CONSTRUCTORS: BUGATTI (AUTOMOBILES BUGATTI)

Name: Bugatti (Automobiles Bugatti)

Carlo Bugatti was the son of a sculptor and inventor who spent his life trying to discover perpetual motion. In time he became internationally famous for his furniture and he moved his family to Paris. His two sons Rembrandt and Ettore were both exceptionally talented as well: Rembrandt became a well known sculptor in his short tragic life (he committed suicide at 31) and Ettore turned to mechanical design and was soon winning awards for his automobile designs. He spent several years designing cars for Baron Eugene de Dietrich in Niedebronn, north of Strasbourg. This began a lifelong association with the region and, after a period working in Germany, Bugatti raised the money to start his own car company in an old dye factory at Molsheim in 1909.

He had been a racer in his youth and Bugatti always employed racers and eventually it was the sport which gave him his big break. After years of struggling, the company attracted international attention with a 1-2-3-4 finish in the Voiturette Grand Prix at Brescia in 1921. Three years later the company produced the Type 35 which became the most successful Grand Prix car of its era and hundreds of roadgoing versions of the car were sold. This enabled Bugatti to embark on his most ambitious project - to build a car which would be a work of art - the Bugatti Type 41 "Royale".

Bugatti's fortunes in racing waned as the German car companies - funded by the Nazi government - rose to dominance in the 1930s but he turned his attention to the Le Mans 24 Hours with the famous streamlined "Tanks" which won the race in 1937 and 1939. Bugatti suffered a terrible setback in 1939 when his son and designated successor Jean was killed while testing one of the company's racing cars. Then war broke out and Bugatti - being an Italian - was expected to help the German war effort. Faced with the threat of having the factories confiscated Bugatti came up with an unusual solution. He sold the works to the Germans for half their real value, bought the La Licorne car company and started to produce small vans. He established an experimental department in Paris and began to design small cars to go into production when the war ended.

After the liberation the French government confiscated the Molsheim factory, arguing that Bugatti had collaborated with the enemy. He fought the decision in the courts and also battled to become a French citizen. A few days before he died in 1947 the factory was returned to the family. Money was short and to keep the company in business Bugatti began to manufacture aircraft parts. In 1956 there was a brief attempt to revive the Bugatti brand. The company hired Gioacchino Colombo, the designer of the dominant Maserati 250F, and he produced the Bugatti Type 251. Two prototypes were built and the team appeared at the 1956 French GP at Reims. The car was well off the pace and retired after only a few laps. The company could not continue to fund the program as this coincided with cutbacks in French military spending following the country's withdrawal from Indochina.

In 1963 Bugatti was sold to Hispano-Suiza and it eventually became part of Messier, a subsidiary of the French government's Societe Nationale d'Etude et de Construction de Moteurs d'Aviation.

In the late 1980s Italian businessman Romano Artioli negotiated to buy the name and logo of Bugatti from the French government and set up a factory at Campogalliano, outside Modena in Italy, to build the Bugatti EB110. Around 150 of the $350,000 cars were built and there was a half-hearted attempt to run racing versions of the EB110 in the 1994 Le Mans 24 Hours. The company closed in the summer of 1995 and in 1998 Artioli sold the rights to the name to Volkswagen. The German car group says it intends to revive the marque and has bought land for a factory in Molsheim and the old Bugatti family home, the Chateau St. Jean.

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