Simply the Best – Bugatti Type 35

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Bugatti Type 35 cockpitGiven the choice of any automobile ever produced, irrelevant of budget my dream machine is the Type 35. This desire stems from the first time I viewed one up close and in full flow. It was a 35B and unlike any other car I feel this Bugatti is more than just an automobile, it’s a living-breathing sculpture that excels, even today. Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan in 1881 and grew up within an artistic household but during his teens he realised a passion for the mechanical, then began racing motorcycles in Northern Italy at 18.

Making History
His rise to becoming the greatest (in my opinion) builder of racing cars is well documented but it is worth mentioning that by winning a medal at the 1901 Milan Exhibition for his first car design, he attracted the attention of Baron de Dietrich. The Baron was an industrialist who became an automotive pioneer in 1896 and realising the talents of young Bugatti, acquired the design. It was 1904 and the team began works in Strasbourg, a place that would become Bugatti’s home for many years. In 1906 Ettore joined Deutz near Cologne where the first examples of the Italians brilliant engine designs were formulated. It is said Bugatti used his spare time to build his own machine in the cellar of his home and by 1910 he went on his own; a disused dye works at Molsheim just outside Strasbourg is where the legend started. His first offering was a 1327cc four-cylinder engine installed in various chassis lengths known as the Type’s 13, 15 and 17.

Bugatti Type 35 engineThey were expensive for their day but sold well and proved very competitive in early speed events. It all changed in 1913 with the Type 18 model, boasting over 5 litres. The first chassis was purchased by famous French aviator and keen tennis player Roland Garros, the man credited with victory in the world’s first air battle in 1914. Garros did not see Armistice Day as he was killed just one month before; his Bugatti went on to be owned by Sunbeam designer Louis Coatalen and later received the name ‘Black Bess’ after Dick Turpin’s horse by custodian and lady racer Ivy Cummings. German occupation meant Ettore spent WW1 in Paris working on Aero engines but his post-war return to a largely undamaged Molsheim resulted in the Type 13 racers. The first 16 valve engine had arrived and five examples of the racing Type 13 took class wins at Le Mans in 1920 and at Brescia in 1921 from where the car received its name. In 1922, the first eight cylinder Bugatti arrived as the Type 30, the basis for the 35 that soon followed; the difference, a five roller bearing crank with improved lubrication enhanced the 3 valves per cylinder and SOHC. The perfect body shape installed around an all new chassis with stunning alloy wheels housing highly efficient in-built brakes. The 1924 model Type 35 was a thoroughbred or ‘pur sang’, a pure blooded beauty that would dominate across the globe for years.

Primetime - Type 35 Years
Bugatti Type 35The first of this new breed featured in the Grand Prix of Lyon in August 1924; they failed to achieve higher than 7th and 8th places but it would be the following year the Type 35 would sweep away all before it. Rule changes in Grand Prix racing required Bugatti to change the engine configuration several times during the twenties. Initially, the twin Solex carbs were paired with an un-supercharged eight of two litres; Bartolomeo Costantini would win the Targa Florio with one in 1925 and then again a year later with a 35T. Bugatti would dominate the Sicilian endurance event for five years, finally toppled by Achille Varzi in the mighty Alfa P2 in 1930. Bugatti were also Grand Prix Champions in 1926 with their Type 39, a 1.5 litre version of the 35 enabling the marque to comply with rule changes. Variants continued with a budget version, the 35A of 1.5 litres before a return to the larger engines in 1927; the 35C with Roots compressor and 2.0 litre engine. The 35T was un-supercharged with a 2.3 version of the traditional eight cylinders and finally the Type 35B offering 138bhp from its supercharged 2.3 litres. William Grover-Williams competed in a British Racing Green 35B taking victories at Le Mans and the glamourous Monaco circuit beating the much fancied 7.0 litre supercharged Mercedes SSK of Rudolf Caracciola. To put the achievements of the Type 35 into context, the final version offered 130-140mph performance at a time when you could still purchase a Model T Ford. The Type 35 secured over 1000 race wins, that equated to 14 wins per weekend during their prime years plus numerous hill climbs and local events. Sir Malcolm Campbell took delivery of his first Type 35 at his Brooklands workshops, promptly painted ‘2’ on the side and entered the 50 mile Surbiton Motor Club handicap. He won easily and took the 2.0 litre class record with an average of 108mph. The flair of Bugatti also attracted lady racers to the marque, including Elizabeth Junek and the unforgettable Helene Nice (the Bugatti Queen). The Type 35 offered style, grace and engineering excellence with a race winning opportunity to those skilled enough to handle the performance. No driver ever claimed the 35 was easy to drive but once mastered, as French driver Rene Dreyfus stated ‘You could place the car wherever you wanted’. He should know, entering a privateer Type 35B at Monaco in 1930, from his start on the fourth row of the grid, Dreyfus won by 23 seconds; the top six finishers including works versions were all Bugatti Type 35’s.

The Impossible Dream
BugattiCertainly, I could never afford such an icon of motoring history, with original, period examples demanding around £1m dependant on history. Argentinian company Pur Sang have been recreating the legend for the last two decades, they are as close to the original design as possible. All hand built with incredible authenticity to exacting standards they offer mere mortals a doorway into the world of Bugatti, unfortunately also demand a windfall for most folk, as a used example will require £200k. Therefore, being I am unlikely to collect a lottery win, the next best thing is to find a kind soul willing to allow me time with theirs. I have struck gold a couple of times and can confirm that whilst positioned behind the large steering wheel admiring the beautiful gauges, it is cramped and hot, you can fry eggs on the transmission tunnel. Your ears ring for days after and the motor is not averse to throwing dirty fluid and fumes in your face…

Oh, and it gave me some of my finest moments ever, with or without clothes on!

Grant Ford for