Bugatti is quite possibly amongst the most illustrious of all exotic car manufacturers. Yes, Ferrari have their elegant racing heritage and yes, Aston Martin has the charm of 007 up their sleeves.
But for many, Bugatti is seen as the most desirable car brand in existence. So Why?
Why is a company owned by VW that only makes 1 car at the moment, so highly praised? Well it’s story time, kids!
So sit back. Because here is the most interesting tale, you’ll hear in a while.
This, is the story of Bugatti.
Ettore Bugatti And The Beginnings
Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan on the 15th September 1881 to a family of artists who had eyes for detail and creativity.
His father (Carlo) was a renowned Art Nouveau furniture and jewellery designer. He was responsible for creating some of the most unusual and yet desirable furniture sets you could buy.
Ettore’s younger brother (Rembrandt) was a famous animal sculptor, alongside his uncle who was an incredibly skilled painter and artist.
Even Ettore’s great grandfather was a sculptor AND a renowned architect!
The First Car Under His Name
Eventually, after Ettore did some work for the Deutz motor firm and Peugeot, Automobiles E. Bugatti was founded in 1909 in the town of Molsheim – which at the time was in Germany.
His first proper car was called the Type 10. It greatly reflected the Bugatti family’s artistic nature.
The body for example, was made entirely from polished aluminium. And under the bonnet was a wash of brass engine parts and coated stainless steel. It was a beautifully made machine.
The steering wheel? Well that was made from only the finest mahogany wood.
Unfortunately however, just before Ettore could progress this and even more cars, a war broke out…
During the first world war, Ettore was sent away from Molsheim (respectively) to Milan, and then later to Paris.
However despite the horror, Mr Bugatti wanted to stay busy. So he designed aeroplane engines whilst he was hiding. He then came up with a rather special ‘U16′ aviators’ engine.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t widely produced and was only installed in very few aeroplanes. Nevertheless it proved to be very powerful and reliable.
Fun fact: between the two world wars, Bugatti even designed a successful motorised rail-car called the ‘Autorail Bugatti’.
And thanks to an approved government contract, he even designed a plane called the ‘Model 100’. Which despite it using two type 50B Bugatti engines, never got a chance to fly because of world war 2.
After the first world war, Ettore Bugatti decided to exhibit 3 new race cars. All of which were closely based on their pre-war equivalents.
There was the Type 13, 22 and 23. All of them used the same double overhead camshaft 4 cylinder engines, which wasn’t so much a worry back then due to the cars extremely light!
Despite the exquisite engineering that went into making those 3 cars, none of them were really that successful.
Even the little Type 13 looked out of place during the 1911 French Grand Prix at Le Mans. But it still managed to rack up second place after a gruelling 7 hours of racing.
This however, was NOTHING compared to what rolled out in 1924! That’s because, on the evening of the Grand Prix of Lyon in August that year, the Type 35 came out to play.
The Type 35 was a big step forward from the old Type 22. It initially housed a 90hp 2.0 litre straight 8 engine. Which was consistently modified throughout it’s life.
Alongside all round drum brakes and alloy wheels, Bugatti’s engineers fitted the front springs through the front axle, rather than the traditional ‘U-Bolt’ setup. This meant that the car was more agile and had better handling.
Between 1925 and 1931 the Type 35 racked up numerous victories from all around the world. Most of which were Grand Prixs piloted by Louis Chiron.
But the car also won the Targa Florio 5 times on the trot! For a car which was barely changed throughout it’s life, that’s seriously impressive.
Of course, I’m not completely broad. The Type 35 did receive some updates throughout it’s life, in order to keep pace.
The Type 37 for instance, used 4 cylinders, instead of 8. This was intentionally to keep the weight down at the front, to reduce under-steer. But despite the lack in power, the more agile car still won victories at the Italian and Australian Grand Prixs!
Then there was the Type 39, which was a 35, except for the engine, which was also a 4 cylinder. Heck, even the Type 35 got upgrades for itself.
The 35B being the best example, got bored to 2.3 litres and received a supercharger. Which meant 138bhp and a wash of success during the 1929 Grand Prix season.
Le Mans Victory 1939
Just before the second world war broke out, Bugatti had one last hurrah on the track. And because of the Silver Arrows, it wasn’t a Grand Prix, it was at Le Mans!
The Type 57C Tank was created by Ettore’s son, Jean Bugatti. And he proved to be a fine artist and engineer because in 1939, this car had blitzed the Le Mans 24 hours.
The two drivers were Jean-Pierre Wimille and Pierre Veyron (familiar name, isn’t it?). Who had managed to complete 248 laps, impressive for the time.
The Tank shared the same 3.3 litre supercharged straight 8 as the Type 57 road car, but had major chassis and suspension tweaks so it could cope on the track.
