I was very interested to read James Beckett’s profile last month on the Martini F3 car, if for no other reason than the Martini marque is one that I have long heard of, yet knew nearly nothing about. One of my many naïve assumptions (that James was able to dispel) was my incorrect belief that Martini was an Italian marque, when in fact it is decidedly French. It is funny how we will often come to snap judgments based on what we think we know of a name’s origins, rather than the true history. For instance, many were quick to assume Dario Franchitti was Italian, until they heard his rich Scottish brogue (his parents are, in fact, from Italy). The same is true for a surprising number of racing icons where, because their cars are so iconically associated with a particular country, it has been assumed that they too are from that country.
A good case in point is Italian Ettore Arco Isidoro Bugatti. Born to a wealthy family of artisans in Milan, in 1881, Bugatti showed a penchant for things mechanical at a very young age. By the time Ettore was 16, he was working as an apprentice at the Prinetti & Stucchi bicycle factory in Milan. Bugatti soon began to experiment with a Stucchi tricycle, equipped with a single-cylinder De Dion engine, and it wasn’t long before he developed variations with two, three and even four engines. By the time he was 19, Bugatti had built his own vehicle, the Type 2, which featured a 4-cylinder OHV engine and chain-driven, 4-speed transmission. So impressed was Baron De Dietrich, of the De Dietrich car company, that he hired young Bugatti to come design automobiles for him, at his factory in Alsace-Lorraine, formerly French territory, but at the time an annexed region of Germany. Bugatti would work for De Dietrich for only five years (De Dietrich decided to discontinue the manufacture of cars and instead focus on railroad and other industries) but by that time, Bugatti had fallen in love with the region and the people and so eventually forged his own car manufacturing business in Molsheim. Over the following years—and in fact, all the decades to come—the name Bugatti, and by association the man himself, would come to be thought of as quintessentially French…despite the fact that he was an Italian, building cars in a German-occupied territory!
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