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Of course there are cars that compete with the Bugatti, but the difference between them is that Ettore Bugatti conceived his car works by himself, such as a form of art. From the engine, rotors, brakes, drive train, nuts, bolts, belts, and visual appeal Ettore Bugatti, in his genius, designed them all. Bugatti is the Michelangelo of car production, and even though the newer designs may not be directly credited to Ettore Bugatti(Volkswagen gained copyright permission in 1998) it still remains a great honor to see the Bugatti name continue its productions even today. On the other hand, Bugatti has won more races than any other car company ever has, arguably making Bugatti the most successful car company ever. Not in terms of production volume or number of sales but as far as race winnings, and performance aspects they are number one, including being the first to surpass the 0-60 record made by the Maclaren F1.

To tell the history of Bugatti is to tell the story of one man Ettore Bugatti. This is because as an artist his cars were his art and to tell the history of one's art without proclaiming the artist would be unjust and offensive to history. Bugatti was the son of an artist, and followed in his father's footsteps. Carlo Bugatti (Ettore's Father) worked as a silversmith, woodcarver, lapidary, sculptor, painter and metal engraver. Ettore's brother, Rembrandt became a sculptor of animals, and in turn Ettore Bugatti who was born in Milan in 1881 was sent to the Brera Art Academy after some private school to study formal sculpture. Then at the age of seventeen he realized he would be more successful as an engineer and ended up joining the firm of Prinetti & Stucchi as an apprentice.

Within a year of being hired Bugatti designed and built a three wheeled car that held two engines. It won eight out of ten local races so he entered it in the "Paris to Bordeaux" run and it placed third in the first stage. Thus he returned to Milan psyched with the notion of building cars. He laid out the blueprints of a four-engine vehicle and the firm refused to build it, so he quit.

In 1899 the young man's excited genius was finally recognized and he received financial support by the brothers of Gulinelli. At nineteen years old Bugatti produced his first achievement he could call all his own. This car had a four cylinder overhead valve engine, chain drive, battery ignition, and a four speed gearbox. Such an accomplishment by one individual, showed true genius and from then on he had no trouble getting grants for his developments. His car created excitement all over Europe and he received countless offers, moving from contract to contract and experimenting as much as possible, even building a car in the cellar of his house, finally developing a concept car that was extremely unique for its time.

Meanwhile, Bugatti was in hunting for a place to setup a factory that would be his own. In 1909 he found a nice piece of property at Molsheim in Alsace which included a large house and many outbuildings (formerly a dye works). He nested down after continual moving and began his pet project, a small lightweight racing machine. Appearing at the Le Mans in 1911 it looked like a miniature replica standing near it's competing huge racing cars of the era.

There was a Dietrich, an Excelsior, a Fiat, Rolland-Pilains and a huge Cottin & Desgouttes, and standing next to them all was this tiny, all white Bugatti with four cylinders of burl. What a hilarious site to the spectators, on a 100+ degree day, the riding mechanic cradled the spare tire in his arms because there was no room to place it anywhere else. Huge two ton vehicles began cruising around the track, as Bugatti's driver, Ernest Friderich swiftly maneuvered the tiny 660 pound infant into 2nd place behind Fiat. Proving that Bugatti knew more about car design than many of his older competing designers production orders rocketed and so the factory grew.

War was coming in 1914 and Ettore Bugatti gathered his family and fled to Italy, but not before burying three race cars under the cellar of his home. He proceeded to Paris and started designing again. The french government needed aircraft engines and Bugatti, just like Rolls Royce and Mercedes turned his talents in that direction. Building a strait-eight cylinder engine, then a double-eight with two crankshafts geared to the propeller, which allowed a machine gun to fire through the hub his designs were sought by not just the French. The single-eight was taken to America and produced in Elizabeth, New Jersey at a construction rate of over twenty per day. The longevity of these engines proved very efficient in American airplanes. Being managed by the Duesenberg brothers in the U.S. this allied construction between France and the Untied States led to an interesting development. Within six months after the war, a group of cars appeared in Indianapolis that hosted the first straight-eight engines of their type. The Duesenberg brothers had "borrowed" ideas from Bugatti, and although nobody claims they were copies of the Bugatti, there is no denial that they were directly impacted by Ettore Bugatti. In my opinion this would signify that without Ettore Bugatti the era of muscle cars may have never come about.

After the period of the war, Bugatti returned to Molsheim, extracted his three buried racing cars and resumed production at his plant. In 1923 he produced a tank resembling vehicle that did not sport his famous horse-shoe-shaped radiator shell. This new vehicle had two very important innovations, aluminum wheels with integral aluminum brake drums and then a front axle that was hollow in the center but solid at the steering pivot where straight is needed.

Remaining in Molsheim until World War II, Bugatti treaded into the grounds of famous, but not only for cars. He lived like a baron of the Middle Ages and was called Le Patron by everyone. The estate contained tons of buildings, all of which included polished oaken doors and bronze locks that allowed a single, master key. One building became a carriage museum and another a sculpture museum. There was a harness shed, a housing stable of thoroughbreds, a riding school, a kennel with prize wire haired terriers, pigeons, rare fowl, a field of cattle and even a private distillery for alcohol production.

