Born Gianoberto Maria Carlo Bugatti in Cologne, Germany, he was the eldest son of Ettore Bugatti. Shortly after his birth the family moved to the village of Dorlisheim near Molsheim in Alsace where his father built the new Bugatti automobile manufacturing plant. Born into a family of brilliantly creative people, from boyhood he was interested in his father's business. His grandfather Carlo Bugatti had lived in France for several years when he moved from his native Milan to live in Paris. His father's factory had clients in France and had done work for the Peugeot company. As such, the Bugatti family were multilingual and in France, Gianoberto became known as Jean.
During World War I, the family lived in Milan, Italy. Following the retaking of Alsace by France at the end of the war the company came under French jurisdiction. By the late 1920s, young Jean Bugatti was an integral part of the company and had already demonstrated his vehicle design abilities. In 1932, at the age of twenty-three, he did most of the design for the company's Type 41 Royale. His body designs complimented his father's engineering genius, making Bugatti one of the greatest names in automobile manufacturing. In addition, Jean Bugatti designed three bodies for the Type 57, the Ventoux, Stelvio, and Atalante models. Regarded as the finest of all touring Bugatti models, the supercharged vehicle was launched at the 1936 Paris Salon. Jean Bugatti also showed his engineering skills by working on new independent suspension systems to replace solid front axles and twin-cam engine applications.
A hands-on designer, he frequently tested the company's prototypes. On August 11, 1939, while testing the Type 57 tank-bodied racer which had just won at Le Mans, not far from the factory on the highway near the village of Duppigheim, 30-year-old Jean Bugatti was killed when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a tree. He is interred in the Bugatti family plot at the municipal cemetery in Dorlisheim. There is a monument to him at the site of his accident.