floor here, I remember thinking. Everything was sparkling clean, totally tidy, with all of the pieces neatly arranged in boxes.  Large-format side views of old Bugatti models hung from the ceiling, while the almost-finished EB110s sitting below were mostly blue, silver, or black. The cars we saw on the production line were likely to have been the first four SS models. Three of these went to the Sultan of Brunei, finished in silver, black, and yellow, while the fourth was a blue example for a customer in Spain.

To our amazement, between some carbon fiber chassis and finished cars parked a Suzuki Cappuccino, a 3.3-meter-long right-hand drive “kei car” roadster from Japan, which only came to Europe in very small numbers the following year. I don’t remember why it was there, but it certainly had something to do with the fact that Artioli had been Italy’s largest importer of Japanese cars since the 1980s, especially Suzukis. He also operated the largest Ferrari dealer base, and served, among other areas, the northern Italian and southern German markets. In principle, he used this trading empire to finance the the rebirth of Bugatti and also the purchase of Lotus. But the capital melted away when the global financial crisis hit, and there were internal issues to deal with, too. By September 1995, the company was filing for bankruptcy.

A total of 96 EB110 GT and 34 EB110 SS were built, but the already fully developed EB112 saloon—designed by Giugiaro and shown as a prototype at Geneva in 1993—never saw the light of day. Since then, the seven-hectare site had been long abandoned and most of the inventory auctioned off. What remains is what apparently had no value or could not be removed, though today there are caretakers of this important site, and a few events are held there each year to commemorate the special activities that once took place there. Two large white porcelain frescoes in the canteen still bear witness to the glamorous times when the 200 employees came together and ate delicious pasta, basking in the Italian supercar dream. It certainly felt like we had entered one when my schoolmates and I visited, and it’s a memory that I will forever cherish.

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Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson

Thanks for sharing your wonderful story, Markus! I wish I could have been along on this adventure.