Near all of those buildings, there was of coarse a group of structures with the polished doors and bronze locks, consisting of immaculately clean pattern shops, body shops, the most advanced machine tools, a foundry and of coarse a large drafting room where Le Patron's drawings and blueprints were made. Strengthening the feudal character of the establishment, many of the workmen lived on the estate.

Bugatti designed and ran everything. He designed an electric power station. He was the architect of all his buildings. He avidly supervised construction, and in short he was a benevolent dictator. The most publicly adored glory of the estate was the Hotel du Pur Sang. Here a customer, whether waiting for a new car or repairs on an older vehicle could spend a couple days in luxurious comfort which was provided and supervised by the Bugatti family. During the day he could go horseback riding with Ettore Bugatti himself, or even watch the machinists construct the precision parts for the Bugatti cars.

Bugatti loved his life at Molsheim and kept the car designs flowing, while his son Jean ended up taking over the racing management department. To distinguish the racing history Bugatti, just one simple fact needs to be clarified, and that is that Bugatti has won more races than any other car ever made. Standing true even though racing Bugatti's haven't been produced since the 1940's. The sky-blue cars of sleek beauty almost completely dominated the race tracks of the world from 1925 until 1938. With their brute speed and extreme cornering abilities in 1925 and 1926 they won over 1000 races.

Although Bugatti was known for his racing cars, he always produced a road production model. Whether they were convertibles, coupes, or sedans they each kept the rakish lines that suggested speed. The Type 57 passenger version which was built in the 1930's can still do over 130 miles per hour.

The largest car in the world (at the time), produced in 1929 it remains one of the largest even by today's standards. It appeared as long as a freight car, and cost $30,000 if you don't include the body. The body would be custom built according to the customer, at variably another $10,000. This massive, beast had an eight cylinder engine and had a displacement three times larger than a modern Cadillac. This was right around the depression and only a few were built, however many of the engines found their way into boats and gas powered trains.

When WWII approached, Bugatti moved to Paris. He continued designing and hundreds of ideas flowed from his drawing board, which were all files for future development. His apartment became a rendezvous point for the French Resistance movement during the German dictatorship. With many of his former employees serving in underground units, his most exciting exploit ended up being performed by Robert Benoist, now an ex-Bugatti race car driver his success can also be credited to the Type 57-5 Bugatti.

Benoist was driving the 57-5 near the Le Bourget airport on the way to a meeting of his underground unit. Because of fleeing Parisians the traffic was moving at a slow crawl when suddenly a German patrol arrived. The road was cleared and a Panzer division exploded by on its way to Paris. The 57-5 was instantly spotted, being recognized by a German officer who recognized Benoist as a resistance leader. He was instantly placed under arrest and positioned in a heavily armed motorcycle convoy that moved slowly to the southwest, stopping only to destroy French obstructions and resistance. Benoist was allowed to drive the Bugatti, which they kept well fueled. The morning of the second day came around and the convoy was briefly slowed because of a roadblock ahead, and Benoist recognized his chance and a side road which lay only a short distance ahead. With his race driver precision he dropped the 57-5 into first gear and stomped his foot on the gas pedal. Shooting forward Benoist made it to the side road, and ripped the car around the corner. Rocketing the car well over 100 mph, by the time motorcycles gave chase he was out of sight!

With the war ending Bugatti tried to resume his work, but had fallen to weakness due to the strain of the occupation and the tragic deaths of his friends, and family members. In August of 1947 Ettore Bugatti, a fiercely individual car designer, passed away.

The charm of the Bugatti isn't just it's rough riding and extremely burly sounding features, but the fact is no two Bugatti's were ever made exactly alike, so replacement parts have to be specially made each time they are needed. Since the cars were often setup to run on racing fuels, owners today need to de-tune them to perform highway operation and still their owners love them and remain full of passion. This is because from their stripped racing Bug to their sexy road cars these machines have a pure-bred, Ettore-only body design and a mechanical precession that is almost unbelievable, remaining almost impossible to match. Responsive as can be, even a model dating back to the mid-1930's can outrun and outlast the majority of the cars of today.

Until 1998 production was not permitted whatsoever, because Bugatti's heirs would not permit the production of any vehicle that was not designed by Ettore Bugatti there was only the Bugatti Owners' Club to represent the continued existence of the Bugatti name. With a private estate and personal race coarse, the club remains in contact with worldwide Bugatti owners. They even publish a book listing the whereabouts of each car and its history. Each car is treasured as a museum piece, but almost every single one remains in running condition.

With strong concern and regard for Ettore Bugatti VolksWagen purchased the trademark rights from the Bugatti family and has went ahead and "re-birthed" the highest performance standards to date. I think they've done a worthy job in preserving Ettore's name by truly creating the most unique types of cars produced today, that also can provide unique performance that arguably exceeds all other current productions. As of 2003 the Bugatti Veryon 16.4 is manufactured back in Molsheim, at the site of Chateau St. Jean, which has became the virtual center of the original manufacturing plant. This "study" holds true to the Bugatti's name and strongly preserves the history of Bugatti. I will be looking forward to all of their future productions, and am glad to see Ettore Bugatti's name hasn't been sold out, but extended to continue into new history.
 
 

 

 

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