When people think of the name Bugatti, the conversation often shifts towards the brand’s boundary pushing spirit and designs, pioneered by Ettore and Jean Bugatti. That or the modern line of super cars like the Veyron or Chiron. Few mention Bugatti’s dark ages spanning several decades post-World War II (WWII). Even fewer bring up the determination, blood, sweat, and tears of Romano Artioli, who revived the brand, adding a touch of his own personality and steering Bugatti back into the world’s headlights.
A Childhood Dream
Romano Artioli was born in Moglia, 1932, close to the city of Mantua. From a tender age, Artioli was fascinated with the world of racing and fast cars. In an interview with Classic Driver magazine, he recounted how he had consumed a book on driver’s licenses as a 12 year-old boy, stating it was at that point that he found his calling. In his own words, “after that, it was clear to me that my life would be dedicated to cars and engines.”
This passion for fast cars and what made them tick, shaped the path that Artioli took. After his family moved to the town of Bolanzo, he took up a course on mechanical engineering in a professional institute, relentlessly devoting himself to studying various technologies and machinery daily for up to eight hours. Upon graduating, he got to work repairing damaged cars which were in abundance following the conclusion of WWII.
Bugatti’s Dark Age
In spite of the vast amounts of resources on the internet, little is known about Bugatti’s history during WWII and the years which followed. The dark clouds of war foreshadowed the start of this murky age in Bugatti’s legacy. The fighting, which ravaged much of Europe, left the Molsheim factory in ruins and took an emotional toll on the company’s workers. Founder Ettore Bugatti, still reeling from the death of his first son Jean Bugatti, was hit particularly hard. The end of the war only added to his emotional turmoil as he had lost many friends and family members, leaving the great innovator a broken man. Ettore died in 1947, and without his hands on the steering wheel, the brand fell into shambles. Bugatti attempted to soldier on, but its production post-WWII was a tiny fraction of its former output. The brand declined further, before completely ceasing its production in 1952.
Later in the decade, Ettore’s second son, Roland Bugatti attempted to bring the marque back by collaborating with Gioacchino Colombo to build the Type 251 race car. However, it failed to meet expectations and production ceased once again.
The brand was eventually sold to Hispano-Suiza in 1963, another former automaker, and focused mainly on manufacturing aircraft components.
A Slow Revival
When Bugatti shut down its production in 1952, 20 year-old Romano Artioli was thunderstruck. He had always admired the marque’s refined designs, forward-thinking ideas, and technical innovations. Upon hearing this devastating news, he vowed that “if no one reacts to the situation at Bugatti, I will work as long as it takes to one day bring the brand back”.
As he grew older, Artioli switched focus from the mechanical side of the industry to business. The Italian entrepreneur began his career as a dealer and then distributor for numerous well-known brands such as Ferrari, GM and Suzuki. He is best known for being Italy’s first importer of Japanese cars, and the top Ferrari distributor of Enzo Ferrari’s era. He spent the better part of three decades growing his empire of automotive dealerships which covered much of Italy and southern Germany.
In the mid-1980s negotiations for the soul of Bugatti began. Artioli was determined to revive the Bugatti name and restore it to its former glory. He discreetly entered negotiations with the French government, using the sizable capital earned from his automotive empire. After two years, he succeeded in acquiring the Bugatti trademark and established Bugatti Automobili S.p.A in 1987.
His first order of business was to establish a new production facility in which to rebuild the brand. Molsheim, the marque’s historical home, would have been the ideal location to revive the company, but it presented a set of challenges which made conception difficult.
“Molsheim is comparable to Maranello in Italy or Hethel in England. It is a Mecca for Bugatti, but at the time there were neither production halls nor engineers in the region,” Artioli said of the proposed plan.
Since Molsheim wasn’t suitable to rebuild, Artioli set his sights on the Modenese province of Campogalliano.
In building his new factory, Artioli expressed a desire for a more conducive work environment. His new factory was designed by his cousin, Giampaolo Benedini, to be open, and air-conditioned, allowing his workers to feel comfortable and free. So radical was his new facility that other brands soon took cues from Bugatti when rethinking their production processes.
From this cutting-edge facility, came a cutting-edge automobile. The epochal EB 110 was originally conceived on a blank piece of paper by Marcello Gandini. Initially envisioned with a more vintage wedge shape, Benedini altered the design, smoothing it out to create a sleek, modern profile which remains revolutionary even to this day. The EB 110 shattered all conventions of what was considered the zenith of automotive excellence as well as many speed records with its top speed exceeding 351 km/h. It was the first series-produced carbon chassis supercar and boasted a smorgasbord of innovative features such as four turbochargers and a new 3.5 litre V12 engine. The EB 110 was unveiled in Paris on the anniversary of Ettore Bugatti’s birthday, honouring the brand’s legendary founder and embodying the marque’s rebirth under Artioli’s leadership.
Romano Artioli’s role in bringing Bugatti back into the fray were exemplary of his passion and determination. But beyond that and his own innovative contributions, we humbly believe that his legacy with Bugatti is best expressed by the word compassion. In hopes of providing better working conditions for his workers, he designed a radical new factory, which his employees mourned when he filed for bankruptcy in September 1995. Despite his financial situation then, he paid all 220 of his employees up till the very last day. In short, Bugatti would have never been born without the vision of Ettore Bugatti, but without Romano Artioli’s resolve and compassion, the marque in its modern incarnation, might never have existed.