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Ettore Bugatti 1881-1947: Pioneering Genius of Design & Engineering

Bev Roberts 5. October 2015 Magazine, People No Comments
Ettore Bugatti 1881-1947 by Bugatti

Born in Milan in 1881 into a talented and artistic family, Ettore Bugatti was destined to become the foremost automotive designer of his time. Today, his name is a mark of ultimate automotive innovation and cars bearing it are a demonstration of future promise.

He built his first prototype (Type 1) in 1898. With parental support he produced a second prototype (Type 2) which was presented at the Milan Trade fair of 1901. The car was well received and won an award.

More importantly, Baron de Dietrich was so impressed that he offered Bugatti a job designing cars for him at Niederbronn. In 1904 Bugatti formed a partnership with his friend, Emil Mathis. The cars were produced under the name Mathis-Hermes (licence Bugatti). The partnership was dissolved in 1906.

Ettore Bugatti then opened a research centre in the Strasbourg suburb of Illkirch-Graffenstaden.
Bugatti, in collaboration with Deutz of Cologne, produced several prototypes. In 1907 Bugatti joined Deutz as Production Director. Famously, he built another prototype (Type 10) in the cellar of his home. In 1913 he designed a small car for Peugeot known as Le Bebe which actually went into production.

Ettore Bugatti by veteran.ro

Ettore Bugatti by veteran.ro

Although born an Italian, Bugatti opened his own factory in Molsheim, Alsace. During WWI Bugatti produced aero-engines but no cars. The war ended in 1918 and a year later the Treaty of Versailles returned Alsace-Lorraine to French ownership. His cars were expensive but the level of engineering excellence was becoming legendary. Racing successes are too numerous to mention here. For example, a privately-owned Bugatti won the first Monte-Carlo Grand-Prix. Bugattis won two Le Mans 24 hour races also.

Ettore Bugatti had a notable talent for diversification. Between the wars he produced a very successful motorised rail-car. This production ceased as WWII broke out.

In 1939 Bugatti`s heart was broken by the death of his heir, Jean. He was only 30 years old when he crashed while testing a Type 57 racing car. Ettore Bugatti was disconsolate, Jean had been the future of the company. During WWII, under German occupation, there was no production. To prevent the Nazis commandeering his cars, Bugatti bricked-up some of his most expensive cars at the family mansion. During the war the factory was destroyed. As it was a German factory on French soil Bugatti was denied possession of it when the war ended.

Ettore Bugatti was also known for having an amusingly acidic attitude to customer complaints. One customer complained that his car was difficult to start on cold mornings. He was dismissed with the retort “if you can afford one of my cars, you can afford a heated garage for it”. End of discussion!

Bugatti married twice and fathered three daughters and three sons. He died in Paris in 1947 of cerebral paralysis, probably a brain tumour. Production ceased in 1952 but the company and the illustrious name has continued under new ownership.

Although Bugatti is now being built by other companies, it is very important to mention that Ettore’s legacy continues, building and designing for the future. This is evident when you look at the Veyron, but if you continue back down the line of Bugatti’s classic cars from the past, compared to other makers of that time, you see how far ahead the Bugattis were. To see it live we went to Mulhouse City of the Automobile.

Title Picture: © Bugatti

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About Bev Roberts

Speed, the smell of hot oil, the roar of a straight-through exhaust and the scream of an engine at max revolutions. They have all been a large part of my life for almost 50 years. It is time to share my experiences with you, dear reader. Do you want to know more? Read on through my `Full Bio` and many articles.

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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.

In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.

As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.

At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!

When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.

I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.

Enjoy Inopian… it is constructed and written for you.

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