The Man Who Saved Bugatti And Lotus Just Turned 90

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Romano Artioli is credited with laying the foundations for the modern-day Bugatti brand, and Lotus wouldn't be around without him.

Bugatti is paying tribute to Romano Artioli, the man who laid the foundations of the modern-day Bugatti brand and can be hailed as the man behind Lotus's modern success, as he celebrates his 90th birthday this year.

Under Artioli's watchful eye, Bugatti created the iconic EB110 and re-established itself as a player in the supercar sphere. He was also involved in Lotus in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was responsible for the Elise, which practically saved the brand from ruin.

Looking back on his rich life, one can see he was always destined for greatness in the automotive world. Born in Moglia, Italy on December 5, 1932, Artioli's obsession with motorcars started at an early age.

After studying mechanical engineering and repairing cars, he established a successful automotive retail and import business. It was so successful that, by the mid-'80s, he was in talks with the French government to buy the Bugatti brand. In 1987, this dream became a reality - decades after the Molsheim factory closed its doors.

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Artioli quickly set about creating the world's most modern car production facility. The 59.3-acre plant was constructed within spitting distance of other Italian supercar brands, like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati, and contained an engine and test development area, a design studio, production halls, and a test track.

Building a quick and dramatic-looking car wouldn't be enough. He believed that the brand's revival had to birth a car worthy of Ettore Bugatti's infamous saying, "If comparable, it is no longer Bugatti." Artioli recruited the very best engineers and leading designers to achieve what he believed to be a car worthy of its name.

And it certainly was. The EB110 - revealed on Ettore Bugatti's 110th birthday - hit the scene with a quad-turbocharged 3.5-liter V12 that delivered 552 horsepower to all four wheels. Moreover, it featured the world's first series-produced carbon fiber chassis.

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"Romano Artioli loves the Bugatti brand, but more than that, he understands it intimately," said Bugatti Design Director Achim Anscheidt. "When he bought Bugatti, he knew that simply building a car that copied the rest of the industry was not truly in the spirit of the founder. While everyone else was creating racing cars for the road, his idea was to pursue the creation of the ultimate GT. And to do it with technologies never before seen in a road car and with a timelessly elegant design. It was, in every sense, a true Bugatti."

Anscheidt's comments are reflected in the EB110's exclusive customer list. Every supercar collector and aficionado worth their salt wanted one, along with millions of children across the world, who plastered their walls with posters of the new Bugatti. Even Michael Schumacher couldn't resist and purchased a yellow EB110 SS in 1994.

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But not even the ultimate celebrity endorsement could save Bugatti from the looming financial crisis. A crippling recession forced Artioli to file for bankruptcy in 1995, and the automaker was later purchased by the Volkswagen Group in 1998.

Despite the unfortunate end of that chapter, the EB110 remains an important part of Bugatti's history and even served as the inspiration behind the Centodieci. When the company was researching the Centodieci, Bugatti employees spoke to the original creators of the EB110, many of whom looked back on cherished memories with tears in their eyes.

His tenure at the helm of Bugatti may have been brief, but his legacy will live on forever thanks to the EB110 and the cars it inspired.

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Bugatti is not the only brand in that Artioli played a significant role. In 1993, the Italian businessman also purchased Lotus from General Motors and served as the British firm's chairman for three years. Because of Bugatti's insolvency, he was forced to sell Lotus to Malaysia's Proton but served as the automaker's director of special projects until 1998.

His major credit while at the head of Lotus was the development and successful launch of the Lotus Elise, which was named after his granddaughter, Elisa Artioli. The family's love of Lotus cars has continued, and Elisa recently took delivery of the final Lotus Elise to join her existing car - one of the very first. The Elise was a car that saved the Lotus brand and saw a return to form for lightweight sports car design. While Lotus may have had struggles in recent years, it would've been defunct a long time ago had it not been for Artioli.

Buon compleanno, Signor Artioli.

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