Gianoberto Carlo Rembrandt Ettore „Jean“ Bugatti was born in Cologne on 15 January 1909. He was the third of Ettore and Barbara Bugatti’s four children and their eldest son. The family moved to Milan, Paris and finally Molsheim. Jean spent his youth at the Bugatti factory in Molsheim and witnessed the first racing victories of his father Ettore’s sports cars.
In the late 1920s, Jean Bugatti began designing touring and sports cars. A first highlight was the legendary two-seat bodyshell of the Type 41 Roadster Royale for the textile industrialist Armand Esders. Later, the types 50, 55 and 57 also bore Jean Bugatti’s unmistakeable signature. His highly distinct stylistic sensibility and feel for modern design perfectly complemented his father’s technical genius. But Jean did not simply confine himself to aesthetic aspects of design – he also designed incredible engines and chassis himself. He also occasionally conducted test drives, though his father forbade him from entering races.
After 1931, Jean Bugatti took over more and more of his father’s duties at Bugatti until being given full responsibility for car production in 1936 following a strike. He also took over from Meo Costantini as the head of the company’s racing team.
On 11 August 1939, Jean Bugatti suffered a fatal accident during a test drive in a Type 57C Tank, which had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans shortly before. He was 30 years old. Travelling at over 200 km/h, he swerved to avoid a cyclist who suddenly emerged from a field, and crashed into a tree.