Expensive Failures: Bugatti EB110

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Impressive as it was, the EB110 was done in by poor planning and bad timing.

You've really got to love the EB110, and your love for it should not be diminished by the fact that it was a flop. The fact is that there were several different factors which led to the downfall of this particular incarnation of Bugatti, but the quality of the car itself was never an issue. For the time, the car was a high-tech wonder, and produced performance figures which are still quite respectable 20 years later. But it still went under. Still, few marques in history carry with them the sort of gravitas that is associated with Bugatti.

After the company went bust following the difficulty of resuming operations after WWI and the death of Ettore Bugatti in 1947, there were several attempts to revive the brand. The first couple failed before even getting off the ground, and the company was absorbed by its own aircraft division, and then bigger aircraft companies during the Sixties. But in 1987, Romano Artioli attempted a full-on revival of the brand, complete with the sort of world-beating models that had made the brand what it was in the first place. The plans for the first car came in 1989, from designers Paulo Stanzani and Marcello Gandini.

You might recognize Gandini's name from the article on the Cizeta V16T, or perhaps from his having designed the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and the original version of the Diablo. A new state-of-the-art factory was built in Campogalliano, Italy, to build the car, and if it isn't already obvious, this was to be a much more Italian-influenced incarnation of Bugatti. But that's fine, there are obviously plenty of amazing cars to come from Italy. And although he was a naturalized French citizen, Ettore Bugatti himself was born in Milan. The car adopted his initials EB and coupled them with the number 110 in reference to the 110th anniversary of Ettore's birth.

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Production would begin in 1991, and the completed product was a technological marvel. The body was built by Aerospatiale, a French airplane manufacturer, and was made of carbon fiber. There was a speed-sensitive raising rear wing as well as all-wheel-drive. Some have seen the scissor doors as a blatant Lamborghini rip-off, but the car was designed by the man who invented scissor doors, and could be argued to have more right to them than any post-Gandini Lambo. The engine was a 3.5-liter quad-turbo 12 which produced 553 horsepower. The later EB110 SS would push that figure to 603 horsepower while simultaneously coming in slightly lighter.

The EB110 could hit 62 mph in 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 213 mph, while the SS could do a 3.2-second 0-62 and a 216 mph top speed. We're therefore talking about a pretty impressive car for 1991, so what went wrong? Well, there were a couple of problems. One was a recession that hit North America and Europe right at about the time the EB110 debuted. The $350,000 price tag (about $580,000 in today's money) was therefore not ideal. But the company was also sinking money into a sedan project - appropriately enough called the EB112, since it kicked off in 1993.

Lastly, Artioli decided to buy up Lotus from GM to add to this expanding empire. But without EB110 sales able to keep pace with the money being spent on new development and acquisitions, Bugatti went bankrupt in 1995. In the end, just 139 units were produced, making the Veyron seem downright common by comparison. What Bugatti really needed, and ultimately got, was the backing of a huge automaker to help with development costs and keep market fluctuations from having such a devastating effect on its bottom line. The EB110 should have been a winning formula, but the timing just wasn't right.

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