Bugatti Automobili Campogalliano: getting lost in the Fabbrica Blu
Certain visits mark you, haunt you. You think about it without even knowing them, you imagine the places, their lives. This time it all mixed up in me. This time, in the heart of a hot Italian summer, I was able to get lost in the heart of the Fabbrica Blu, the factory that saw the birth of the Bugatti EB 110. Story and discovery of an extraordinary place, like j love to share them with you here online.
Sweet madness and automotive passion
The fruit of a crazy project, that of the entrepreneur Romano Artioli, the Fabbrica Blu is an incredible place, between modernism and tradition, between automobile production and craftsmanship. Visitor, we get lost, on the 240,000 m2, wondering if we are dealing with a small manufacturer or a beautiful modern production. From this balance, from this rickety balance, came the downfall of history in 1995. The Bugatti Automobili SpA collapsed in the mid-1990s, less than 4 years after the launch of the Bugatti EB110. The slogan « Nothing is too good, nothing is too expensive » will not have been enough.
The project was crazy, Ferrucio Lamborghini and other craftsmen had warned Romano Artioli: the latter was thinking too big. 25 years later is thus found a sublime factory, crossing a modern art design and architecture of factories in shed. This whole set was designed by the Italian architect Giampaolo Benedini, himself passionate about cars and a gentleman driver.
Les mots bleus
Meet in Campogalliano, in an industrial area, at the end of the dead end. The thick blue characters B U G A T T I A U T O M O B I L I on a white background betray the discretion of the place. We couldn’t go wrong and neither could Romano Artioli. Neighboring manufacturers, a few kilometers away, are none other than Ferrari, Lamborghini or Maserati.
The appointment is made for 2 p.m., we have just arrived, we had a lot of people on the road from Milano. It is hot and the large longitudinal white door slides between the dry groves. Our host is there, the presentations are made and we access the blue factory through the entrance of employees and guests.
The doors open and one detail jumps out at me: the white letters EB are repeated along the glass doors. I’m finally there. These two letters speak to me, remind me of the thick history of this incredible brand. I also remember this miniature Bugatti EB 110 produced at 1:24 at Bburago that my parents gave me when I was a kid. On each of our trips to Italy, I was entitled to a Bburago. Like a Proust madeleine, everything comes back to me at this moment.
Mattia, the family guide, lets us in. In front of us, the reception desk is still there, very white, well in place. We can guess that the Bugatti logo has been removed from the wall of the window. Later, looking through archive photos, I was going to discover that it was all white, without a drop of red. The Italian chic had been present until then: everything was white. Blanc de blanc, Carrara marble.
There, on the counter, we find a period atmosphere. The remote monitoring screens are there, in columns, what a style! Welcome to the 90s! There are also telephones, screens, local yellow pages (Pagine gialle), computers etc. Everything is there as at the time. We can imagine the switchboard operators gone for the break …
We start the visit. Four parts make up the Fabbrica Blu. First of all, the offices are located in the first building, which is quite cubic, with mirrored walls. It includes the entire administration of the Bugatti Automobili Spa company, its management, as well as the reception.
On the left of the entrance is the elliptical showroom, accessible from the reception. We then found the models presented there, in a presentation worthy of an ancient theater, with, during the conferences, the public present outside the circle. To confirm this ancient and almost theatrical atmosphere, the acoustics are then worked on, so that by placing themselves perfectly in the center of this circle, the guests hear the speaker’s speech. The same applies to the following floors, those of design (floor 1) and design (floor 2). The acoustics work is impressive.
Alongside this spherical part, we find the most classic offices, with a rather incredible elevator part, in a design of tubes and cylinders. A style that can be found further on, at the iconic blue building. The atmosphere must have been incredible. The tour is done in natural light, the electricity has been cut for years and some archive photos illustrate the time.
In these most classic premises, the entire administrative part of the company came to life, with the manager’s offices on the second floor, IT services and the press service on the first. Some vestiges of the press of the time are still there … Just like a world map of car manufacturers. As games and groups have changed in thirty years …
One room is still full of computers with large CRTs, and that’s the entire computer server in the next room. Further on, it is a large printer which is there in its dedicated room. From it came out printed the plans and diagrams dedicated to the design. How many treasures did she print?
Slaloming between computer vestiges and drip-filled buckets of water, it’s time to get out of this first building, the blue awaits us.
C’est une maison bleue
This blue building is the very emblem of this Bugatti factory in Campogalliano. It is to him that the Fabbrica blu, the blue factory, the blue factory, owes its name. Although massive, like a blockhouse, its edges are soft. This blue surface is made up of a multitude of blue rectangles. A mosaic. On the sides, large chimneys are straight and proud, white, in contrast to the beautiful Bugatti blue, although there is no such thing as Bugatti blue.
