What’s the difference between Bugatti and other automobile brands? Unlike his competitors, Ettore Bugatti did not design and build his cars, he “gave birth” to them. His ideas sprouted into a myriad of projects that would later outrun some of the best known automobiles on Europe’s racing tracks.
The story of Bugatti is not that of a company that had to face countless financial problems, nor that of a company that spread all over the world by establishing sales venues or building plants across the Atlantic; the story of Bugatti is the tale of a rebellious visionary, of a young genius who could trace his origins back to a row of artists and artisans. Born in Milano, Italy, 1881, Ettore was the son of Carlo Bugatti who not only worked as a painter but also as a silversmith, sculptor and wood carver.
Still in his adolescence, Ettore was sent to study sculpture at the Brera Art Academy, but quite soon after that he discovered his passion for automobiles. Following his decision of becoming an engineer at the age of only seventeen, young Ettore started working and in only one year, he had designed and built a three-wheeled vehicle powered by two engines.
Despite its small size, Ettore’s prototype almost wiped clean the prizes thrown in at the local races, having won an amazing 8 out of 10 events. Fueled by his tricycle’s success, an enthusiast Ettore entered his ‘baby’ in the Paris-to-Bordeaux. The buggy came in third. Ecstatic with the result, Ettore returned to Milano determined to continue building cars.
By the age of nineteen, Ettore Bugatti had just completed building his first real car. Deeming the overall technological development at the time – it was the beginning of the 1900’s – his automobile seemed almost futuristic. The auto featured a four speed gearbox, a four-cylinder overhead-valve engine and a variety of engineering improvements that only a gifted builder could have come up with.
From that point on, his dream took off and evolved into a very profitable business, with lots of orders coming in. Soon enough, Ettore would raise enough money to buy his own establishment. In 1909, receiving financial support from banker de Vizcaya, he purchased a large property in Molsheim, on the German territory of Alsace. Soon after his newly acquired factory, Ettore decided to go a step further and built a small, lightweight racing machine to compete in the Le Mans race.
Although it looked like a four wheeled dwarf as compared to its giant competitors’ cars such as a Fiat, De Dietrich and others, the little but swift and powerful automobile came in second proving that Ettore was a more talented car designer as compared to many of the older engineers at the time. The year was 1911.
Three years later, the war came and Ettore, much like the majority of car builders, had to redistribute his attention to the much needed aircraft engines. As soon as the war was over, Ettore resumed his work and soon became a ‘baron’ leading a baroque lifestyle that earned him the title of ‘Le Patron’.
In 1922, Bugatti introduced a revolutionary car shaped like a cigar (Type 29/30) which featured hydraulic brakes and the manufacturer’s first eight-cylinder engine. Dubbed “the Cigar” the car made its debut at the AFC grand prix in 1922 and took second place. One year later, Bugatti introduced the Type 32 which caused sensation due to its wing-like design, short wheelbase and covered wheels. The Type 32 was dubbed “the Tank” and boasted a redeveloped version of the previous 8-cylinder engine.
In 1924 Bugatti entered the Type 35 in the French Grand Prix held in Lyon. While the car’s design turned to its time’s traditional open-wheels design, the Type 35 retained the previous 8-cylinder engine and steadily became the car to beat for the next decade.
Ettore Bugatti finally realized his dream of creating the most automobile of all time in 1926 when he introduced the Type 41 Royale. This was actually the most expensive car to build, with a relative price that still surpasses anything produced since. However, with the Great Depression just around the corner, the Type 41 Royale also proved to be one of Bugatti’s greatest financial threats. Sales of the Royale reached only 3 units.
In 1931 the global economic crisis reached French shores, and Bugatti received a great financial help in the form of a government contract to built a high-speed train. And that is how the Autorail was born, a train using the huge engine from a Type 41 Royale, which held the world speed record for railed vehicles with combustion engines.
Bugatti’s last great victory in motorsport happened in 1939, when at his son’s request, the company prepared a supercharged Type 57 which won at Le Mans, driven by Pierre Wimille and Pierre Veyron. Unfortunately that very same year on August 11, his only son Jean died in a testing run of the same Type 57 car. Only a few days later World War II broke out.
After the war, several attempts to revive production were made, but to no distinctive result. In 1947 on August 21, Ettore Bugatti died at age 66 of pneumonia in a military hospital in Paris. After that, the brand’s heritage continued in the form of several unfruitful partnerships.
