Auto Maker Series – France (6D) Bugatti & More

We thought we saved one of the best for last, since Bugatti is one of the quintessentially French car makers alongside Citroen and Peugeot. We thought Bugatti was the last independent car maker in France to cover. However, Bugatti is now owned by VW Group and we found a few more cars in the process of researching that means we’ll have at least two more posts in this series. Still, there’s there’s plenty of interesting facts to check into.

We’ve covered VW Group, this German multinational automotive manufacturer headquartered in WolfsburgLower Saxony before.

Of course this installment isn’t only about Bugatti. There are a few other interesting car makers in France worth checking out.

Bugatti Automobiles

Ettore Bugatti

Founded in 1909 and now belonging to VW group Bugatti makes fast, well-designed cars. Most well known for their Veyron, which has held records for speed some years, their current fastest model is the 1500-hp Chiron, a hypercar with a top speed of 261 mph.

Though VW Group considers modern Bugatti to have been founded in 1998, the Bugatti name was first made famous by Ettore Bugatti (1881–1947), who built sports, racing and luxury cars.

The company is currently based in MolsheimAlsace, France, though Ettore founded the company in in Molsheim Germany. It probably makes things less confusing to know that the mountainous border region currently known as Alsace has been traded back and forth between France and Germany.

Another potential confusion, if you hear the name Bugatti and think Italian you’d be right. Bugatti was born into an art family in Milan, but took an opportunity to design for Baron Adrien de Turckheim in Alsace.

Side Note: The Franco-Prussian War had left De Dietrich with two car factories in two different countries–Alsace, had been part of Germany since 1871, reverted to French control only in 1919.

Before launching his own car factory, Ettore left the Baron’s employ in 1904 to form “Mathis-Hermes (Licence Bugatti) with his new friend Émile Mathis. Then he set up a “Research centre” at Illkirch-Graffenstaden, now a suburb on the south-side of Strasbourg where he built several prototypes.

Going out on his own Bugatti became known for some of the fastest, and technologically advanced road cars of its day. Exceptionally engineered Bugatti’s cars had great success in early Grand Prix motor racing, including victory in the first Monaco Grand Prix.

Ettore was Italian living on the border of France and Germany, while he was displaced from his home during WWI he cooled his heels designing airplane engines that were never put into production. Between the wars Bugatti designed a successful motorized railcar dubbed the Autorail Bugatti, then won a contract to build design and build airplanes for the German government though WWII broke out before he could make money from it.

Bugatti Type 59 Grand Prix

Bugatti’s son, Jean, was killed in 1939 at the age of 30 while testing driving a car, and the factory was destroyed in WWII. Bugatti had 6 kids and two wives, a reputation for bad customer service, and died in an apartment he owned in Paris because his the French government seized his estate during the “post-liberation frenzy.” He collapsed into a coma in the summer of 1947 (from “mental fatigue”) and never knew that he won his property back in court two months later.

Why so much about Ettore Bugatti of history?

Well, because modern Bugatti was established in 1998 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Porsche SE. An Italian man by the name of Romano Artioli owned a string of car dealerships (primarily Ferrari and Suzuki) when he bought the Bugatti trademark name in 1987 with Jan K Breitfeld, under a holding company of course.

Bugatti Divo 2018 Paris Motor Show

He managed to produce the Bugatti EB 110 between 1991 and 1995, he went bankrupt and then sold the rights off Volkswagen in April 1998. In 2000, Volkswagen officially incorporated Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. and bought  Ettore Bugatti‘s guest house near Molsheim, Château Saint Jean, and remodeled it as the company’s headquarters. They failed to get Bugatti’s manufacturing plant from French aerospace engine maker, Semca (now Safran Aircraft Engines) so they built their own small plant on the property near their headquarters. The company managed to produce 700 luxury sports cars between then and 2020 when Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess declared the unprofitable brand as ballast and announced that it was up for sale.

2021, Bugatti made and delivered 77 cars, turning in their most profitable year. July 2021 Bugatti joint ventured with Croatian car maker, Rimac Automotive. December 2021, Bugatti officially created its own bespoke division – Sur Mesure (French for “Tailored”).

Bugatti Cars

Bugatti Veyron

Volkswagen commissioned Italdesign‘s Giorgetto Giugiaro to design a series of concept cars, all of which used a first-ever on a passenger vehicle W-configuration engine–basically 3 V-6 engines side-by-side. However, these cars would require major factory overhaul and though VW did unveil a winner to go to production for a cool $1.4 million each, they decided instead to focus on a replacement for their successful Veyron.

The Company designed the Veyron in 2000 and 2001, though the prototype was called the EB 16/4 for 16 cylinders/fourth design. Initially, production was scheduled to start in 2003 and actual production began in September 2005. On June 26, 2010, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport set the world speed record for road-legal production sports cars with a top speed of 267.86 mph.

This all-wheel-drive 16-cylinder car has an 8.0-liter engine with four turbochargers and an engine-output of 987 horsepower.

