Bugatti was founded in Molsheim, France (Germany at that time) as a manufacturer of high performance automobiles by Italian-born Ettore Bugatti, an eccentric genius.
The original company is legendary for producing some of the most exclusive cars in the world, as well as some of the fastest. The original Bugatti brand failed with the coming of World War II, like many high-end marques of the time. The death of Ettore’s son Jean was also a contributory factor. The company struggled financially, and released one last model in the 1950s, before eventually being purchased for its airplane parts business in the 1960s. Today the name is owned by Volkswagen Group, who have revived it as a builder of limited production exclusive sports cars.
Founder Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan, Italy, and the automobile company that bears his name was founded in 1909 in the town of Molsheim located in the Alsace. The company was known both for the level of detail of its engineering in its automobiles, and for the artistic way in which the designs were executed, given the artistic nature of Ettore’s family (his father, Carlo Bugatti (1856–1940), was an important Art Nouveau furniture and jewelry designer). The company also enjoyed great success in early Grand Prix motor racing, winning the first ever Monaco Grand Prix. The company’s success culminated with driver Jean-Pierre Wimille winning the 24 hours of Le Mans twice (in 1937 with Robert Benoist and 1939 with Pierre Veyron).
Bugatti’s cars were as much works of art as they were mechanical creations. Engine blocks were hand scraped to ensure that the surfaces were so flat that gaskets were not required for sealing, many of the exposed surfaces of the engine compartment featured Guilloché (engine turned) finishes on them, and safety wires threaded through almost every fastener in intricately laced patterns. Rather than bolt the springs to the axles as most manufacturers did, Bugatti’s axles were forged such that the spring passed though a carefully sized opening in the axle, a much more elegant solution requiring fewer parts. He famously described his arch competitor Bentley’s cars as “the world’s fastest lorries” for focusing on durability. According to Bugatti, “weight was the enemy”.