The aircraft company Hispano Suiza bought Bugatti in 1963 and in 1987 entrepreneur Romano Artioli purchased the rights to the Bugatti name and built a new factory in Campogalliano, Italy, to manufacture a new super car. In 1991 Bugatti unveiled the EB 110 supercar in Paris, celebrating the 110th anniversary of Bugatti Ettore’s birth. In autumn 1995, Bugatti Automobili S.p.A files for bankruptcy and three years later German car maker Volkswagen, takes over the company in an effort to revive the sports luxury brand.
During the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show, Bugatti unveils the EB 16.4 Veyron model, with a 16-cylinder and four-turbo engine. In September 2005, the production of the Veyron 16.4 begins. The car receives several media praises and establishes itself as the most expensive contemporary production car while also holding the fastest production car title for 2 years, with a homologated top speed of 408.47 km/h (253.81 mph).
A business started by 3 brothers in France in 1899, has turned decades later into a very profitable business, considering that now Renault is the 4th largest automaker in the world thanks to its partnership with Nissan.
The brainchild of an enthusiastic engineer named Louis Renault, the company was created in association with his two brothers who ran the financial side while he took care of the “mechanics”. From the very beginning, Louis managed to show innovation when he invented and later patented a direct drive system on his De Dion-Bouton tricycle which he already turned into a four-wheel vehicle.
Louis also understood that it would be only through racing that he would make the Renault name known to the world so he entered his vehicles in city-to-city races where his brothers acted as drivers. A number of victories earned them the notoriety they were searching for. People watching the races made orders despite the fact the cars were expensive for the time.
The company quickly developed and set up shop by the Seine. The model line-up now had several models, including the first saloon in 1902. That was also the year that Louis designed his first engine, a four-cylinder, which gave out 24 HP.
In 1903, Marcel, one of the Renault brothers died in the Paris to Madrid race in a crash, a hard blow both for the company and for Louis who would now assign professional drivers to race for Renault. Instead, he focused on bringing Renault carts to more European markets and even over to the Americas.
As the gap between the United States and Europe widened because of the war and the economic crash, Renault sought to improve production and to lower costs. After the economic crisis, he wanted to become more autonomous and started buying all sorts of businesses that provided him with the materials and parts needed to make cars. He also modernized the factory, emulating Ford and his plant, introducing assembly plants in 1922.
During the economic crash of the 30s, all car manufacturers had to suffer and Renault was no exception. The company was forced to cut costs, reduce staff and become more efficient in production. That’s why it started expanding into other areas, basically building anything with a motor attached to it. Busses, lorries, electric railcars, tractors and even airplane engines, all were now coming out of the Renault plant.
With worker strikes plaguing all of the country, Renault was nationalized by the government in 1945 in order to keep it from going bankrupt like Citroen had done some years before. The first project made by the new company was the small 4CV, but it was postponed until after WWII. For the European market, small cars were the future because they were cheap to buy and maintain.
The 4CV, introduced in 1946, proved to be a major success, much larger than initially expected. With the money the company made from sales, it bought and developed heavy machinery to help with production. Renault then turned again to the heavy goods sector and by merging two existent companies, Latil and Somua, they created a new company, completely dedicated to making trucks – Saviem.
As the 4CV aged, a new model was ready to surface, the Dauphine, which appeared in 1956. It too enjoyed great success, even in the US. In fact, it was so successful over the ocean that Renault had to setup a special transport company, CAT, to accommodate the high demand. Next, the Renault 4 and the Renault 8 took over where the Dauphine left off in 1961.
Renault started the 70s with another success, the sportier and more agile Renault 5, which owed its favorable welcome to its fuel efficiency during the oil crisis. But this didn’t mean that the company was safe during these turbulent times. In a bid to retake the American market, Renault started assembling Rambler complete knock down kits and marketing them as Renault Ramblers.
Also during the 70s, Renault began expanding its influence and opened up plants in Eastern Europe, Africa and even Australia. The partnership with the American AMC company came in 1979. At the beginning of the 80s, Renault found itself in financial trouble again and the chairman of the company at the time decided to pul the company out of racing altogether, as well as selling all non-essential assets and cutting costs left and right.
The good news was that by 1987 the company began turning the balance in favor of profit, so that at the beginning of the 90s, a whole new line-up was released on the market and all models proved successful: the new Clio, the new Espace, Twingo and the Laguna. The 1995 Renault Megane was the first car ever to achieve a four-star rating at the Euro NCAP safety tests.
Also during the 90s, Renault returned to Formula 1 racing and with success nonetheless, having won the Championship in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997. In 1996 it was decided that a state-owned status of the company would not benefit in the long run so it was privatized again. Renault made further investments in Brazil, Argentina and Turkey.
After 2000, it launched a series of less successful vehicles like the Avantime and the Vel Satis, but also continued successfully with older series like the Clio, Laguna and Megane. Now the government owns 15,7% of the company, which has since bought Romanian car manufactures Dacia and the South Korean Samsung not to mention 20% of Volvo (latest rumors say that Renault is interesting in a total buy out).
