The name Bugatti may not be a household name, but among car enthusiasts the brand is something of an icon, though only a few thousand Bugattis have ever been produced. Founded in France by Ettore Bugatti, an Italian immigrant, the company is legendary for producing some of the fastest and most exclusive cars in the world. Starting in 1909 – making the company one of the earliest automobile manufacturers still in existence – the Bugatti brand has experienced quite the renaissance in the last fifteen years or so.
At the dawn of World War II, it looked as though Bugatti was going to be one of the prime contenders for racing domination. The Bugatti team won the first ever Monaco Grand Prix of 1929. This race has gone on to become one of the most important, and prestigious, auto races in the world. Not long after, the company’s driver Jean-Pierre Wimille won the 24 hours of Le Mans twice, in 1937 and again in 1939.
The company early on became known for its artistic and high-level engineering. Of the many hallmarks Bugatti was known for were engine blocks that had been hand scraped, so that they did not require gaskets, as well as an exposed engine compartment. At the time, Bugatti’s main competitor was Bentley. This British company seemed to be directly competing for the same high-end automobile market. Many of the models produced in those early days by both Bentley and Bugatti were made only in limited numbers, and most were created by hand. Only a few examples of each Bugatti model were ever produced because of their exclusivity.
Like many automobile brands, however, the original company failed during the materials shortages of World War II, though it did produce one model in the 1950s. The company was eventually purchased for its airplane parts division. Having fallen into the shadows of other brands, Bugatti rose to the surface of the racing world again in the late 1990s when Volkswagen bought the brand and started working on a series of three experimental cars. Today Bugatti has rejoined the ranks of some of the more famous and infamous racers, after releasing the Veyron 16.4 in the US and debuting in Sicily a few years later.
The modern history of Bugatti includes Lamborghini designers and the acquisition of the Lotus car company – testament to the brand’s high-end following. In 1998, under Volkswagen, Bugatti began working on the EB118 concept. The EB118 was a touring sedan with an 18 cylinder W-configuration engine. The two-door coupe boasted 555 horsepower. A year later the EB218, a four-door limousine, surfaced at the Geneva Auto Show. Following close on the heels of the EB118 and EB218 were the Veyron 16.4 and the Chiron.
Bugatti touts their racecars as aesthetically appealing, high-performance machines – showing, once again, that the Bugatti brand may have changed hands, but has not changed its commitment to quality automobiles. Today, the Bugatti remains a favorite – though often unattainable – brand for many a racing enthusiast.