From Bugatti Tank to the Divo: the best Bugatti exhibition ever!
A joint effort of the factory and the world's largest Bugatti collection, not unprecedented, but never at this scale.
The Cité de l'Automobile in Mulhouse is already home to the world's largest Bugatti collection and is often cited as the best car museum of the world. But not even its reputation could prepare me for the massive sensory overload last year, not just in terms of Bugattis of all epochs, sizes and purposes, but also pretty much everything of the finest, strangest or most revolutionary that Europe had to offer in the past 150 years.
This summer, the Cité received reinforcement from the Bugatti factory for a special exhibition to pay homage to the 110th anniversary of the iconic French brand. The reinforcements included the Bugatti Divo, series production models like the Veyron, Chiron and EB 110, and also the Galibier concept.
The modern-day cars are escorted by the pre-war legends, like the Bugatti 41 Royale (three of the six ever built is actually resident in Mulhouse) a rare Bugatti Type 57 S "Atalante", a strange Type 32 Tank, a Type 51 of Grand Prix race car, and only F1 car and very last factory race car ever Type 251.
The Cooperation is not without precedent, the Bugatti stage at the Retromobile also featured a lovely coupé from Mulhouse, paired with a silver EB110 and the engine of the Chiron.
Participation at a prestigious French classic car show sounds like a must for the French luxury car manufacturer Bugatti.
But as somebody who has seen a lot in the European classic car scene, I can tell you this exhibition is a historical highlight for the fans of the iconic French brand. It combines high-end collector dream cars each could represent the top of any Auction with sales prices well over 10 million.
This is made possible only by the joint effort of the factory and the world's largest Bugatti collection.
True to its Museum purpose, the Cité’s thematic exhibition goes well beyond cars.
The hall showcases artefacts, technical details, as well as the life and work of five major personalities behind the history of the brand.
The gallery starts with Ettore Bugatti, the founder, mended by the artistic legacy of his father, Carlo Bugatti, and surrounded by the creativity of his brother, the sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti.
Jean Bugatti, the first son of Ettore Bugatti, was considered among the most significant car designers of his time. Born into the renowned car company, he combined an artistic heritage with engineering studies, backed by the wealth of the Bugatti enterprise. He would also be 110 years old this year, matching the age of the Bugatti brand.
His personality, audacity and futuristic vision redefined Bugatti's identity. His technical lead gave birth to cars with innovative design and spectacular style paired with unrivalled performance. Jean Bugatti designed over a hundred of the most iconic masterpieces, such as most of the 41 Royales the Bugatti Type 46 "Petite Royale", the Type 55 Roadster, the Bugatti Aérolithe and Bugatti Atlantic Coupe.
Following Jean’s tragic death, Roland Bugatti took over the lead. Nevertheless, he could not ensure the survival of the brand in the 50s, and Bugatti went down, together with many legendary French car brands in that period.
It took almost 40 years to see the rebirth of Bugatti, thanks to the creative passion of the Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli. He established a brand new factory in the supercar heartland of Italy for the production of an unrivalled hypercar, in the spirit of the original Bugatti tradition.
Since 1998, Bugatti has returned to the forefront of the world automotive scene, in the place where the brand rose to fame, following the vision of Ferdinand Piëch. The Veyron follows a similar approach and (mid-engined all-wheel-driven ) technical layout as the EB110, but its performance catapults it to another dimension.
The star of the exhibition is arguably the Bugatti Divo, a concept that will spawn a production version for the model year 2020. It is based on the technical platform of the Chiron, with longitudinal embedded rear central 7993cc W16 engine producing 1500HP. The name bears tribute to French driver Albert Divo, twice winner of the prestigious Targa Florio, in 1928 and 1929, driving a Bugatti 35B.
Unlike the Chiron that broke the 400km/h barrier speed record on public roads, the Divo is not laid out for speed but corners and driving pleasure.
The production is planned to be limited to 40 specimens, and the entire lot was immediately sold out, despite its rather steep net selling price of 5 million euros.
The Divo will be built next year in the Molsheim factory, and the first deliveries are planned for 2020.
The concept was presented in the Paris Motor Show, and visitors have now a chance to see it in Mulhouse.
Next up is a Bugatti Chiron the current production model, unveiled in 2016 that could go as fast as 420 km/h. The name pays tribute to the Monegasque driver Louis Chiron, a prominent figure of the brand (and his name also sounds pretty cool).
In August 2017, the car broke the world record of 0-400-0 km, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, reaching speeds over 420 km/h.
This concrete car I could witness 2 years ago in the IAA Frankfurt, but any Chiron would leave a lasting memory.
For the anniversary the Chiron has been awarded a special series "110 years Bugatti", limited to 20 cars, based on the Chiron Sport, marked with a tricolour flag to commemorate the anniversary of the brand in 1909.
The anniversary cars are fitted with the 1500 hp four-turbocharged V16 engine, and a dynamic rear wing that can serve as an airbrake at high speeds.
Following the demise of the Italian venture and the successive decades of hiatus, the Bugatti Veyron marked the revival of the French brand, courtesy to the Volkswagen group. The Veyron followed the footsteps of Artioli combined with the philosophy of all cars signed Ettore.
The Veyron had recourse to state-of-the-art technologies from the world's largest conglomerate. It was the first series-production car to surpass the 1000 HP barrier, delivered by an exclusive 8 litre 16 cylinder engine. The car offered a top speed of more than 400 km/h without giving up the refined comfort of a luxurious interior.