Although punk was still far from emerging in the 19th century, Andre Citroen would have probably liked it. The founder of the famous avant-garde French car workshops shared a lot of the attitude that the punk-wave brought forward much later: he was a revolutionary. As US-based punk group Antiflag raised ‘A New Kind of Army’ with the release of one of their discs, so did Citroen within the automotive industry.
Born in 1878, Andre Citroen was the son of a wealthy diamond Dutch merchant. Upon completing his high-school years, young Andre had already become charmed by technology, a passion that he had first felt at the age of 10 when he discovered the writings of Jules Verne. At the age of 20, he enrolled at the Polytechnical school in Paris, having fully embraced the idea of becoming an engineer.
The years of study paid off and, after having worked for a time with the car company ‘Mors’, he moved forward to establishing his own company. ‘Andre Citroen&Cie’ was founded in 1905. Andre was only 27 at the time.
By 1913 the company had changed its name into ‘Societe des Engrenages Citroen’ (Citroen Cog Factory). The same year the visionary engineer founded another company mainly focused on developing carburetors based on a patent he had earlier obtained. Fascinated by the working methods of Henry Hord, he paid a visit to his assembly lines in the US, where he carefully analyzed the logical steps that had been taken in organizing such a working place.
Having seen the process and being fueled by his own desire of making cars, Citroen would deliver his first automobile in 1919, shortly after the end of World War I. Having shared a fate similar to other car builders, Citroen had to covert its assembly lines to cate for the need of arms and ammunition during wartime. It was during this period that he started thinking about the things that he would do after the war will have been over.
The first car produced by his factory was simply named Type A, a vehicle powered by a 4-cylinder 1326 cc engine that could propel the car to a speed of 40.4 mph (65 km/h). The main advantage of the model A was its versatility as, except its chassis and engine, everything was custom made or could be chosen directly from the factory out of a wide range of options, including body types and spare wheels.
Another great thing about the model A was its affordable price. These two juxtaposed traits led to an overall positive reception of the vehicle. In only 6 months after its release the Type A sold 2,500 units. By next year, 1920, Citroen had already produced almost 10 times more cars.
1920 brought along a series of technological improvements, many of which would later become labels of the Citroen marque. Having paid interest to the area of road-building vehicles and military equipment, Citroen experimented with the half-tracks which he called ‘Autochenilles’.
By 1921 Citroen had gained enough popularity to become an element of the Parisian lifestyle. The first Citroen Taxis appear, followed by the release of a newer car model, the Type C, a lighter more compact but less powerful vehicle than its predecessor, the type A. This particular vehicle was also available in a three seater version called ‘Le Trefle’ (Clover Leaf) which garnered a lot of acclaim.
More advanced models would be introduced years later, such as as the B12 in 1925 and the B14 in 1927. Right before the beginning of the 30’s, Citroen would introduce the C4 and the C6, the latter having been an important achievement for the French constructor as it was both his first 6-cylinder car and the first to reach 62 mph.
Unlike tis competitors at the time, Citroen made use of vast advertising campaigns as well as elaborate and lengthy publicity crusades. Airplanes could be seen scribbling the name Citroen over Paris in 1922nd three years later citizens could read the same message on the Eiffel Tower, written in light. To get an idea of Citroen’s costly methods and almost Texan-like think-big style, 200,000 light bulbs and miles of wiring were necessary to ‘Citroenize’ le Tour d’Eiffel.
His crusades to popularize the advantages of motorized vehicles are not less popular. Citroen crossed the Sahara desert for the first time in a 1922-1923 motorized expedition, covered the distance from Algeria to the southern tip of the African continent, the Cape of Good Hope via Kenya in the 1924-25 ‘Black Journey’ and drove from Beirut to Beijing in a second endeavor labeled as the ‘Yellow Journey’ that took one year to complete as well (1931-32).
Soon after Citroen’s triumphant exploits, the first major technological improvements would arrive: the “Floating Power” engine that eliminated vibrations by using a rubber bolt securing method previously patented by Chrysler. World Record domination stages would soon arrive as well, Citroen having broke an amazing 106 records with their cute-named Rosalie 8 model that covered 300,000 km in 134 days. Thus, the cars’ reliability was brought forth once more.
However, just like Nelly Furtado predicted, good things eventually came to an end. The Great Depression dropped over the company like a tidal wave of financial trouble. Luckily, a Michelin lifeguard was around and saved Citroen from drowning.
