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Former Bugatti SpA Headquarters - A Classic Tragedy: The Forgotten Bugatti Plant

Far away from Detroit, Italy has its own story of a fallen factory

Matt Zuchowski
Oct 17, 2014

Somewhere between Monaco and Chernobyl lies Campogalliano, a little town in the suburbs of Modena. It's between the two not only geographically but spiritually. When you cross the decomposing walls of the former Bugatti SpA headquarters, you get the feeling of being between the Cote d'Azur glamour and the derelict radioactive Ukrainian ruins. Leaving aside the automotive context, it is still a staggering view. Marble restrooms last used two decades ago now filled with dust and moss. High-tech code door locks and scanners now guarding nothing more than empty rooms with more dust. Futuristic ornamentation on staircases contrasting with cracked glass and spider webs. Finally, in the corner of a huge grubby hall, a big snowman sculpture made of paper, looking like some kind of a prop from a gloomy horror movie. It sure is an unusual place, even before you get to know's here that Bugatti EB110 was designed and built.

Former bugatti SpA headquarters 03 Photo 2/46   |   Former Bugatti SpA Headquarters - A Classic Tragedy: The Forgotten Bugatti Plant

"Today, we can look into our future with renewed enthusiasm," announced Romano Artioli on the day of reviving one of most legendary, mythical French makes in 1991. For Artioli, a successful businessman and Ferrari dealer who brought a number of different automotive brands to Italy, it was a successful end to a nearly four-year journey, during which he had to establish the whole company from scratch. The idea of building a new Bugatti came from a series of meetings between Artioli, Ferrucio Lamborghini (who sold his famous company in 1974), Paolo Stanzani (engineer of numerous Lamborghinis and Ferrari 288 GTO), and French car expert Jean Marc Borel. It was an exceptional challenge, as Bugatti wasn't an ordinary car company after all. Even if it ceased to exist in the 1950s and had one unsuccessful revival attempt in the '60s by Virgil Exner, it was still vividly remembered as one of the legendary and respected names in the automotive industry.

Born in Italy, Ettore Bugatti worked in Germany and France to become one of the greatest engineers in automotive history: his state-of-the-art voiturettes and landaulets presented unsurpassed levels of luxury, beauty, and build quality, often introducing revolutionary design solutions. Raised in a family of well-known artists and architects, he designed a train and light aircraft as well. Artioli couldn't take any half measures. What he had to do is start from nothing and go straight to the league of supercar elite, making a step ahead of Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959.

In 1987, despite the French industry department's resistance, Bugatti company left its homeland and started its new era in Italy. An avant-garde building complex was erected next to an autostrada from Modena to Verona, where all of the designing, R&D, and building works started soon afterward. From above their drawing boards, through the glass walls, designers had a view of the test track, which in turn surrounded the factory. Here, all of the important things happened, from casting the engines to sewing the upholstery. The R&D department could simulate different weather conditions in its tests, emulate a full lap of the Le Mans race, and had its own room for testing gas emissions in the times when none of the competitors took environmental issues seriously.

Former bugatti SpA headquarters bugatti EB110 17 Photo 6/46   |   Former Bugatti SpA Headquarters - A Classic Tragedy: The Forgotten Bugatti Plant

In September 1990, a grand parade of 77 classic Bugattis drove all the way from the company's old headquarters in Molsheim to its new home in Italy. The final look of the car was still not known, but it was clear it was going to be a hell of a special car. It was confirmed that EB110—called that to commemorate Ettore Bugatti's 110th birthday—would have four turbochargers and all-wheel drive that would allow it to earn the title of the fastest road car with its 209-mph top speed. What Volkswagen did with its Veyron was in fact merely repeating what a bunch of Italians had done a decade earlier.

Even with the favorable reception, famous clients, and promising results in motorsport, nothing could fight the financial crisis of the early 1990s. From the beginning of its production in 1992, only 139 examples of Bugatti's sole model left the gates of the Campogalliano plant. The following EB112—a less radical and more luxury-oriented four-door coupe—was ready to be launched, but due to a lack of time and funds, it didn't make it further than to three pre-production prototypes. Four years after Artioli's words about enthusiasm and looking into the future, Bugatti Automobili ceased operations, leaving 200 million USD in the red and 220 workers without their jobs. Now Bugatti has at last retained its rightful glory thanks to the massive effort of VW, and the little Italian company is remembered only as a short, curious episode of the brand's history.

Former bugatti SpA headquarters 04 Photo 7/46   |   Former Bugatti SpA Headquarters - A Classic Tragedy: The Forgotten Bugatti Plant

Today, this deserted lot, dominated by wild bushes and trees, is a workplace for only one man—a security guard with a dog. They were hired by local authorities who now manage this area. The Italian government has hoped to bring a new investor from the automotive business here, so it's chosen to leave everything intact. Twenty years on, it's still waiting without touching anything. So much for an Italian way of solving a crisis.

Former bugatti SpA headquarters exterior 10 Photo 8/46   |   Former Bugatti SpA Headquarters - A Classic Tragedy: The Forgotten Bugatti Plant

When you enter the area (with a little luck, you can really do that when you're in Campogalliano), you feel like it's the early '90s all over again. Time stopped here when Nirvana was still playing gigs and Ayrton Senna was winning in F1. You treat yourself to a sentimental journey to the past, having a hands-on experience of realizing how big and archaic telephones and computers were back then, seeing them lying around, and when stumbling upon the dates on the documents, phonebooks (remember those?), or even emptied champagne bottles, you understand that the life here ended abruptly, as if in a matter of one day. To add to the psychedelic image, there are some toys, confetti, and children's sculptures scattered about, as the locals meet here for various celebrations and holidays. Under their feet, they can occasionally find labels indicating the production line of the doomed EB112, the big handmade painting of which can be admired on the wall in the old canteen.

Most of the production line was sold at auction in 1997, along with five unfinished chassis and spare parts by German specialist Dauer Sportwagen. Dauer refined the design and sold the remaining cars under the name of Dauer EB110 SS. Even today, when the production halls are mostly empty, it is easy to imagine how modern and sophisticated a facility it was not that long ago. The only thing you can find now in Romano Artioli's office is gray carpet. This brave Italian entrepreneur was here for the last time in 1996. He can't go back to the place that not only cost him his fortune, but also broke his heart.

Former bugatti SpA headquarters computers 05 Photo 15/46   |   Former Bugatti SpA Headquarters - A Classic Tragedy: The Forgotten Bugatti Plant
Former bugatti SpA headquarters street sign 15 Photo 22/46   |   Former Bugatti SpA Headquarters - A Classic Tragedy: The Forgotten Bugatti Plant
Former bugatti SpA headquarters 08 Photo 32/46   |   Former Bugatti SpA Headquarters - A Classic Tragedy: The Forgotten Bugatti Plant
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By Matt Zuchowski
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