Bugatti has recently sold the 450th and final Veyron, bringing to a close a storied 10-year life for the outrageous W16-powered machine. However, the car wouldn’t have existed had the Volkswagen Group not bought the company in 1998 and, in so doing, rescued it from oblivion.
Prior to its intervention, a spirited revival attempt, led by Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli, had hit the skids, scuppered by a stuttering global economy and some breathtaking profligacy by Bugatti’s owners. Consider, for example, the relaunch of the brand. In September 1991, Bugatti had lavished £160,000 on a dinner for 1600 guests, hiring Louis XIV’s Versailles palace for the occasion.
By September 1995, however, Bugatti’s Campogalliano factory near Modena was silent, the workers sent home after the company was declared bankrupt and the gates locked.
Only one man had a key: Gian Luigi Rossini, the bankruptcy trustee appointed to handle Bugatti’s affairs. On a spring day in 1997, he invited Autocar’s European editor, Peter Robinson, to have a poke around inside.
“A thin film of dust covers everything and proves that not even the cleaners have been given access,” described Robinson in his subsequent article. “Office staff desks are littered with holiday postcards, in-trays hold fading faxes, old cigarette butts fill ashtrays, and rubbish bins carry the last day’s detritus.
“Search and you’ll find poignant lists of things to do tomorrow, phone calls that were never returned. Only Artioli’s desk is free of debris, but then it was always like this.”
In the workshop, there were signs that Bugatti’s workers had been putting together the firm’s EB110 supercar right up until the day the factory closed.