“At the time it was a gang,” says Romano Artioli, the man behind the brief revival of Bugatti in its modern form in the early 1990s with the quad-turbo EB110. He claims that rival carmakers shut him out of business. “The Mafia was a troop of boy scouts in comparison.”
Volkswagen Group is currently in charge of Bugatti, the ultimate jewel in their very large crown. VAG likes to position itself as the company that brought Bugatti back, but they weren’t the first.
Bugatti’s modern era really starts in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when auto importer and dealer Romano Artiolio bought the brand, built a factory in Campogalliano (near Ferrari and Lamborghini), and started making the fastest and most technologically advanced cars on the planet. The EB110, with its quad turbos and all-wheel drive set the mold for the Veyron and Bugatti’s current designs.
But the company closed down after only a few promising years. The factory, eerily, remained standing, giving the whole operation a kind of ghostly vibe. Like it was closed unexpectedly. Like it was always about to come back.
Kidston went to the factory and interviewed the people responsible for Bugatti’s EB110-era. They talked about how much promise everything showed. They talked about how diligent they were, how hard they worked, and how shocked they were when they closed their doors. Well, everyone except for Romano Artiolo.
“What surprised me was a sudden drop in orders,” Artoli says. “’How come?’ ‘Who knows?’ ... Very strange things.’
“In fact, orders were coming in but they were...put aside.”
“The factory had to collapse. Do you understand?”
“It was organized very well. It was done by specialists.”
“They knew who our suppliers were,” Artoli says, never giving a specific name to his saboteurs. “They took them one by one and brainwashed them. They said, ‘If you supply another spare part to Bugatti, you won’t work with us again. You choose. One part a day against a thousand you make for us. You’ll figure it out.’ They were intimidated. At the time it was a gang. The Mafia was a troop of boy scouts in comparison.”
Artioli goes on to recall one incident in particular, where he claims cars were sabotaged. Artioli says that one of his workers happened to notice that the steering box was loose on an EB110 that was supposed to be ready for delivery. The worker had checked the car over the day before and it was fine. Artioli claims someone must have loosened the steering box during the night, which would have made them dangerously unstable at high speed. A crash like what might have happened could have been enough to take the company down.
Of course, Artioli never names any specific car company for trying to shut down Bugatti’s operations in Campogalliano. And at least one carmaker has successfully risen in his place, Pagani, also set up in the same region.
Whatever the cause of the company’s end, it was beautiful in its existence. Watch the short Kidston documentary and you’ll get a better understanding of the dream that was the Italian Bugatti.