It’s blisteringly hot inside the old Bugatti factory in Campogalliano, Italy, which opened in 1990 only to be mothballed five years and 128 cars later. Romano Artioli, a rich Italian investor and die-hard enthusiast that also briefly owned Lotus, did indeed build what was once the world’s fastest and most extreme sports car at this site—the Bugatti EB110—but was forced to declare bankruptcy before the operation could gain enough traction to be profitable. Almost 24 years to the day after gatekeeper Ezio Pavesi closed the factory doors for good and became its pro bono part-time caretaker, the Bugatti team returned in July 2019 to the glazed, avant-garde building complex to show off its latest Chiron-based creation to a few select invitees. Meet the Bugatti Centodieci concept.
“Artioli was well aware that Bugatti is a French brand based in Molsheim, but he needed the proximity of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati to source the best supercar engineers and suppliers,” said Stephan Winkelmann, president of Bugatti. “On a greenfield site, the architect Giampaolo Benedini created a light and airy, worker-friendly boutique factory the concept of which has—unlike the actual buildings—barely aged at all.”
In case you haven’t already figured it out by now, the reason for Bugatti’s pilgrimage to Campogalliano is obvious. The Bugatti Centodieci (110 in Italian) is billed as an homage to the original EB110, a car styled by the legendary Marcello Gandini and engineered under the direction of Paolo Stanzani of Lamborghini Miura fame. And the Centodieci, which made its world reveal at The Quail event as part of the 2019 Monterey Car Week in California, looks the part. Bugatti plans 10 copies of the Centodieci at around $8 million—likely more—a pop. Spoiler alert: They’re reportedly all spoken for.
Bright sunlight illuminates the orbital main presentation hall a short walk from reception. Three cars fill the circular stage: a couple of street-legal EB110 and EB110 SS racers, and a sexy, low-slung silhouette covered by a large piece of felt-lined tarp. Enter the Bugatti braintrust: president Winkelmann, sales and marketing chief Christian Mastro, and senior designer Achim Anscheid—all dressed as if they are attending a best friend’s wedding. Then the cloth comes off, and the privileged few in attendance are delighted by what they see: a striking white sports coupe which fuses the proportions of the Chiron and a set of cleverly transformed EB110 styling elements into a breathtaking new look. Even more so than the La Voiture Noire one-off and the Divo variant (the 40 units of which are presently being built by Italdesign), the Bugatti Centodieci is a fascinating, standalone masterpiece that will almost certainly be an irresistible magnet to crowds. To Bugatti, the spectacular two-seater was also designed to serve as blueprint for future evolutions of its W-16–engined hypercar.
The most obvious visual link between the Centodieci and the EB110 that inspired it are the five oval lateral air intakes, known as chamfers, positioned aft of the B-pillars. At this point still split by the door, this panel may actually move back a couple of inches as a single unit on the real thing. Another nod to the original car comes in the form of the Centodieci’s multi-segment, horizontally stacked LED taillights, which mimic the oblong air extrusion apertures of the EB110.
While active aerodynamics on the V-12–powered EB110 were by and large restricted to a full-width tail rudder, the Centodieci sports an even faster V-shaped rear wing. In both coupes, the engine is the center of attraction, lounging in a display cubicle covered by a tinted-glass lid. When you compare the two front ends, three related items immediately catch the eye: the surprisingly small trademark horseshoe grille with the Bugatti lozenge on top of it, two pairs of horizontal body-color bars that define the lateral air intakes, and the narrow high-intensity headlights which sit high up in the tapered nose. Thanks to the black A-pillars, the dome-shaped greenhouse is reminiscent of an aggressive wraparound visor. The aprons and rockers are also painted black to stretch the silhouette and underline the ground-hugging stance. There is nothing retro about the Centodieci’s huge, multi-blade 21-inch wheels, which look a bit lost in the flared rear wheelhouses.
Though we hadn’t yet seen the interior, the EB110 influence will reportedly be felt there as well. “Expect a further development of the Chiron, a driver-focused work station designed for minimum distraction and maximum intuition,” promises Anscheid. “The entire cockpit is one pragmatic man/machine interface, totally functional and executed to the highest standards. In a Bugatti, everything you see and touch must be beyond excellent. But the biggest challenge for us was of course to create an exterior which had to show clear EB110 overtones while respecting the Chiron’s complex aerodynamic and thermal requirements.”
At 4,354 pounds, the Centodieci is about 44 pounds lighter than the Chiron, while undercutting the Chiron Sport by a token four pounds or so. Means to this end include featherweight wipers, slimmer door mirrors, and carbon-fiber anti-roll bars. While the EB110 SS was fitted with a quad-turbo 3.5-liter V-12 rated at 603 horsepower, the latest version features the now familiar W-16 engine, which in the Centodieci now develops 1,579 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, 100 more than the Chiron. To protect the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox from premature extinction by brute force, the maximum torque of 1,180 lb-ft remains unchanged. The extra power is not reflected by the performance figures, however. The Centodieci and Chiron reportedly accelerate in what Bugatti says are identical times (zero to 62 mph in 2.4 seconds, zero to 125 in 6.1, and zero to 187 in 13.1), though the Centodieci’s terminal velocity is lower than the Chiron’s 261 mph.
“For this model, we restricted the maximum speed to 237 mph,” says Winkelmann. “It could of course go a lot faster, but with the Centodieci we want to emphasize that Bugatti is not primarily about Vmax. Our priority is accessible, user-friendly high performance, along with striking design and unrivaled quality. This model does for instance combine all the downforce you ever need during a flat-out autobahn journey with the extreme cooling power required in Middle East stop-and-go traffic.”
While some customers were invited to Campogalliano for the sneak preview, others will travel to Molsheim or Pebble Beach to see it in person. With a virtually unlimited choice of body colors and trim materials, no two cars are going to be even remotely alike. In view of the steep asking price, Bugatti is well advised to offer the Centodieci with the same unconditional three-year parts and labor warranty that came with every EB110.
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As long as the marque keeps hand-assembling collector’s items in homeopathic doses, the atelier in Molsheim is logistically up to the task. But if Winkelmann can convince the Volkswagen Group board that a second model (Winkelmann is pushing a two-door crossover) is essential to establish a sound financial base for a less rocky future, Campogalliano may well qualify as a charming and historically correct alternative production site. According to internal estimates, it would not take a disproportionate investment to bring the nearly 2.6-million-square-foot plant back to life and up to speed. Finding enough skilled workers should not be a problem by the time the new model is ready for takeoff in 2023 or 2024.
While Artioli, now 86, could only afford 35 assembly-line workers (the total headcount never exceeded 200) who typically needed a little more than two months to assemble one EB110, today’s owners typically favor a larger-scale operation and a more rigid regimen, which might get in the way of turning this Franco-Italian adventure into a viable business case. But so far Bugatti has had zero problems making a case for Chiron variants like the Centodieci. To those billionaires who missed out on this car: Not to worry, there will almost assuredly be more to come.
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