On the main side of this blue box, we find the Bugatti logo, large and beautiful red, on which time has passed. It’s desaturated and the original red comes out here and there. It is this logo that can be seen from the A22 motorway (E45 – Brenner motorway – Autostrada del Brennero).
To the left of the famous red oval, the main partners of the crazy project EB110 are there. It is rare to see partners put forward in this way. The auto industry is more used to being silent on its partnerships. Here it is the other way around. One will note for example Michelin, Aérospatiale, Elf, BBS. In contrasts of blues and whites, the whole is truly sublime. It is the very identity of this surprising architectural ensemble. I stayed there for a few long minutes.
Within the walls of this blue box, we created and developed Bugattis. The automatic doors are white, with nice windows, but access is limited.
shed and concrete
Alongside the site’s flagship building, we move on to the production part. There, we find much larger places because they are dedicated to the assembly of Bugattis, to technology, to logistics. We need space, we are getting into the hard. Architecturally speaking, we find an architecture worthy of 19th century factories, with sheds, a jagged roof. It is made to largely let natural light pass through the roof. The walls of this gigantic building are made of prefabricated concrete walls in a beautiful light gray. We find in rehearsal, and on each block, Ettore Bugatti’s EB. Gorgeous.
At the heart of this structure, combining concrete, steel and glass, takes place the assembly of the cars as well as the assembly of the engines. Along with these two parts, there is also a « ironwork » part for the manufacture of parts on robotic machines. The assembly part was then done in U, back and forth. The previously manufactured chassis entered on trolleys and emerged in sumptuous Bugattis. All the tools hung from the roof, in mobile consoles still visible today.
Further on, we discover the “garage” section dedicated to Bugatti settings. On site, there were bridges, on which the last Bugatti assemblies and adjustments were made, before their delivery to customers, which was partly done at the factory. It was also from this part that the tests started, the burn-in, which took place on a dedicated track, marked out around the factory.
It’s lunch time
Finally, in this vast part very « factory », there is also the canteen. We know that in Italy eating is important. The effort had therefore been made on the catering part of the 200 to 300 employees. So on the first floor is the factory canteen, where the brand’s teams met. There, things have changed very little. Among other things, we find two XXL posters of Bugatti prototypes, sisters of the EB 110s, and we can imagine the atmosphere of the time. Further on, the kitchens are intact, but empty.
The door of discord
When Romano Artioli bought the Bugatti brand in 1987, the brand had come to a standstill after an unsuccessful attempt to return to competition in 1955. The Bugatti brand and its property had belonged to Hispano-Suiza since July 1963. The Molsheim factory, where the story began, then became workshops dedicated to aeronautics.
1987, the project is launched and Bugatti is reborn from its ashes, in Italy, on the land of Ettore. As a nod to history, Romano Artioli recovers the wooden door from Ettore Bugatti’s original workshop and has it installed in Campogalliano. That door is still there, at the bottom of the stairs leading to the canteen. Every noon, the factory employees therefore had a little reminder of the history of their brand …
During this visit, I have deliberately put aside the current aspect of the factory, because I wanted to keep two words for you here. Overall, the factory is almost abandoned and / or maintained at arm’s length since 1995.
Of the Bugatti news, of the Bugatti identity, there is little or nothing left. Every object in the colors of the beautiful Franco-Italian brand has disappeared. Everything that could have left is gone. They were sold when the brand was sold to the VW Group, were sold to pay off debt, or even stayed there, and were broken and / or stolen.
The general condition is good, but water infiltration and damage is showing in various places. Among other things, the sublime spherical part takes water on the second floor, and a forest of buckets is used to collect the rainwater. Likewise on the second floor of the offices and in the factory section, where barrels and not buckets are used …
Scraps of life
The complex is still alive, the visits are daily but the lack of funds is felt. Traces of life from the time are still present, I am thinking for example of magazines in the press service, the pharmacy box in the factory, but also documents, engine ratings, occupational medicine opinions or even notes taken with hours worked in the workshop. All these things give a special atmosphere. Among other things, I liked the catalogs of spare parts, the boxes of Bburago miniatures or the letters from the end of the world … There was life here.
The future is uncertain for these places. The conservation of such buildings is complicated and a museum project is in the pipeline.
In the meantime, the 30th anniversary of the Bugatti EB 110 is scheduled for Campogalliano on September 19, 2021. The rest … who would want such a building? Should we sell it, transfer it to another production, turn the Bugatti page? Difficult to choose. In any case, I am aware of how lucky I was to be able to visit such a historic place.
I particularly wanted to thank Mattia and her uncle for this moment spent in the blue walls, in the footsteps of their grandfather Romano Artioli. It was a strong and rare moment. Thank you to them and thank you to Rémi too.
Visiting the Fabbrica blu is quite possible. I would ask you not to go it alone. For some smart people: there is nothing to steal.
For the visit, contact is made via the facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/BugattiCampogalliano/
Thank you for reading me and see you soon,