Bugatti Type 35; photo by Wikipedia user Don't Panic!
Bugatti Type 35; photo by Wikipedia user Don’t Panic! and published under Creative Commons License 3.0. Click image to enlarge

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By Bill Vance

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Bugatti Type 35

Although only some 7,500 road-going and competition Bugattis in 50 “Types” were built from 1910 to 1939, and a few after the Second World War, the Bugattis that brought the greatest competition fame were the 1924 to 1930 Type 35s.

Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan, Italy, in 1881. His cabinet maker and silversmith father passed his artistic genes to Ettore and brother Rembrandt. Ettore studied architecture and art, but recognizing Rembrandt’s greater artistic talent – it wasn’t Ettore’s nature to be second best – switched to engineering, although always with an artistic flair.

By his late teens Bugatti was employed by Milanese motor vehicle firm Prinitti and Stucchi. His genius quickly emerged when he designed a car that won a gold medal at the 1901 International Sports Exhibition in Milan.

1927 Bugatti Type 35B; photo by Bill Vance
1927 Bugatti Type 35B; photo by Bill Vance. Click image to enlarge

Prinitti and Stucchi soon left cars so Bugatti moved to De Dietrich in the Alsace region of Germany where the De Dietrich-Bugattis he designed earned Bugatti a solid engineering reputation.

When the De Dietrich company abandoned automobiles, Bugatti enhanced his stature with several automotive firms over the next few years. By 1910 his strong reputation attracted the financing to form his own car company in an abandoned dye works in Molsheim, district of Alsace-Lorraine, Germany, now Bas Rhin, France.

Bugatti, his faithful master mechanic Ernest Friderich and small staff produced five cars in 1910. Friderich doubled as racing driver for the modest factory, and in 1911 drove one of their little production Bugatti Type 13s to a class win and second overall in the Grand Prix of Le Mans, beaten only by a huge Fiat. It was a watershed, proving that small, nimble, good handling cars could beat the monsters.

Bugatti introduced more Types and scored more victories, but by the early 1920s Bugattis were falling behind such supercharged cars as Sunbeams and Fiats. That changed with the Type 35, although there were some preliminary steps before it reached full potential.

Bugatti Type 35C race car; photo by Christian Kath
Bugatti Type 35C race car; photo by Christian Kath and published under Creative Commons License 3.0. Click image to enlarge

Ettore Bugatti initially opposed supercharging but came to it reluctantly when forced by the competition. The first Type 35 of 1924 had a naturally aspirated, 2.0-litre, single overhead cam straight eight. It had good potential, but competing unblown through 1924 and ’25, it could not match its supercharged rivals.

For 1926 the Grand Prix formula was changed to 1.5 litres. Bugatti responded with the Type 39A with a supercharged derivative of the Type 35 straight-eight reduced to 1,496 cc.

The Type 39A was quite successful in GP racing during 1926. There was also a 2.2-litre non-supercharged version, the Type 35T (Targa), named for its domination of the famous Targa Floria endurance race. Supercharged it became the Type 35TC, and when supercharging was made standard it became the Type 35B which appeared in 1927.

The Type 35s, particularly the 35B, were the culmination of Bugatti’s engineering prowess. As well as masterpieces of technology, they were beautifully integrated pieces of mechanical sculpture. The 35B was low and lean, its narrow hood leading to a small inverted-horseshoe shaped radiator aft of the front axle. Behind the louvered hood was a snug cockpit and short tapered tail carrying the fuel tank. The 35B had everything it needed, but no more.

1926 Bugatti Type 39/35B; photo courtesy of
1926 Bugatti Type 35B; photo courtesy of Click image to enlarge

The 2.3-litre (128 cu in.) single overhead cam straight eight had a bore and stroke of 60 X 100 mm, but in spite of this long stroke it would rev to 6,000 rpm, although 5,000 was safer. The small bore restricted valve size. With two small intake valves and one large exhaust valve per cylinder the 35B was not known for outstanding volumetric efficiency. The crankshaft ran in five ball and roller bearings. The cylinder head and block were a one piece casting, and the engine’s clean, rectangular shape, engine-turned finish and finned supercharger was an aesthetic triumph.

The frame was tapered toward both ends, suspended by quarter-elliptic springs all around. Cast aluminum alloy wheels were integral with the huge brake drums.

Although giving away some horsepower to the competition, excellent road holding, reliability, braking and power enabled Bugattis to vanquish most larger cars. Driven by factory drivers and private owners Type 35s won some 1,850 races, more than any other marque. Production of Type 35s ended in 1930, and Bugatti would not again dominate racing as it had in the 1920s.

Ettore Bugatti died in 1947. The Bugatti name is now owned by Volkswagen which is maintaining the mystique with the Bugatti Veyron, an exotic 1,001-horsepower, 16-cylinder supercar.

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