With modern motoring journalism bemoaning the ever-increasing number of engines fitted with turbochargers, it’s easy to forget that just a few decades ago turbochargers were so very in vogue. In the early 90’s you could buy ‘turbo’ blenders and ‘turbo’ cologne, but if your car had a ‘turbo’ associated with it then you’d made it.
When it comes to turbocharged cars from the 90’s they don’t come much more heavily turbocharged than Bugatti’s EB110. The EB110 was Bugatti’s first car since 1952, with Ferrari dealer Romano Artioli planning on reviving the brand to its pre-war glory. Despite registering the name Bugatti Automobili SpA − an interesting mix of the new owner’s Italian heritage and the marque’s French past − in October 1987, it would be another four years before he and his team of engineers felt they had a car worthy of wearing the Bugatti moniker.
As the engineering schedule drew on, I assume a turbocharger was added with each passing year, as the EB110 was launched sporting four of them. Its 3.5L V12 had two turbochargers hanging off each cylinder bank, quad cams, 60-valves and a 8500rpm rev-limit which was enough to produce 550 horsepower − or a fairly stunning 157 horsepower per-litre. The V12 also featured 12 individual throttle bodies to aid throttle response, which was still comically bad due to 1990’s style turbo lag and that quartet of turbochargers.
The EB110 featured here is actually one of last of only 33 Supersports Bugatti produced before the company folded. Thankfully this the only car painted in this hue of ‘fried egg yellow’ teamed with ‘tomato sauce red’ leather interior. This is also the car that Chris Harris famously hooned in a video advertising the car’s sale for RM Sotherby’s before it was auctioned last year for £627,200. Interesting, as it is now for sale in Australia less than 12 months later at Melbourne’s Dutton Garage.
Anyway, back to EB110. The Supersport produced an extra 53 horsepower over the ‘normal’ EB110, turning the wick up to 603. The extra power was thanks to a new ECU tune teamed with larger injectors and a free flowing exhaust system, which all aimed to get you to the V12’s 8500rpm rev-limit as quickly as possible. You can knock turbocharging all you want, but it does allow for fairly major horsepower gains with minimum effort.
Bugatti didn’t stop with the engine fettling with weight reduced by ditching a number of aluminum panels for carbon fibre variants. While they were at it magnesium wheels and engine covers were fitted and the Supersport even ditched luxuries like electric windows and rear wing for manually adjusted items. The result of the weight saving measures meant that the Supersport tipped the scales at around 1400 kilograms – not bad when you consider the standard EB110 was around 1600 kilograms.
The results of the ECU, exhaust tweaking and extensive weight reduction allowed the Supersport to hit 100km/h in 3.2 seconds. For reference the much-lauded Ferrari F40 of period could ‘only’ muster a 3.8 second 0-100km/h sprint. The Supersport would continue on to a remarkable 347km/h while the F40 would be left ‘wheezing’ in the background at a lazy 323km/h. You can’t mention 90’s super cars and not mention McLaren’s F1, which is widely blamed for stealing the EB110’s thunder and sales.
This, however, is an unfair comparison as the EB110, even the lightweight Supersport, had luxuries the F40 and F1 could only dream of. Niceties such as paint that was thick enough to cover the carbon fibre weave of the panel underneath, a carpeted interior and air conditioning that worked. The EB110 also had the ability to actually put the power it made to the ground. Something that can’t be said about the previously mentioned competitors.
The EB110 and its Supersport brethren were fitted with six speed manual transmissions and a four-wheel drive system that split torque with a healthy rearward bias (73 per cent rear 23 per cent front). All of this teamed up with massive 300+ section rear tyres meant that grip was the name of the EB110’s game. Handling must have been impressive for Michael Schumacher to stump up over half a million dollars of his own cash for a yellow Supersport. We’ll just skip over the fact that he crashed it, blaming the car’s inadequate brakes…
So while modern cars are adopting turbochargers to lower fuel consumption and emissions turbocharged cars of the 90’s were simply trying to out do the competition by cramming copious amounts of turbo lag affected boost into their engines. So while turbos may have fallen out of vogue at the moment, it’s cars like the EB110 Supersport that prove their worth.
Warts lag and all.