After performing CPR on Citroen, Michelin took the company under tutelage. Citroen developed further and by the mid 30’s, it would unveil their greatest innovation the public: the frond wheel-drive or ‘Traction Avant’. Although Citroen was not the first one to develop the system, it did boast the first FWD car to enter mass production, the Type 7.
Later on, the 22CV and the 11CV would be born. Popularity of the new traction system would exceed any expected limits heralding god times for the company. The last famous Traction model, an 11CV Familiale rolled out the factory gates in mid-summer 1957. The 60’s marked the end of the old age of Citroen and launch of a modern epoch of engineering achievements, such as the introduction of the hydro-pneumatic suspension.
Although known for their reliability, Citroen cars failed to meet the design tendencies at some point , conservatism that lead to a drastic decrease in sales. However, the effect was countered later at the beginning of the 90’s when Citroen models took rounder and smoother shapes. New models and reinvention of older ones have assured the company’s success so far and the brand is still regarded to be a purveyor of fine vehicles for over 75 years.
Peugeot is actually one of the oldest brands on the car market today even if at first they didn’t exactly make cars. The Peugeot business started out as a pepper, salt and coffee grinder manufacturer in 1842 and the way it ended up making cars is quite interesting: from making steel rods for crinoline dresses, it turned to umbrella frames, then wire wheels which seemed only a natural step towards bicycles. And once there, it was only a short distance from cars at the turn of the century when personal transportation was right in the middle of a revolution.
The Peugeot name was a family business ever since the 1700s. The first one of the Peugeot family to become interested in automobile manufacturing was Armand Peugeot and soon after a meeting with Gottlieb Daimler, the first ever Peugeot car was born, a three-wheel steam-powered model which first came out in 1889. Just a year later steam was dropped in favor of petrol and the three-wheel model turned into a four-wheel version, using an engine under license from Daimler.
Numbers steadily increased thanks to many innovations such as three-point suspension, sliding-gear transmission and the first rubber tire wheels. The Type 12 as they were called were even entered in races starting with 1894.
In 1896 Peugeot started making its own engines, an 8 horse-power horizontal twin. That same year Peugeot broke off from the parent company ran by his brothers and set up the Societe Anonyme Des Automobiles Peugeot with a factory in Adincourt. By 1899 sales cars for Peugeot got up to 300, which is pretty decent considering that during that year only 1200 cars were sold in France. In 1903 Peugeot added motorcycles to his factory production.
After a brief period out of racing, a Peugeot car managed to win the Indianapolis 500 with Jules Goux at the wheel in 1913. The success of the car was due to the introduction of the DOHC 4 valves per cylinder engine. As war dawned in Europe, Peugeot turned to making arms and military vehicles of course.
The good thing about surviving the war was that cars were now becoming more of a necessity and less of a luxury which meant bigger sales for Peugeot. In 1929 the first 201 model was introduced, a way of numbering cars that would be trademarked by the French automaker.
Having survived the depression, the company the tried in 1933 to woo buyers with a more aerodynamic look. The model that came out that year had a retractable hard top, an innovation that would be also picked up by Mercedes.
During the Second World War, Peugeot fate took a turn for the worse as its factories were forced to build cars and weapons for the German war effort. By the end of the war, the plants were heavily bombed and in need of reparations. It would take the company until 1948 to resume car production with the 203 model.
This was only the beginning as a new series of Italian-designed models by Pininfarina completed the line-up. The success of these cars determined Peugeot to start selling in the US too in 1958. By this time, Peugeot starting collaborating with other manufacturers such as Renault (1966) and Volvo (1972).
In a bid to acquire a bigger share of the market, Peugeot bought 30% of Citroen in 1974, taking over completely in just two years which meant a change in the company’s name, now the PSA (Peugeot Societe Anonyme). This partnership meant that the two brands could make use of each other’s technical achievements but keep their independence design-wise.
Further expansion of the PSA group saw the overtaking of the European division of Chrysler in 1978, an investment which proved faulty as most Chrysler facilities and machinery was old and worn out. These models were later sold under the Talbot brand. When sales began to go under, Peugeot decided to pull the plug on all models except the Arizona which became the 309 in 1986.
During the 90s Peugeot got some of its old fame back after a series of miscalculations regarding the general direction of the company. The current model line-up is aiming towards a more luxurious market, with cost cuts no longer being made to sacrifice the overall look and feel of the car. Some wins in the racing world, including rallies and even Formula 1, have helped Peugeot with sales.
Now Peugeot has developed several new model ranges, outside the classic 200, 300, 400 and 600 series. The 100 and 900 are the exact opposite, with the 100 eyeing the super compact range while 900 is not for the budget shoppers. The French automaker has even a hybrid vehicle in the make, a version of the 307.