Romano Artioli created his Bugatti supercar dream in the early 1990s in Campogalliano. This small town on the outskirts of Modena is still home to the Bugatti Automobili factory and is not quite as abandoned as it seems. We tour the premises with Ezio Pavesi and his son Enrico that have taken care of the factory and the grounds since Bugatti Automobili’s bankruptcy in 1995.
The story of La Fabbrica Blu starts in the 1980s when Italian entrepreneur and Bugatti collector Romano Artioli acquires the Bugatti brand name. His dream is to resurrect the Bugatti name in honor of Ettore Bugatti and create the best supercar of its time in a state of the art facility. He found a suitable plot for his dream factory in Campogalliano in what is dubbed Italy’s ‘Supercar Valley’. He also considered Molsheim for his factory but the available know-how, employees and infrastructure strongly influence the decision to build the Bugatti Automobili factory in Campogalliano.
The factory was designed from the ground up with the worker and flexiblity in mind. Thick prefabricated concrete EB-branded slabs form the outer walls of the two factory halls. They are angled in such a way that they keep sunlight and heat out, while adjacent glass running between the concrete slabs from the floor to the ceiling and across the roof let in enough daylight to ensure a comfortable working climate. Inside all buildings there are hardly any fixed walls allowing the factory to be adapted to the needs at any time. Most components for the EB 110 including the engine were produced in-house and Romano Artioli wanted customers to be able to see the production process of their cars.
Romano Artioli could regularly be seen on his bicycle going from one department to the next for meetings and updates. In the back of the building is the canteen. “Here” says Enrico and points to an old wooden door from the original factory in Molsheim that wasn’t taken away after the bankruptcy. Upstairs in the dining room where workers and management had lunch together there are two art works on the wall that also survived. “Removing them would make them disintegrate into a hundred pieces like a Swiss highway vignet” Enrico continues.
Next to the assembly hall is a distinct blue building that gave the factory it’s name “La Fabbrica Blu”. Here engine testing took place and one could find a for the time extremely rare four-wheel dyno and a fully certified emissions testing room that was used by other car manufacturers as well. The large Bugatti logo on the outside was clearly visible from the nearby A22 highway. Volkswagen asked Ezio Pavesi to remove it once they had required the rights to the brand in 1998 but instead of removing it Ezio came up with a cheaper solution: cover it with foil. Over the last 21 years the foil has slowly dissolved showing the original logo underneath like a piece of art.
Directly around the factory buildings is a small test track that was used for testing new Bugatti prototypes. Flashlights warned employees and visitors that there was a car on track. Here we meet Loris Biccochi the former engineer and test driver with one of two EB 110 Super Sports that were used for racing. It is amazing to see and hear the Le Mans EB 110 Super Sports with Loris at the wheel make its laps around the factory. He recalls the left hand corner at the end of the assembly building was particularly scary for customers who he took around as it seemed like they would go straight into the bushes but he never missed the braking point once.
The design offices and administration are located at another building near the entrance of the factory. The circular showroom on the ground floor and the two floors with design offices are supported by concrete pillars on the outside with a large open space in the middle and glass windows all around. The design studio had an advanced lighting system that factored in light from outside to create similar lighting throughout the day. Romano Artioli had a modest office with adjacent meeting room right above the main entrance of the building.
Romano Artioli was so pleased with the work of his architect Benedini that he asked him to finalize the design of the EB 110 following a first concept created by car designer Gandini. For Benedini this was a great honor and challenge at the same time considering as an architect he had no experience in automotive design.
The factory opened at the end of 1991 on the day of Ettore Bugatti’s 109th birthday. The Bugatti EB 110 was launched exactly one year later on the day of Ettore’s 110th birthday in Paris. Despite building the factory in Italy it was important for Romano Artioli to maintain the link with France and cherish the heritage of the original Bugatti era in Molsheim. Romano invited all employees to the world premiere in Paris. From day 1 the EB 110 set out to gain records for top speed and acceleration and did so with great success. Sadly the success was short lived and after only just over 130 produced cars the factory had to shut and the 130 employees had to find other employment.
Ezio & Enrico Pavesi – The Caretakers
At the start of 1990 the grandfather of our guide Enrico Pavesi comes into the picture. While construction on the factory is still in full swing a Bugatti manager stops by the bar where his mother works for lunch and inquires if she knows anyone that would be interested to become the caretaker at the new supercar factory in town. A few months later Enrico’s grandfather moves into the house on the edge of the factory grounds and takes care of the factory and its 70,000 m2 grounds. His mother would later become one of the secretaries.
After the Bugatti Automobili bankruptcy is filed in September 1995 time stops at Campogalliano. Everything of value is taken away and sold. When the bankruptcy is finally settled in 1997 it is Ezio Pavesi who takes over the role as caretaker from his father. He still lives in the house on the edge of the factory grounds today and has taken care of the former factory for 22 years straight. He gets a small allowance from the current owner to cover his costs but does most of it as volunteer and out of passion and love for La Fabbrica Blu. His main duties include mowing the grass, keeping burglars and other trespassers out and maintaining the buildings.
His son Enrico Pavesi has helped him since he was a kid and hosts the English tours of the factory. He recalls racing his bicycles and later moped around the former test track as a kid. Enrico helped his father as a kid to earn some pocket money. Today they take care of the Bugatti factory in Campogalliano in addition to full time jobs elsewhere. But Enrico is quick to admit that his father does the lions share of the work and that his father has not taken a holiday in over ten years. True dedication is what kept the factory from becoming a ruin the last 25 years. The roof leaks at various places but there is not a broken window to be found.
It is not just the Pavesi family that still carries La Fabbrica Blu in their hearts. Bugatti hosted a preview of the upcoming Pebble Beach car in the former showroom and the ramp to drive the car into the showroom was missing. Turns out a nearby steal workshop who made the original ramp still had it in storage only one piece was missing. Being so happy with the attention for La Fabbrica Blu the workshop created a new piece for free. The town of Campogalliano and former employees are still extremely proud of the time Bugatti Automobili created the EB 110 there. Some employees like test driver and engineer Loris Biccochi refer to their time in Campogalliano as the best time of their life.
Bugatti embracing Bugatti Automobili
For the first time since Volkswagen acquired the Bugatti brand name the Italian chapter in Bugatti’s history is being embraced. Earlier this year Romano Artioli was invited to meet Bugatti CEO Stephan Winkelmann and to see the Chiron assembly at the Atelier in Molsheim for the first time. But the initiative came from Bugatti designer Achim Anscheidt who visited the former Bugatti factory in Campogalliano two years ago for the first time.
The future of La Fabbrica Blu
For Enrico Pavesi it would be a dream come true to see an automotive museum open in La Fabbrica Blu. The current owner Marco Fabio Pulsoni who bought the factory at an auction around ten years ago long considered redevelopment but was persuaded not to demolish La Fabbrica Blu. He would like to sell the factory ideally to Bugatti but they have already announced that they are not interested in buying it. The current asking price is 15 million Euro.
So the future of the former Bugatti factory in Campogalliano is uncertain. But for now you can still visit it by appointment and join one of the factory tours with Ezio or Enrico. The tours take place mostly on the weekend and are free but a donation is appreciated. To visit the factory and join one of their tours contact them via Facebook.