The last time I walked through these doors, this was a functioning car factory. Now I feel like a tomb raider. An early ’90s keyboard and computer sit on the deserted receptionist’s desk, plastic yellowed with age. Off to the left is the dramatic circular space that once housed a showroom, engineering office, and design studio over three levels. To the right is the shop floor where skilled technicians painstakingly hand-assembled the Bugatti EB110.
I first came to Campogalliano in 1992 to see Romano Artioli’s dream made real. Barely five years earlier the Italian businessman had secured the rights to the Bugatti name and shortly after announced plans to build a modern mid-engine Bugatti supercar.
Although he was well aware of its French heritage, Artioli chose Campogalliano to be the headquarters of the reborn Bugatti for one simple reason: Situated just northwest of Modena, it was in the heart of Italy’s “supercar alley,” home to Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and De Tomaso, with a ready supply of engineers, technicians, and craftsmen well versed in the art and science of creating exotic high-performance sports cars.
Designed by architect Giampaolo Benedini, Artioli’s factory merged art with industrial design, from the blue-paneled exterior of the R&D center, fronted by vents whimsically styled to look like something off an ocean liner, to the serrated walls of the assembly hall whose glassed edges allowed it to be flooded with natural light while keeping out the Italian summer heat. The lobby glistened with white Carrara marble, crystal, and stainless steel. EB logos were frosted on the windows, and even cast into the drainage grates around the property.
In terms of fit and finish and fanatical attention to detail, Campogalliano set a benchmark later matched only by Ron Dennis’s McLaren Technical Center in Woking, England, and, more recently, Horacio Pagani’s Atelier, a few miles away on the other side of Modena.
Campogalliano broods silently in a blistering heatwave as I wander through what’s left of the factory. Pods that once provided workers with power, air pressure, and light as they assembled EB110s still hang from rails in the assembly hall ceiling. Next door, amid oil and dust and exposed foundations, is where state-of-the-art CNC machines milled the cast-aluminum parts of the EB110 engine, including the five-valves-per-cylinder heads.
Upstairs in the bright, airy hall where workers ate lunch off white china plates with blue EB logos, two full-size design renderings—one of a gull-winged mid-engine supercar, the other of a front-engine coupe that’s an obvious homage to the Type 57 Atlantic—are slowly decaying into the yellow painted walls, like old frescos in a medieval church. Artioli’s office, surprisingly modest in size, is a dusty, sun-bleached gray, the occasional Venetian blind drooping sadly over a grimy window.
Back in the faded glory of the lobby, I stop and listen. And for a moment I swear I can hear the snarl of a quad-turbo V-12, just as I did all those years ago. The ghost in the machine …