The second stage of the exhibition enumerates historical masterpieces before the VW era, starting with the most recent, the EB110, accompanied by the Galibier concept and a couple of masterpieces from the Cité’s own collection.
The first car in the row is an EB110 that marked the rebirth of the brand, revived by Italian businessman Romano Artioli. The car was produced in Italy but had been unveiled on September 15, 1991, under the Grande Arche de la Défense, with a model name that referred to the 110th anniversary of the birth of Ettore Bugatti.
The car’s layout constituted a departure from the pre-war models, with its mid-rear 3.5-litre V12 engine equipped with four turbochargers, the EB110's top speed reached 355 km/h. It was an undisputed hypercar of the '90s.
Despite the impressive specs, the Italian company could not weather the turbulent times, and the Italian Bugatti venture ultimately defaulted. Nevertheless, its models, however, enjoyed quite a reputation, and the 100 cars built take premium spots at classic car events.
The last production Bugatti EB 110 between two F40s: the usual business at the Austrian Hödlmayr Classic Car Centre.
This year’s Rétrombile featured quite a few of them at private stages, in addition to the factory stage.
Another exclusive exhibit is the Bugatti Galibier 16C a concept from 2010 equipped with an 8-litre W16 engine derived from the Veyron, tuned down to 800 PS, built-in longitudinally to the front.
This is another car that follows the footsteps of Artioli, bearing some resemblance to the EB112, a model whose production was prevented by the demise of the company.
A concept was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2010, with an interior featuring designs by the Swiss watchmaker Parmigiani-Fleurier.
It was also equipped with an electric auxiliary motor with 40 km of range. The car pays homage to the Bugatti Royale but also takes inspiration from the Bugatti Type 57 Galibier, a 4 doors creation of Jean Bugatti. The former is parked just behind the Galibier.
The Royale is one of my all-time favourites, this massive car outshines everything in space and time. Its specs are the state of the art of that time, its 8-cylinder inline engine of nearly 13 litres produces 300 horsepower. The engine could bring the three-tonnes of automotive excess to reach top speeds of 200 km/h. The Royale was the world’s most expensive car at that time, that was designed to outshine everything in terms of power, quality and reputation. However, only six models were ever produced, before the War came.
The blue “Coupé Napoleon” was Ettore Bugatti’s personal limo, remaining in the ownership of the Bugatti factory until it was purchased by Fritz Schlumpf. The body was designed by Jean Bugatti, son of Ettore, when he was only 20.
The size of the car also impresses in this room, Divo and Galibier seem like a small car next to the 6-metre long mastodon. The vehicle is a unicorn of the classic car world, and the Cité keeps two of them, along with a replica rebuilt on an existing Bugatti chassis. I wholeheartedly recommend visiting the hall of the Cité, where dozens of these masterpieces are showcased.
The 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante is an iconic car of the Art Deco period and represents the excess of the French luxury car industry of the pre-war period.
Along with the Bugatti Aérolite and Atlantic, Jean Bugatti redefined the Grand Tourer coupé with this car. With its 3.2-litre inline 8-cylinder engine, the Atalante offered speed and comfort for long journeys, and it was the embodiment of travelling with elegance. In its SC version, the aerodynamic coupe Atalante offered unprecedented sports performance without having recourse to austere race car solutions.
The Bugatti Type 251 single-seater was Bugattis post-war venture into F1. The car developed for the 1956 season produced 230cv from an inline 8 cylinder 2421cc engine. Designed in collaboration with legendary Italian engineer Gioacchino Colombo, the Bugatti 251 is the only Formula 1 car from the Molsheim company. Following the passing away of Ettore Bugatti in 1947, his son Roland pursued the sports and industrial aspirations, both on-road, with the Bugatti Type 101 and 102 and on track.
The 251 was piloted by the French driver Maurice Trintignant (ex-works driver for the Scuderia), but only competed at the Grand Prix de France. This is the very last race in which the Bugatti factory has committed to enter even to date concluding a racing history of over 1,000 victories.
The Type 51 race car might seem like an odd one out, as the car could not repeat the success of its predecessors thanks to emerging competitors also backed by their nation-states.
Nevertheless, despite the intensifying competition, with its Inline 8 cylinder engine producing 190CV, the light and agile car also brought victories to Molsheim. Achile Varzi won the Monaco Grand Prix in 1933, René Dreyfus the Belgian Grand Prix the following year, and Maurice Trintignant started his career in that car in 1938, when he was only 21 years old.
One of the most famous names connected to this car remains the Monegasque driver Louis Chiron. With the Bugatti Type 51, he won, among others, the Grand Prix of France and Monaco in 1931 and the Grand Prix of Czechoslovakia in 1932 and 1933.
The streamlined and aerodynamic 1923 Bugatti Type 32 (a.k.a. the tank of Tours) was specifically conceived for the Grand Prix of the Automobile Club de France 1923, is a technical and stylistic revolution. Minimalist and functionalist, its revolutionary design allowed a low profile and a then futuristic style. At the wheel of the No. 6 car, Ernst Friedrich finished at the 3rd place of the race held on the circuit of Tours, that gave the car the nickname “Tank de Tours”.
The exhibition is open until November, so there is plenty of time to pay a visit. For those who could not make it by then, about half of the cars will still be there as part of the permanent exhibition.