After finishing school, and a short stay at the Academy of Art, in Milan, Ettore Bugatti began his training at the bicycle manufacturer Prinetti and Stucchi. Young Bugatti was especially fascinated by the technology and mechanics of the automobile, which had only been recently invented. At age 17, Ettore equipped a tricycle with a motor, and soon thereafter followed it with another tricycle driven by twin DeDion motors. Just prior to the end of the century, Ettore Bugatti took part in a race with his first vehicle.
In 1901, Ettore Bugatti presented his first self-made automobile at the international exhibition in Milan. He built the vehicle with the help of the Gulinelli brothers, and was awarded the 'T2' prize by the French Automobile Club for its construction. Following some initial difficulties, the license for the production rights of the vehicle to the de Dietrich company, located in Niederbronn in the Alsace region. Because Ettore had not yet reached the legal age of 21, his father had to sign the contract with de Dietrich. In the following years, Ettore Bugatti developed five further vehicle models for the Deutz company in Cologne.
The de Dietrich company was not satisfied with the amount of time Ettore spent developing and constructing racing cars, while, inthe company's opinion, neglecting series production. His contract with de Dietrich was therefore terminated. Ettore Bugatti went to work for Emil Mathis, and designed a new automobile with a four-cylinder engine.
As was earlier the case with de Dietrich, it wasn't long before Ettore Bugatti's relationship with Emil Mathis also soured. However, not one to be dissuaded by rejection, he continued working towards his goal of designing racing cars, and, without contractual restrictions, in 1906 he developed an automobile with a 50 hp engine. In July 1907, he offered it to Deutz, a company which built gasoline engines. They obtained the license to build the car, and Bugatti was named the leader of the production department in Cologne. Working in his spare time in the basement of his apartment, he developed his first little Model 10 'Pur Sang'.
Ettore's third child, named Jean, was born on January 15th, 1909. At this time, with the support of the banker, de Vizcaya, Bugatti opened a business of his own in a disused dyeing works in the town of Molsheim in the Alsatian region of Germany. Subsequently, he secured a loan from the Darmstaedter Bank allowing him to build ten automobiles and five aircraft engines.
The first machines for the factory in Molsheim were delivered in January of 1910. Five automobiles were built and sold in that year. Ettore Bugatti's long-time assistant, Ernest Fridrich, began driving in races in that year, laying the foundation for the legendary success of Bugatti racing cars in the years to come.
Ettore Bugatti happily celebrated a series of racing success in 1911. Especially surprising was the Bugatti's team's second place finish in the French Grand Prix, in which the Model 10 was successful against a large number of much more powerful racing cars. In the same year, Bugatti signed a license contract with the automobile maker Peugeot for the production of the Bebe Peugeot, the Bugatti Model 19 engine. the Bebe became a great success. It was built into a large majority of Bugatti models. Several thousand automobiles were built with the Model 19 in them.
During the First World War, Ettore Bugatti developed a number of airplane engine concepts for both the French and American government. The license fees for these engines brought him the necessary capital to enable him to again begin operations in the Molsheim plant after the end of the war. Production was increased, and the number of employees rose to over a thousand.
First, second, third, and fourth place - that was the Bugatti team's balance the Voiturettes Grand Prix in Brescia. This great and convincing victory immortalized the small Bugatti Model 13. Since then, every 16-valve engine built by Bugatti carries the name Brescia, the site of the race, in the model designation as a reminiscence of this amazing victory.
The model 29/30 was the first racing car that Ettore Bugatti equipped with 8 cylinders. In addition, it had hydraulic brakes and a revolutionary chassis construction in the form of a cigar. The 'Cigar' was driven for the first time in the 1922 ACF Grand Prix. The car finished in second place!
Ettore Bugatti caused a lot of excitement at the 1923 ACF Grand Prix in Tours. As in 1922 with the 'Cigar', he again introduced a car with another revolutionary chassis - a blade profile with covered wheels. Called the 'Tank', this racing car had a very short wheel base, and was driven by a further developed 8-cyinder engine. With Ernest Fridrich at the wheel, the 'Tank' finished the race in third place.
For the 1924 racing season, in part to offer his customers a more attractive looking racing car, Ettore Bugatti returned with a more traditional chassis. The Model 35 had an 8-cylinder, 2 liter engine, and was the first car to run on the now famous aluminum hoop-spoked wheels. The engine capacity was later expanded to 2.3 liters. When all of the variations are taken into account, the Model 35, with over 2,000 victories, was the most successful racing car of all time.
Already back in 1914, Ettore Bugatti dreamed of building the best, most luxurious automobile ever. With the introduction of the 'Royale' in 1926, he was finally able to realize his dream. Even at today's standards, the 'Royale' was the most expensive automobile of all time. The 8-cylinder engine had a 12.7 liter capacity that delivered 300 hp. Unfortunately, this legendary automobile came into the market at precisely the wrong point in history, just as the world was entering the Great Depression. With only three of these fantastic automobiles sold, the 'Royale' almost financially ruined Bugatti and his company.
During the difficult years of the Great Depression, Ettore Bugatti won the contract to build a new high speed train for the French government. Bugatti began manufacturing railcars, while at the same time, finding a use for the expensively developed, yet technically superior engines of the 'Royale'. By installing these technologic masterpieces in trains, he not only satisfied the French government, but was albe to stabilize his company's shaky financial standing, thus proving that he was not only a dreamer, but an astute businessman as well. Except for the train which Ettore Bugatti completely designed himself. The only automobile model that was still being produced at the beginning of the 1930's was the Model 57. This sedan was his last big production success, with about 750 units produced and sold.
They year 1936 changed Bugatti's world forever. His workers had decided to strike for better pay and working conditions. Ettore Bugatti, who had always had a special relationship with his employees, paying above average wages and social benefits, felt personally insulted by the strike, which was managed from outside his company. He distanced himself from his employees, thereafter preferring to work almost exclusively from his Parris office. A result of the strike was lower pay for inexperienced new workers. The friendly working environment at Molsheim thereafter was never again what it had been before the strike took place.
With the 1937 victory at Le Mans, Ettore Bugatti again experienced the thrill that his team had enjoyed in the 1920's. Drivers Jean Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist won the race in a Model 57 G 'Tank'.
At the end of the 1930's, Ettore Bugatti found himself in a very difficult financial situation. Nonetheless, his son, Jean, was able to convince him to again enter a team at the race at Le Mans. Having a chassis of the 57 series with a compressor, as well as a chassis similar to a 'Tank' such as they had already driven to victory at Le Mans in 1937, the drivers Jean Pierre Wimille and Pierre Veyron, with only one vehicle at their disposal, were able to win this important race.
The 1939 win at LeMans was to be the last big win for Ettore Bugatti. On the 11th of August, 1939, the designated successor of the 'Patron', his son Jean, was killed during a test-run in the same car that had won the race at Le Mans only weeks before. A few days later, the Second World War began.
After the end of the war, several timid attempts were made to resume production at the Molsheim plant. However, the financial situation made it impossible for Ettore Bugatti to develop a new line of products. On August 21, 1947, at the age of 66, Ettore Bugatti died of a lung infection in a military hospital in Paris. Although only about 7,900 automobiles were built while he controlled the company, many of these vehicles have proudly survived to this day - proof of Ettore Bugatti's genius and contributions to the world of automotive history.