Jean Bugatti And His Road Cars
Jean was born in the very same year in which Bugatti Automobiles had been established (1909). But despite his young age, he was responsible for creating some of Bugatti’s finest creations.
The Type 41 Royale for instance, was by no mistake the most majestic and expensive car in the world in 1929! It used a 12.8 litre straight 8 with a large-ratio 3 speed manual gearbox.
The elephant mascot on the front grille was copied and inspired by a sculpture by Ettore’s younger brother, Rembrandt. It shows that Bugatti’s cars heart back to family tradition.
Whenever someone buys a Bugatti, what they’re also buying is a piece of art. And no other Bugatti gets as artistic as Jean’s finest creation, the Type 57 range!
A Masterpiece Was Born
There were many variations of the Type 57, and as a result, 710 cars were produced in total. Which has to be one of (if not, THE-) highest average production scale in Bugatti’s history.
The car pictured above is the Van Vooren cabriolet, an extremely rare and stunning machine! It used the same 3.3 litre straight 8 as in any other Type 57, but this here it was supercharged.
Bugatti also ‘spun up’ an ultra rare Atlantic version – of which just 4 were made…
Alongside the Atlante and others, the Type 57 was Bugatti’s flagship supercar during the period.
I mean yes, Mercedes had their SSK and Bentley their Speed Six, but no other car had quite the flowing passion that Bugatti’s cars had. They didn’t have the artistic hands carving the bodywork, or the engines.
Jean Bugatti therefore influenced Bugatti away from the tiny little compact racing cars, and perused to make simply, the most magnificent cars the world had ever seen.
Bugatti’s luck however, was about to change…
Shortly after the success of the 1939 Le Mans race, Jean piloted one of the Type 57 Tanks down the Molsheim-Strasbourg road, giving it the full beans…..probably.
However, just outside the village of Duppigheim, out of nowhere a cyclist pulls out from a gate in front of Jean.
Incidentally, Jean hit the cyclist and lost control, before suddenly crashing into a tree. Jean had lost his life at just 30 years old.
And if that wasn’t enough, the second world war had just broke out…
The war had left the Molsheim factory in complete ruins, and Ettore planned a new one in Levallois. A suburb west of Paris.
During then, the company developed a few Type 73 models (pictured above) but only 5 were ever produced. And development of the racing Type 73 was ceased after Ettore Bugatti had died in August 1947.
Then in 1951, the remaining craftsmen and engineers at Bugatti decided to bring back the Type 57 underpinnings in the form of the Type 101. Which should’ve been excellent.
But the problem was, NONE of the running gear from the Type 57 was changed! So this beautiful looking thing was in fact, from the 1930s…
Strictly speaking, the only thing that was changed, was that the straight 8 engine ran on chains rather than pinions. As a result of it’s hugely expensive asking price, just 8 were ever made.
And because of this downfall, in 1952, Bugatti ceased operations for good.
An attempt was made to resurrect Bugatti in 1955, a Grand Prix car called the Type 251 was made and it too was a complete failure…
Some time in 1987 however, an Italian entrepreneur had bought the Bugatti brand! (now called Bugatti Automobil S.p.A) And immediately decided to build a hardcore, road going mentalist car.
The result was the Bugatti EB110 – it was made in the motor valley of Modena, instead of Molsheim.
But that wasn’t so bad because the company had designed and built their own 3.5 litre quad turbo V12 engine. Which in the super-sports (SS) version, produced 604bhp and gave an impressive a 0-60 time of 3.2 seconds and followed by a top speed of 213mph!
But then the new Italian company had to cease productions due to European and American recessions. Thankfully though, that didn’t necessarily mean the end of Bugatti.
One day in 1998, one of the biggest car makers of them all, decided to buy the rights to Bugatti. Yes, the same brand that brought you the Beetle had invested big. Volkswagen had bought Bugatti.
And after a few impressive prototypes, it wasn’t until 2005 when one of the world’s most spectacular land machines was released. The Veyron!
Named after the Type 57 Tank driver who raced at Le Mans, the Veyron stood for a long time, as the fastest car the world had ever seen. 253mph, 1001hp, and the all famous £1 million price tag.
This car completely changed the rule-books of supercars, it bent the traditions of performance, and it was an engineering masterpiece. How could anything top it?
Well, it seems something has topped the Veyron. It’s called the Chiron!
A Legacy That Lives On
The Chiron then, needs no introduction. It’s quite simply the best car the world has ever seen, from ANY perspective.
It proves that the world’s most artistic car maker can still cut it, in today’s world. If you want a car that nobody else can match in terms of power, speed, engineering, luxury (and most of all, art) then your only option is a Bugatti Chiron.
It’s odd. The Chiron and the Type 57 share so little, yet so much.
Nevertheless, that’s the story of Bugatti. A brand that blends impeccable engineering with glorious artwork!
Hope you enjoyed the article!