Bugatti Chiron

2015, Bugatti announced that the successor to the Veyron, the Chiron (in honor of Monegasque racing driver Louis Chiron). February 29, 2016, Bugatti unveiled its new Chiron hypercar at the Geneva Motor Show. Same 8.0-liter, 16-cylinder engine with four turbochargers, but now with 1,479 horsepower (and 1,600 Newton meters of torque.) Zero to 62mph in 2.4 seconds (186 mph in 13.1 seconds) with a top speed of 261 mph.

In July 2019, Bugatti built the 200th Chiron & September 2019, Bugatti will break the 300-mile barrier with a modified Chiron (a first in “production” cars).

Starting in 2018 Bugatti began making limited run vehicles like: the Divo hypercar (limited to 40 units),
the La Voiture Noire (only 1 made), La Voiture Noire (Black Car), Bolide (still in production) and eventually the Mistral.

Modern Bugatti has won countless awards and in 2019 unveiled a titanium brake caliper, the largest printed titanium component ever in the world. Ironic since Ettore once told a customer who complained about difficult braking, “I make my cars to go, not stop!”

Ligier

Founded in 1968 by former racecar driver and rugby player Guy Ligier and headquartered in Abrest, France.

Ligier is best known for its Formula One team, Équipe Ligier, that operated from 1976 to 1996. Ligier entered Formula One in 1976 with a Matra V12-powered car, winning its first Grand Prix with Jacques Laffite in 1977. Ligier also competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1970 to 1975.

Ligier JS2.

Ligier now specialized in the manufacturing of microcars and microbuses. The firm entered the automobile business with the Ligier JS2, a mid-engine sports car for the road powered first by a Ford V6 and later Maserati V6 engine. The 1973 energy crisis caused such a decline in the market for the JS2 they ceased making these cars. However, In August 2018, Ligier teased a new road-going sports car to celebrate their 50th anniversary. 

The Ligier vehicle that’s gained the most attention, is EZ10 EasyMile, a self-driving shuttle bus for light city transit. EasyMile SAS develops and markets the autonomous vehicles, and is a joint venture formed in June 2014 by Ligier and Robosoft Technology PTE Ltd (France).

Ligier EZ10 self-driving minibus

The CityMobil2 project is joint venture with Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development. One EZ10 minibus can take between 8–10 passengers, and its speed is up to 25 mph. In 2017, EZ-10 was introduced on the grounds of National Taiwan University in Taipei, and in TallinnEstonia. The buses will serve one line, including a stretch of tram line under reconstruction, and will run in Tallinn until the end of August.

Least we confuse our readers, Ligier is technically owned by the Italian private equity firm 21 Investimenti Partners

Microcar (brand)

Founded in 1984 to service a very specific niche, Microcar makes a two seat car that 16-year-olds can drive without a license. A “safety bow” takes up the room behind the driver and passenger seat and provides additional protection for occupants. The car also tops out at 45 km/h which restricts the kind of roads it can use.

Microcar NewStreet Cabriolet

Founded as a division of Bénéteau group, a major sailboat manufacturer, Microcar was acquired by none other than Ligier Automobiles in 2008. Microcar and Ligier brands are to retain their separate identities and production facilities, though they now technically form the Europe’s second-biggest microcar maker, and largest maker of quadricycles, or “sans permis” (license-exempt) vehicles.

After the merger Microcar launched their first model in 2009, the M.Go model, which was available in 6 trim packages. Prior to that they had a long-running MC Series models, sold as the MC1 and MC2. The M.Go was produced with a petrol engine for the UK market and around 2015 it was replaced with the creatively named M.GO-3.

Prior to the merger Microcar also made a commercial run-a-bout called the Sherpa, though it was a rebadged Ligier X-Pro. This model didn’t survive the merger.

M.Go 3
Side Note: The M.Go was available in an extended version that was 40mm longer incase you need leg room.

It seems natural for a maker of tiny cars to go EV, and in a way they did.  ZENN Motor Company of Canada began buying Engineless Chases from Microcar and installing their own electric drivetrain. Microcar started distributing Zenn in Europe. While Zenn wasn’t an EV by modern todays thinking it was a “Neighborhood Electric Vehicle“(NEV) with a top speed about 25MPH. Then in 2009 Microcar brought EV moto building into their own factory so Zenn ceased to exist.

Genty Akylone

Founded and developed in 2011, built in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule since 2017, Genty makes sports cars–15 coupés and 10 roadsters so far. Not 25 models, 25 cars. Never let it be said the Kicker writers don’t do there research. These cars are rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine, which are 6.0L Chevrolet twin turbo V8
5.2L Alpha Lamborghini twin turbo V10 (Prototype), and the transmission is 6-speed sequential + 1-reverse gear, limited slip differential.

Hommell

Founded in 1992, the first model of Hommell was designed in the 1994. Creator Michel Hommell is an editor of a French car periodical specialized on motor sport /sports cars. The make exists to manufacture cars for the French action movie “Michel Vaillant: Need for Speed.” It doesn’t get much tinier than this, folks.

The company is based in Lohéac, near Rennes, Brittany. A 2-seat sports coupe, powered by a mid-mounted 2.0lt Peugeot engine and 6 speed gearbox in a tubular steel chassis with all-round independent suspension was shown at the 1994 Geneva Motor Show. So they do also have a production model.

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