Achim Anscheidt has served as Bugatti’s Design Director since the early stages of the VW era, guiding development of every Bugatti from the original Veyron and its many iterations, to Chiron, Divo, and the one-of-one La Voiture Noire. In the midst of the Centodieci launch at Pebble Beach, Achim sat down to talk for an hour at the Maison Bugatti enclosure with a view of Centodieci turning on a pedestal, a one-minute walk to the steps of the Pebble Beach Lodge.
Bugatti is leading the way in a new form of carrozzeria, of carrossier, building one-off and limited-series cars with unique bodywork over the existing hard points of the Chiron chassis: Centodieci, Divo, La Voiture Noire. How are you harnessing technology to achieve this?
“It doesn’t take me one and a half years anymore. It takes half a year with Virtual Reality, VR goggles. This was the only way to answer the needs of our CEO Stephan Winklemann, to turn the brand where he wanted to go. Same with Centodieci, with Divo. Same with La Voiture Noire,” says Achim.
“Eighteen years ago Derek Jenkins, who was one of my idols and heroes, said that we would be walking around VR cars and they’d be so realistic that we would speak of them in VR. And now we are there. I am so happy that I was forced to adopt that process. Maybe possible because I have such a small area to overlook that I could take the whole team and put them on that stool.“
“No clay model anymore, even though I like the romance of the clay, everything that is in the media about car designers. The VR glasses are so realistic. I can see so many things. And when I have the feeling I am 90 percent there, I do a prove-out shot that costs me €80,000. A clay model at that stage costs me €400,000,” says Achim.
“Then I have this prove-out shot that looks pretty much like that car there,” he gestures to the Centodieci on the nearby turntable, “even see-through. And then I make modifications where I was not right in the CAD development. And then I am 98 percent there. Then I do another one, and that might [raise] cost to €160,000. Where I would have spent €600,000 on the clay model by that point, and way more time, and five English contractors jumping around the car. The measuring plate, the measuring arm. The armature. And shielding from the fumes. I do like the romance of this clay story and I do not like to see it go. But the process has moved on.“
“I can sit on a stool with the glasses and I can look at this car turning nearby and I almost cannot see a difference. The camera lens is so nice … and reflects the lens of my eyes. I can probably see 95 percent of that car. Then I can walk all around the car. I can step into the interior, which is an eerie feeling,” Achim says, subtly whimsical grin breaking over his face. “I can have my lead designer or the whole team standing around me and having a product conversation. And they are avatars sitting next to me with a tool in their hands pointing and discussing should we move this line up or down. We are not far away that I have a modeler doing that in real time, moving the line up and all the surfaces up. We used to do that with clay modelers and then immediately apply Dynoc again.”
Speak to the evolution of thought and the creation of the Centodieci, your tribute to the EB110 of the 1990s Romano Artioli era of Bugatti. It’s an era I lived through as a young editor of a sports car magazine. I published stories about the early stages with the EB110 designer, Giampaolo Benedini, and also the EB110 Supersport that proved a last hurrah.
“If you are a director and charged with a sequel to a blockbuster movie, what do you do? It would be totally lame to make Part Two,” Achim says, employing a brush of the California dialect he picked up while studying design at Pasadena’s Art Center. „There are very few examples where people pulled it off. It is legit to always have an inspiration, but then what you do with that inspiration, how you understand looking backwards, then looking forward with that knowledge, is the magic of homage projects.
You have spent time with Romano Artioli and Giampaolo Benedini?
It impressed me, Romano Artioli’s patron approach, putting him in line with Ettore and Ferdinand Piëch, the three great patrons of the brand. The way Romano Artioli ran the factory at Campogalliano, the way he treated his workers—sitting together, eating together. The workers would have lunch with a Michael Schumacher or [French actor] Alain Delon or a visiting prince. A philosophy that I respect a lot. Mr. Artioli is still alive. And I think he deserves a lot of credit for the forgotten supercar.“
My writer in 1991 described Benedini as a “single-minded genius.” He is a designer, architect, and a manufacturer of fine home furnishings, a true heir to the spirit of the Italian Renaissance.
“Giampaolo Benedini was not only the architect of Campogalliano [the “blue factory” created by Artioli for the rebirth of Bugatti in the late 1980s], but also the designer of the car. Not very many people know this. Such a humble, quiet-spoken person. A true racer by heart,” says Achim, whose father was a 3-time Grand Prix motorcycle world champion with Suzuki.
“I’ve had a couple of dinners with Benedini in the past year. He still races classic cars. Then I realized he is the cousin of Romano Artioli. He was always in the background speaking to Artioli about what actually should be done. They owned Lotus at the time and the Elise is his idea—Benedini’s idea that Lotus should go back to its roots. Because they owned the brand and Lotus was pretty much bankrupt. It was Benedini who said they should do a car that goes back to Colin Chapman, to the original roots. Intelligent power to weight.
“I was looking for cues of how to translate the design of the EB110 into a modern homage, and what is important to respect or concentrate on. Talking to Benedini, I realized where the very geometric and almost Bauhaus elements come from. Those chamfered elements. Look at the rear end. The geometric almost pill-shaped venting holes, geometric taillights. There is a lot of geometry on this car with an almost less-is-more approach, a nice Bauhaus philosophy. Then I found out that Benedini is a big Bauhaus follower. He owns the brand Agape—they produce bathroom furniture world wide. You see it at Campogalliano, the factory. Then I saw how that transferred to the design because Benedini finished the EB110.“
My writer in 1990 stated that Benedini carried the EB110 through multiple evolutions once he took over from Gandini, and former Lamborghini engineer Paolo Stanzani left the factory. The early designs did not include a horseshoe grille.
“You know the early stages of the EB110, the prototype stages, it looked nothing like a Bugatti. It looked like a Lamborghini. You see how much Benedini put his charm onto that car. Less is more, clean Bauhaus style.
“The rear end of Centodieci started with my desire to close the engine compartment with glass just like the EB110. The engineers said there is no way in the world we can close it because we need that for breathing. I stayed hard-headed, so they said I had to offer them other cooling possibilities and that’s why you have these two big chimneys that the EB110 has as well. That’s why you have the two NACA ducts on the side shoulders of the EB110 and on the roof to pull air into that compartment.
“That’s why you have at the rear end this gaping hole where the taillights are inside, to vent all the hot air. But it is reminiscent of the EB110. The Centodieci taillights are almost like an inverted graphic of the two-dimensional graphic of the EB110. A three-dimensional sculpture. “These kinds of associations allow me to be wholeheartedly honest and say this is how I translate something from an old car to find a reminiscence in the people’s eye, but not a copy one-to-one as a retro car.”