Bugatti has a history of leading the supercar market, with Type 35 grand-prix cars of the 1920s at the vintage end and 2016’s 261mph, €2.4m Chiron at the other. But there is one Bugatti supercar – the EB110 – that even aficionados of the marque have often overlooked. But with the best examples now breaching the $1m mark at auction, it is finally receiving recognition as a precocious work of automotive genius. The car’s invention was the dream-made-real of Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli, a one-time Ferrari dealer and collector of prewar Bugattis who, in the late 1980s, set out to revive a firm that had petered out as a standalone car manufacturer more than 30 years earlier.
After buying the name in 1987 Artioli commissioned architect Giampaolo Benedini to build a state-of-the-art factory near Modena, and gave Paolo Stanzani and Marcello Gandini – celebrated designers of the Lamborghini Miura and Countach – a clean-sheet brief to create the ultimate road-going supercar. The result that appeared in 1991 was years ahead of its time, featuring a 3.5-litre, mid-mounted V12 engine with 60 valves and four turbochargers that produced 561hp in original EB110GT form and 603hp in the later Super Sport version – thus dwarfing the 471hp of its Ferrari contemporary, the F40. The EB110 also featured four-wheel drive, a carbon-fibre chassis built by French aircraft firm Aérospatiale, “scissor” doors and a glass engine cover. The icing on the cake was a top speed of over 210mph.
Priced at around $350,000, the EB110GT was followed in 1992 by the even more expensive Super Sport (or SS) version, a vivid yellow example of which was famously bought by Michael Schumacher. But his influence couldn’t overcome the fact that Artioli had launched the EB110 during a recession and in 1995 the firm was declared bankrupt after only 140 cars had been produced. The Bugatti marque was acquired by the Volkswagen group three years later, when a vast cash injection produced the Veyron hypercar in 2005.
It was partly the excitement surrounding the Veyron that pushed the EB110 into obscurity, giving the impression that Artioli’s efforts had been a failure not just financially but engineering-wise too. Values dropped substantially, and those cars that came to market often failed to attract competitive bids – in 2005, Gooding & Company sold one at its Pebble Beach auction for $282,500.
But with the passage of time, those views are changing. “To me, the EB110 is exactly what would have emerged if someone had asked me to list all the characteristics of my ideal high-performance car,” says South Wales-based property developer Brian Davies, owner of a 1993 SS model. “I bought it in 2010,” recalls Davies, who also owns a Pagani Zonda and a Ferrari F40. “It had been sitting in a private car park in Monaco for about three years and came with a gold plaque explaining that it had been built for the Sultan of Brunei and was the first SS to have been delivered. I looked at several supercars before buying it and, while it has a similar DNA to the others, the EB110 really is unique. There are no frills – it has wind-up windows; there’s no aircon or radio; the rear visibility is non-existent. But when you’re behind the wheel, it’s just incredible,” says Davies, who has his car serviced at HR Owen’s specialist Bugatti workshop in London for £2,500 to £3,000 a year.
Now that the car’s value is on the rise, and despite the small number made, EB110s appear for sale fairly frequently. In January, RM Sotheby’s sold a 1993 example in Arizona with fewer than 5,000km on the clock for $967,500, following up in Paris a month later with €1,152,500 for a 1993 Super Sport prototype. At its Monaco auction in May, meanwhile, Bonhams sold the 1993 Frankfurt Motor Show car, in coveted Bugatti blue, for €603,750. Examples (prices on request) at dealers include a 1994 SS at Carugati Automobiles in Geneva and a 1995 SS at Hödlmayr Classic Car Center in Schwertberg, Austria.
The rise in value is partly attributable to the fact that the EB110 is now more than 25 years old and so qualifies for beneficial collector car status in the US. At the time of writing, San Diego dealer Symbolic International was offering a remarkable 1993 GT model for $975,000 complete with every item supplied when it was delivered, including its unused tool kit and handwritten factory notes. “The EB110 has really come into its own of late, and deservedly so,” says Bill Noon, classic vehicle sales manager at Symbolic. “I think these cars still have a long way to go in terms of value, especially when they have comprehensive service and ownership histories and are known never to have been crashed or damaged.”
Concerns about maintenance and parts were thought to have been instrumental in suppressing EB110 values but, as well as HR Owen’s UK service facility, owners can call upon Gianni Sighinolfi, who set up B Engineering in Campogalliano to look after EB110s after the Artioli-era Bugatti went bankrupt. “When Bugatti went broke I bought parts to be used for future maintenance,” Sighinolfi told classic car magazine Octane. “I spent a fortune on engine components… and still have almost all of them. Regularly serviced, the V12 engine is virtually bulletproof, and the fact that no two EBs are the same makes everything easier – you can immediately recognise them and we know the history of every one.”