Bugatti Veyron. Born 2005. Engineered in Germany by Volkswagen. Built in France. Legendary for its sledgehammer spec, for costing more than $1.5 million, for its 252mph top speed and 2.5sec 0-60mph time.
Bugatti EB110. Born 1991. Engineered in Italy by an elite group of designers and technicians. Legendary for its sledgehammer spec, for reviving the defunct Bugatti name and for Michael Schumacher's lengthy ownership of a SuperSport.
But while both might wear Bugatti logos and look out of place in a supermarket parking lot, do the EB110 and Veyron really have so much in common? They come from unrelated enterprises, one defunct, the other flourishing. Their styling is tangentially linked at best and their prices and performance are separated by a gulf as big as the one you'll find between an Audi TT RS and an R8 V10.
Yet they have more in common than you'd imagine. Both are built around carbon fiber tubs, are powered by generously cylindered, multi-valve, midship-mounted vee engines whose substantial muscle is boosted by a quartet of turbochargers. Both have four-wheel drive and each was created with the aim of building the ultimate supercar of the era. In its day, the EB110 was compared with the Ferrari F40, the Porsche 959 and the Jaguar XJ220.
While the creation of the Veyron was an entirely clean-screen production from Volkswagen, which bought the rights to the Bugatti name in 1998, Wolfsburg did not ignore the EB110 when it began this mighty supercar mission; it bought an EB110 SS prototype previously used by Bugatti as a development car. There's no question that the Veyron has been massaged to a pitch far loftier than the EB110's, but both cars were conceived as ultimates. The main difference is that VW's Ferdinand Piech decided that the Veyron would take a giant leap's worth of advancement, whereas the EB110 was no more than a couple of skips ahead.
Bugatti is four years and well over halfway through its planned build of 300 Veyrons at Molsheim, in southeastern France. The car is still available new. Used examples are rare but they're around, almost always carrying “price on application” tags, but you can expect to pay upward of $1.2m for one.
The last EB110 was produced at Campogalliano, near Modena in Italy, in 1995 and, intriguingly, it's already scarcer than the Veyron. The total numbers are uncertain, but 95 EB110 GTs were made, even if there's disagreement over whether 18 or 31 SS versions saw daylight.
After Bugatti Automobili went down in 1995, a German company called Dauer bought the tooling and parts and assembled another five partially completed SuperSports before the EB110 formed the basis of the even more extreme Italian Edonis supercar.
A well-cared-for EB110 GT (there are a few less-than-coddled examples about) should be yours for around $300,000, while the rarer EB110 SS pictured here will likely cost around $150,000 more – if you can find one. Buy an EB110, then, and you're choosing a Bugatti rarer than the Veyron, for substantially less, a fact that may eventually push their prices higher.
Truth is, though, that the EB110 has become something of a forgotten car, partly because the company that made it died, and partly because the Veyron overshadows it for both visual allure and statistical drama.
But when you see car designer Chris Hrabalek's immaculate lemon yellow EB110 SS, it's hard not to be impressed. This is a more straight-edged design than we're used to today, and it appears more distinctive than it did in the mid-1990s. There are subtle curves among its Marcello Gandini-scribed lines, though you're more likely to be drawn to the elevated rear wing and the curious circular holes in its sides.
These are two of the features that distinguish an EB110 SS from the standard GT, which wears small gloss black panels instead and a retractable rear wing. Different wheels and additional brake cooling also identify it, but the main change, and the SS's raison d'être, is that it's lighter than the GT, to the tune of 330lbs. More carbon fiber exterior panels, a lightened chassis and carbon fiber cabin detailing yielded the main gains. The V12 was upgraded to 603hp from the GT's 543hp, too.
Lift the hefty scissor-hinged door of the SS and you enter a dark and intriguing world. Black leather sheaths the bucket seats, the headlining, much of the dash and, weirdly, the floor and transmission tunnel, which are lined with a black stippled leather more appropriate to a Gothic designer handbag than floor coverings.
Despite this expensive detail, the SS's cabin is workmanlike enough to fool you into thinking that it's an unfinished prototype, what with its simple, undecorated instruments and a carbon fiber center console, whose weave makes no effort to align with the verticals and horizontals of the dashboard.
Cheap air vents and crude stalks only add to the mild disappointment of this cockpit – until you notice a rev counter stretching to 8500rpm and the 400kph (250mph) speedometer.
Twisting the ordinary key and hearing the V12 kick into the busy, threshing idle of an Italian exotic soon exorcises doubts, as does a gear change that feels as weightily positive as the EB's steering. It's pretty easy to drive, too, despite the A-pillar's noticeable presence and some mildly offset pedals.
The V12 is obedient and docile and gives little hint of the 603hp that its quartet of turbos can stoke when 60 valves are pumping hard and fast, and it's this docility that is simultaneously impressive and (at first) faintly disappointing. The EB110 does not feel like a wild horse in need of taming, or a car with more than 600hp.
Instead, you must work at it. The combination of a quartet of old-school, delayed-action turbos and some rangy gearing makes this a car in which you must think hard about revs, ratios and momentum if you want to traverse landscape at speeds to rival high-speed trains.
A mix of this car's long-term storage, which may have left it slightly off-color, and my circumspection with Hrabalek's newly acquired toy deter me from giving this SS a full workout, but there's no question that it can cover ground with retina-overloading pace, and with the massive reassurance of four-wheel drive.