As dirty Harry Callahan once proclaimed: “A man’s got to know his limitations”.
The whereabouts of the prototypes are unknown: Malaysia, Germany and Italy are on the list of possibilities but so far none have surfaced – assuming they even still exist, that is. After the unsuccessful effort to revive the marque shortly after the second world war, it was until very recently assumed that Italian businessman Romano Artioli was next to attempt the task with Bugatti Automobili SpA between 1987 and 1995.
Although its specifications were undoubtedly impressive, the EB110 never really managed to establish a stable bridgehead for Artioli’s Bugatti upon which to expand further; the planned Ital Design EB112 four-door luxury car remained stillborn and the company declared bankrupt in September of 1995.
Some years before Artioli acquired Bugatti however, Michel Bugatti – Ettore Bugatti’s youngest son from his second marriage to Geneviève Marguerite Delcuze – initiated an ambitious project to restore his father’s brand to its previous glory. The mid-eighties being the era when computer chips and their related electronic technologies were really starting to take off, Michel Bugatti was determined to utilise them to the fullest extent possible at the time – a matter which would ultimately be a major factor in the project’s downfall.
Power was supplied by an in-house developed V8 of unknown displacement and output; the only data known claims a maximum speed of over 170 Mph. With a weight of 1300Kg, length of 200 inches, close to 72 inches wide and 50.4 inches high and an unknown drag coefficient it is anybody’s guess as far as the amount of horsepower was concerned.
No designer is credited with the styling of the car’s exterior, which falls somewhere within the spectrum between challenging and unusual. The prominent black composite bumpers front and rear bring to mind some safety vehicles from the early seventies; the trademark Bugatti grille is almost hidden from view, buried deep in the split front bumper whose left and right elements house the headlights. Equally eyecatching is the long-ish swept up tail; the fact that it is not crowned with a spoiler indicating that the necessary downforce would have been generated by it alone.
Initial design renderings show that a more conventional rear end was considered, and that the face of the car was locked in early in the process. Unfortunately test trials with prototypes of the new Bugatti revealed undesirable levels of instability at high speeds; test drivers criticized the unpredictable behaviour in fast corners although braking performance and traction – the car was fitted with an early version of traction control – were deemed excellent.
How much of the problem was the result of faulty aerodynamics is unknown, but irrelevant anyway as the high dependence on new fangled electronic features caused Michel’s baby to be spectacularly unreliable. The Aston Martin Lagonda’s digital dash of a decade earlier was not exactly a paragon of reliability and the new Bugatti’s instrument panel where controls like heating and ventilation as well as radio and trip computer were controlled by early touchscreen technology was even worse.
Michel Bugatti soon ran out of money trying to rectify the many faults and the project petered out within two years of its initiation. Where the two known prototypes – one bronze, one pearl white – are now remains a mystery. There are unconfirmed rumours that Artioli acquired them to serve as a possible starting point for his own cars; when Bugatti Automobili SpA was liquidated and Lotus (bought by Artioli in 1993) sold to Malaysian car company Proton some speculate a few obsolete prototype Bugattis were part of the inventory deal.
German company Dauer Racing purchased the license to build the EB110 and indeed constructed five more of them – the cars could have been part of that business agreement as well. Finally, ex vice-president of Bugatti Automobili SpA Jean-Marc Borel established B Engineering with some ex-employees of the company and produced the Edonis supercar which used the chassis and engine of the Bugatti EB110SS as a base. Some claim the stillborn Bugattis ended up in their inventory.
Having said that, nobody is talking so it may be forever clouded in mystery – and there is of course also the very real possibility that the cars were simply destroyed. For the time being, Bugatti appears safe under the VW umbrella although there seem to be clear indications that VW is planning to sell Bugatti Automobiles SAS which it has owned since 1998.
Considering the ungainly looks (although the EB110 was hardly a beauty either) and its plethora of problems it is neither surprising nor very lamentable that Michel Bugatti’s effort never took off but let us see if at least one of those prototypes breaks cover in the future – just don’t count on it to start on the first try.