Founded by Ettore Bugatti, a gifted engineer who had manufactured his own 4 cylinder engine by the age of 20. The Milanese Bugatti would work for an array of leading European manufacturers, including Benz, before starting the manufacture of his own cars in France. His first car was a design carried over from his time at Benz, and it was not long before Bugatti's began to win races, such as Ernst Freidrich winning his class (and outright second place) in the 1911 French GP when driving a 1.4 litre Type 13.
The heyday for Bugatti was between 1925 and 1930, when the Type 35 2 litre race car dominated the circuits of Europe. The following year the more powerful twin overhead cam Type 51 won at Monaco, Montlhery, Spa
, Tunis, Morocco and Czechoslovakia. Over the next two years it would record similar successes until it was eclipsed by the more powerful Alfa Romeo's and Maserati's which, in turn, were put in the shade by the mighty Mercedes and Auto Unions of Germany.
Bugatti decided to build the mammoth 'Royale' saloon the in 1926, a fuel guzzling monster that came just in time for the Great Depression. The Royale chassis morphed into preambulating boudoirs at the hands of coachbuilders, who often fitted the beast with silks, leathers and rare woods. During the depression Bugatti diversified, building high-speed rail cars, aircraft and boats. Bugatti’s son Jean would take over car production at the Molsheim facility, but would be tragically killed test driving a race special.
Ettore moved to Bordeaux during the war, and teaming with son Roland manufactured the 1.5 litre Type 73. Ettore would pass in 1947, and the company struggle on for a time until being bought out by Hispano-Suiza. The only vehicle of note following Ettore's death was the abortive Type 251 of 1956. The Molsheim factory, in Strasbourg, then went on to manufacture locomotives.
Also see: Lost Marques Bugatti