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Ettore Bugatti: Le Patron

Ettore Bugatti – referred to as “Le Patron” – comes from a family of artists and, in fact, had no training as an engineer. Instead, he acquired his technical knowledge and skills through trial and error, countless structural drawings and his obsession to only accept the best.

He pursued his passion with a youthful élan, while his German contemporaries, Daimler and Maybach, were already over 40 years old and well-established engineers. Ettore Bugatti seemed eccentric in comparison to these greats of the automobile industry. In his exceptionally fine suits and unconventional attire, he often stood out like an exotic bird. Other aspects fed into the legend, as well. Not everyone was allowed to purchase a Bugatti. The buyer had to prove his worthiness to own one.

Ettore Bugatti pursued his ideas with persistence and, not surprisingly, it was very difficult to change his mind. Although his co-workers often had to scrutinise his designs for their technical feasibility, the final result was always a perfectly proportioned automobile, which, from an aesthetic standpoint, was impossible to resist. From an economic point of view, however, since each Bugatti had to be produced by hand, the costs were much too excessive. Ettore Bugatti stubbornly ignored the emerging features of industrial manufacturing. He was much more interested in the outcome than in the production process. Sometimes he only adopted technical innovations after his racing cars had failed to be first across the finishing line. In his opinion, the compressors that gave his competitors an edge on speed, disfigured the overall aesthetics of the motor.

What makes Ettore Bugatti and the Bugatti brand so fascinating are not only the many significant achievements. His propensity to make wrong decisions and his unwillingness to compromise consistently brought him into economic difficulties; his company repeatedly teetered on the brink of collapse. Yet, time and again, “Le Patron” found solutions and was able to keep the company afloat with other fields of work. Besides building airplane engines, Bugatti also developed and built carriages for the French railway. This project was one of the reasons that Bugatti and his 800 employees were able to survive the global economic crisis of the 1930s.

Perhaps it was exactly his unconventional approach that allowed Ettore Bugatti to produce such irresistible creations, combining technical excellence with a conscious departure from conventional solutions. He created art on wheels, swift-as-an-arrow design icons for the race track. Even today, the simple beauty of his motors and other technical components are breathtaking. As a passionate horse lover, he liked to call his aesthetically meticulous creations “Pur Sang”, or thoroughbreds. In 2008, this name was taken up once more, for the limited special edition model Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Pur Sang.

Type 35 fulfilled the Pur Sang principle particularly well. It embodied powerful functionality reduced to the absolute essentials. Also in its reincarnation as the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, top engineering and design coexist without compromise. Before Type 35, a maximum speed of more than 400 kilometres per hour and over 1000 PS were considered unthinkable in a series vehicle. Yet this racecar was also quite suitable for daily use, in all kinds of weather. Before this peak performance in engineering could be achieved, creative challenges had to be met in lightweight construction, aerodynamics, safety and, above all, in the engine.

Ettore Bugatti as a young man

Ettore Bugatti as a young man

Ettore Bugatti at the wheel of his 1898 automobile

Ettore Bugatti at the wheel of his 1898 automobile

Engine for Type 57 S

Engine for Type 57 S