The most iconic cars from the French marque
The first marque to view the automobile as art, Bugatti has created an unmatched portfolio of brilliant brushstrokes since its inception in 1909. From hand-hewn, horse-drawn carriages to the world’s fastest production car, elegance in design and execution has been de rigueur over the decades.
“Bugatti may be the world’s greatest automaker. In the 1920s and 30s it certainly was. No other company could match the marque’s combination of engineering brilliance and beauty," says Peter Mullin, renowned collector and founder of the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California. “The way that founder Ettore Bugatti and later his son Jean set the car’s proportions are still strikingly beautiful today, perhaps even more so than in their own time."
Here is a retrospective of Bugatti throughout its 107-year history; a look at vehicles imbued with the French brand’s je ne sais quoi and crafted from Ettore’s philosophy that “nothing is too beautiful, nothing is too expensive."
Bugatti Type 2
Though technically not the first car from the marque, the Bugatti Type 2 was the first four-wheeled automobile built by Ettore Bugatti. Exposed to early-motorised mobility during an apprenticeship with bicycle builders Prinetti & Stucchi, Bugatti developed the vehicle with monetary support from one Count Gulinelli. Fit with a 3.1-liter inline-4 engine, the Type 2 could travel a ferocious 360 kph.
Displayed at an exhibition in 1901, the car was awarded by the Automobile Club de France (ACF) and garnered the then 20-year-old Bugatti marque a contract with the De Dietrich motor works in Alsace, France – where he was put in charge of production by the next year.
Bugatti Type 13 Brescia
Named for its four-car sweep at the finish of the 1921 Brescia Grand Prix in Italy, the Bugatti Type 13 Brescia was introduced in 1914 as a racing variant of one of the first cars Bugatti created back in 1910. The Brescia delivered Bugatti its first major victory when the roadster rocketed to first place at the 1920 Grand Prix de la Sarthe in Le Mans.
The Spartan speedster packed a 4-cylinder, 16-valve overhead cam engine pumping out 30 hp and delivering a top speed of 125 kph. A total of 2,005 examples were created through 1926, including touring versions. It also served as the primary template for model types 15, 17, 22, and 23.
Bugatti Type 32
Touted as “the tank" by media, the Bugatti Type 32 lacked the marque’s mainstay aesthetic appeal – ironic considering it pioneered the role of aerodynamic design in race car development. Built in 1923, the model boasted an 80 hp, 4-cylinder straight-8 engine paired with a 3-speed transmission. The power train was housed within a body bearing a cross section in the shape of a wing.
Capable of reaching about 185 kph, the unique competitor was entered in only one event, the 1923 French Grand Prix. But while the early concepts of airflow efficiency were recognised, application proved problematic as the car generated more uplift than downforce, and its short wheelbase added to the instability. Despite these drawbacks, the Type 32 averaged almost 114 kph for the almost 800km race and placed third overall. Only five examples ever existed.
Bugatti Type 35
The most dominant race car of its day, the Bugatti Type 35 is a true hallmark of the marque. Debuted at the Grand Prix Lyon in 1924, the model would either win, place, or show in over 2,000 races through nearly a decade of competition, including the Grand Prix World Championship in 1926 and five consecutive victories at the Targa Florio.
Within the teardrop-shaped body beat a 2-liter overhead cam straight-8 engine that produced 90 hp and a top speed of 145 kph. Drum brakes activated by cable slowed down the action as needed. The car also benefited by being among the first to roll on alloy wheels rather than steel. A favourite of privateer racers, only 96 examples of the road-and-track rarity were realized, but its mark on motorsport was indelible.
Bugatti Type 41 Royale
Designed to be the marque’s ultimate manifestation of luxury and performance, the Type 41 Royale was Ettore Bugatti’s vision of what royalty should ride in. Produced from 1926 to 1933, it was the most expensive car in the world at the time, and one of the largest to this day.
The automotive mammoth (fittingly fashioned with a replica of Rembrandt Bugatti’s rearing-elephant sculpture on the radiator cap) carried a colossal 12.7-liter straight-8 engine that roared out an unheard-of 300 hp and enabled a top speed of 201 kph. With such a power train, it’s no surprise that a prototype finished first in the 1927 German Grand Prix at Nürburgring.
Unfortunately, it just preceded the Great Depression, and even monarchs were tight with their money. Of the six examples manufactured, only three were ever sold. One potential buyer, King Zog of Albania, was reported to have been refused the opportunity based solely on the fact that Ettore found his table manners egregious.
1930 Bugatti Carriage
In the immortal words of comedy troupe Monty Python: “And now for something completely different." Ettore Bugatti’s passion for horsepower was literal; as an avid equestrian, he had the factory at Molsheim build several carts and carriages. Pulled by the steeds in Bugatti’s stable, including his preferred pur sang (thoroughbred) named Brouillard, these conveyances ranged from minimal to majestic.
“The horse-drawn carriage, or fiacre, was a theme prevalent in Bugatti’s coachwork," says Mullin. “This particular example from 1930 is rare, as it was personally designed and used by Ettore himself." Remaining with the Bugatti family until 1977, this carriage was acquired by Mullin from the Museum of Provence in 2008.
