The debut of the EB110 was also a highly luxuriant affair, consisting of a spectacular reveal in La Defense square, a very deliberate homage to the company’s gaulois roots, with accoutrements including sprawling posters adorned by Ettore Bugatti’s signature and lavish flower arrangements of the Bugatti logo itself.
This dramatic demonstration was only compounded further by French actor Alain Delon escorting the car down Champs Elysées escorted by the original Gandini prototypes, eventually arriving at Place de La Concorde. As if this wasn’t a copious enough demonstration, the Orangery of the Palace of Versailles was commandeered to host an 1800 guest banquet amongst both mesmerisingly beautiful pre-war Bugattis and the groundbreaking new EB110 GT.
Hence, the new car became a media sensation, lauded for its promised technological prowess. While the car has been somewhat usurped in the historical narrative by other truly excellent creations of the ‘90s like the beloved McLaren F1 and Ferrari F50, upon the debut of the EB110 the only comparable contemporaries were rather more crude in nature or couldn’t reach performance levels it could that had long been deemed unfathomable to obtain.
Intriguingly, Artioli was still not perfectly content with the more contemporary adaption of the original Gandini design, but time was of the essence and further refined proposals by Tom Tjarda were not carried forth to eventual production. Thus, although more designs were explored in the interim period between the debut in 1991 and the start of production on the 16th of September 1992, the car remained mostly unchanged from an aesthetic standpoint from the example utilised during the dramatic French reveal barring minor elements.
Despite quite the convoluted birth, the first customer EB110 GT (GT018) would be presented to it’s Swiss recipient outside the iconic walls of La Fabbrica Blu on the 1st of December 1992, finished in the iconic Blu Bugatti paint with a grey leather interior, virtually identical to the press cars and initial prototypes in specification.
Compared to existing exotica, the EB110 was a revelation. One could go almost as fast as the EB110, but to do so required the virtually impossible task of sourcing an elusive Porsche 959 S, or going to the excellent but crude Ferrari F40, a car that shared many elements with the EB110’s ethos, including those that worked upon them during development and their masterful combinations of small displacement but high revving turbocharged engines, albeit without the accessibility and ease with which an EB110 could be commanded down the road.
Perhaps the elephant in the room, so to speak, was the recently introduced Lamborghini Diablo, another Italian supercar with an ill-received Gandini design modified beyond his own recognition, the Diablo would be the first vehicle launched under the company’s new proprietors, Chrysler Corporation. Able to attain a maximum velocity of 202mph and with a more modern curvaceous shape, similar in many respects to the EB110, the car was well received but still eschewed many of the innovative features of its Campogalliano counterpart.
Of course, at approximately half the price, this was hardly a surprising factor and the car would go on to be a commercial success, but I would certainly make the argument that despite it being a more conventionally attractive and successful car, it didn’t quite push the envelope to the same extent. Intriguingly, in the succeeding years Lamborghini would hone their flagship model and tame it with the introduction of the VT Four-Wheel-Drive variant in response, but at its inception it still lacked some of the accessibility of performance the EB110 brought.
The most intoxicating new car with a Ferrari badge was the beautiful but largely outdated 512 TR, and Jaguar would be more than happy to sell you a motorcar that reached a similar echelon of performance but one that lacked the same degree of technical complication and the promised V12 and 4WD, all for twice the price.
Thus, I’ve become infatuated with the EB110 not merely because its the contrarian 1990s supercar or by its rarity but by the meticulous and ambitious manner in which it was designed, developed and built, a combination of factors that arguably proved to be the very demise of the car and the company itself. Virtually none of its historical competitors or at least those available for one to acquire upon its 1991 debut had entirely bespoke or new engines and mated this to technologies that had been explored not in the car industry, but that of the realm of aerospace and racing on the same scale.
The drivetrain of the long-forgotten Bugatti truly is its centrepiece. The aesthetics of the car were contemporary if controversial, but the impressive nature of designing a bespoke engine and transmission and implementing them into a production car in such a short length of time is in fathomable by historic and even modern automotive industry standards.
When describing the lineaments of the car, it’s difficult to accept they are pertaining to a car which is thirty years old, encompassing a 3.5-litre, 60 valve bespoke V12 engine with twelve individual throttle bodies, all of which distributed a mesmerising power figure at the time of 553hp (in standard GT guise) through all four wheels and a six-speed manual transmission, a carbon-fibre monocoque, double wishbone suspension and active external aerodynamics.
With each of these entrancing elements complimenting one another, the EB110 is unique in having characteristics and qualities befitting of the upper echelons of modern supercars and combining it with what is in many ways, a thoroughly antiquated and pleasantly analogue driving experience. As with any Italian thoroughbred of an era gone-by, the EB110 was not without fault. Individuals of a more towering stature would struggle to fit themselves within the lavishly-appointed cockpit, a by-product of the car’s unexpectedly lithe proportions. The interior itself was a titillating concoction of opulent materials and parts-bin leftovers, but if one possessed enough creativity and had the means, different options could be explored.
However, while the EB110 would soon go on to prove its wondrous capabilities, a series of adverse events would provide increasing difficult hindrances. Japan’s roaring bubble economy, a staple of the exotic car market and a country so awash with investment and economic growth had a landmass worth double that of the entire United States, imploded in a spectacular fashion.
This affair not only eliminated many of the potential customers for the new car, but would cripple one of Artioli’s facets of financial success, his business importing Japanese cars into his native Italy. Still, the automotive press became infatuated with the car and customers did indeed come along with supplemented by some truly fascinating developments of the EB110 and within the ambitious company itself in the years to come.