Bugatti Type 50 Superprofilée
An even tonier tourer than its already impressive predecessors, the Bugatti Type 50 Superprofilée was an enhanced version of the 46 model, but with a redesigned power train. Under the hood hid a 5-liter straight-8 engine that Bugatti equipped for the first time with two overhead camshafts and two diagonal valves. Bullish with 225 hp, the rear-wheel-drive car was capable of cruising up to a reported 177 kph and could accelerate from zero to 100 kph in about 8 seconds with the assistance of its manual 3-speed gearbox.
Common to the coupe was a landaulet roof for the option of open-air motoring and an innovatively angled windscreen integrated seamlessly into the profile. Apart from the advanced engine, the Type 50 was memorable because it was one of the early models designed by Jean Bugatti, Ettore’s son. Built from 1930 to 1933, a total of 65 examples made up the line.
Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport
A beauty designed by Jean Bugatti, the Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport is an opulent open-top born from one of the marque’s Grand Prix entries. Underneath elegant coachwork (built around the chassis of the Type 47), the roadster was given the same engine as the Type 51 – a 2.3-liter, double-overhead cam straight-8 capable of 130 hp.
The Super Sport was fit with a newly designed housing for the 4-speed gearbox that, when paired with the rest of the power train, propelled the sportster up to 180 kph. Production of the line ran from 1931 to 1935 with 38 examples built.
Bugatti Type 57
Da Vinci had his Mona Lisa, Beethoven his Fifth Symphony, and Bugatti created the Type 57 – a seminal work that became synonymous with the marque’s automotive artistry and among the most-famous models in history. Designed by Jean Bugatti and produced from 1934 to 1940, five versions were offered -Ventoux, Stelvio, Galibier, Aravis, and Atalante. Of the line, the Atalante (named after the Greek mythology huntress who was known for her speed) was a striking standout, and it reportedly was able to reach a top speed of 209 kph – extremely fast for the era.
Bugatti Type 101
After Ettore Bugatti passed away from pneumonia in 1947, the final production model built before the marque’s own last breath was the Bugatti Type 101. Introduced in 1951, the 135 hp grand tourer was given the same chassis and 3.3-liter engine as the Type 57 and topped out at 135 kph. For the eight examples originally made (a combination of 2-door and 4-door versions), bodywork was commissioned from three different coachbuilders.
After the Molsheim factory closed in 1956, one more Type 101 was built by Carrozzeria Ghia in 1965 (using the final chassis) and displayed at the Turin Motor Show. Other than the prototype 251 (of which three were made for Grand Prix competition in 1955), the Type 101 would be the last to bear the brand name for another four decades.
Passing away from the automotive world in 1956, the Bugatti marque would be resurrected over three decades later as Bugatti Automobili by Italian collector and investor Romano Artioli. Under Artioli’s auspices, Bugatti made one vehicle, the EB 110 supercar.
Bearing the initials of the automaker’s original founder and debuted on what would have been his 110th birthday, the EB 110 was the first car ever created with a carbon-fibre chassis. Other never-before-seen sundries included permanent four-wheel drive, a 6-speed gearbox, and a 12-cylinder engine bolstered with five valves and four turbochargers. With 560 hp, the vehicle vaulted from zero to 100 kph in 3.2 seconds on its way to a top speed of 350 kph (in the Super Sport version).
Captained by Artioli, the company ran aground again financially in 1995, but not before 139 examples of the EB 110 were produced, including one sold to famed Formula 1 racer Michael Schumacher.
Bugatti Veyron EB16.4
Like the phoenix rising from ashes, Bugatti was born again in 1998 under ownership of Volkswagen AG. In 2005, the marque unleashed a mid-engine monster, the 1,001 hp Veyron. Named after famed racer Pierre Veyron, the car catapults from zero to 100kph in 2.46 seconds and speeds up to 407 kph powered by a 16-cylinder quad-turbocharged engine.
Variants of the vehicle include the convertible Grand Sport and the souped-up Super Sport. The latter set the Guinness World Record for fastest production car in 2013 when it reached 431 kph. Production was discontinued in 2015 after the planned 450 examples were manufactured.
The latest masterwork from the marque, the Bugatti Chiron is the fastest and highest-powered production sports car in history. Named after the fabled Formula 1 racer Louis Chiron, the captivating coupe is already worthy of legend as it carries a cyclonic 1,500 hp (another production first) and a top speed of 420 kph (the Veyron was officially listed at 407 kph).
Unprecedented performance is provided by Bugatti’s innovative new 8-liter W-16 engine (fit with four, two-stage turbochargers) capable of a titanic 1,180 ft lbs of torque. Also part of the power train are a new titanium exhaust system and six catalytic converters with an active surface area that could cover 30 soccer fields. The entire engineering epiphany, tamed by a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox and all-wheel-drive differential, enables Chiron to shoot from zero to 100 kph in under 2.5 seconds.
The car’s cutting-edge construction and aerodynamic design is also a key to its velocity. And the use of carbon fibre is so pervasive in the car’s composition that if the fibres were laid end to end they would traverse the distance between Earth and the moon, nine times. The Chiron is limited to 500 examples.