Ettore Bugatti was an Italian artist who began in sculpture and ended
making the ultimate automobile of the '20s and '30s. His cars
thorobreds (Bugatti was a horseman and all his cars had the trademark
shaped radiators), pur sang, as he put it. They dominated
the Gran Prix of his era, and it wasn't until the late '60s that
had finally won as many GP races as Bugatti had Ettore's son Jean not been killed in a testing accident, swerving to
avoiding a drunken postman on a bicycle, had not WWII intervened on the
European continent, Ferrari might still be in 2nd place....
Bugatti's cars weren't the fastest or the most powerful, but they had a
blend of handling, exceptional brakes and quite enough power.
were also very good-looking. Here's one of his all-up GP race cars restored and in full cry, with Bugatti's signature ripping canvas exhaust note....
My father was always looking for things we could do at home (since
mother Molly had polio when I was a year old and didn't 'travel' well;
access for the disabled was lousy in those days) and had incredible
and instincts. In the late 50's, he got interested in cars and
some very interesting machinery relatively inexpensively.
The Type 49
a Type 49 Bugatti built in '32, which we got in the late '50s.
was a drophead coupe, a straight 8 with single overhead cam, double
(wiring). On the right, Dad is rounding a bend in a hill climb at
French Lick, Indiana in the fall of 1959 with my older brother Bill in
the passenger seat..
Wonderful Marchal headlights: they must have drawn 25 amp, and it
like driving a lighthouse down the road. Laughable aiming (On
honking nut held them on and they could only be pivoted left and right): when someone came at you, you flipped on the
beams, which went into the trees. The wheels were another
engineering feat of Bugatti's: a cast iron drum cast into an aluminum
wheel. Yes, you can see aluminum fin brake drums from the 60's,
in '32? Another charming feature of these cars were the fitted
floorboards. When you wanted to work on anything below them, they
and were removable: you didn't need a "creeper", you just removed the
(one wingnut apiece), rolled up the carpet, removed the floorboards,
there you were.
The Type 40
Lordy, what a lovely car. It was one
of two body prototypes for the 57SC (see below).
This one was made for Jean Bugatti. As the legend goes, a drunken
postman on the bicycle got onto the test track when Jean was testing a
Gran Prix car. Jean swerved to avoid him, hit a tree and was
This car went up on blocks at the works. We bought it, ex works
$2250 in 12/60, changed the spark plug wires....and nothing else;
it just worked. Of course, I was 13 and had to wait 3 years to
it. It had no vices. It always started, was completely
and would do the most delightful slalom drifting turns with opposite
steering....though the first time it happened was an utter surprise and
delight!. 19" wire wheels, with real knock-off hubs (it was my
great delight to track down a real brass hammer for them). Grey
red leather. Oh, and the license plate: plexiglas letters on a
field with the light bulb behind them...a lovely touch. A
straight four with a single overhead cam, and the engine has the rare pur
sang scraped finish that usually only went on the works GP
For anyone that wants it, here is a 2000x1350 .bmp file of
the above image to use as wallpaper background on your computer
monitor. Fell free to pass it on, but do not sell it; all rights
reserved and I (Stewart Dean) would appreciate attribution. Copyright
Notice that, with the hood up, you could get between the firewall and
real easy to work on. Also that, as in the real
race machines of that age, the tach gets pride of place in front of the driver....the
is over to the side!
These images were done with a 5x7 view camera using Plus-X; these
scanned from contact prints. The background is the old Speed
in Louisville, KY. They were a fast pass I did for Dad in the
when he sold the T40 (from the then princely sum of
Here are two shots of Dad in the T40; one done with the view camera and
a much earlier 35mm shot from 1967 with him at speed with the
My old Anglia 130 from college days is in the background....what a
engine and gearbox it had. If Ford had pushed them in the US, the
VW Beetle woud've never had a chance!
If you've seen the Harry Potter movies, it was the flying car in them!
Funny, the first manual shift cars I ever drove were these right-hand
crash-box Bugattis. Thirty-seven years later, I'm still
my down shifts (a properly 'hit' double clutch down shift has a lot of
the qualities of a home run hit: pure connection) and driving for first
time in England last spring was, of course, quite familiar. Both
these cars also had the Italian floor pedal arrangment:
and the T49 H shift was mirror image flipped so that 1st was on the
towards the driver and the dashboard.
Though I never thought much about it, my father let me work on these
cars! That, of course, was part of why he'd gotten them:
the experience, to suck his sons into machinery. He didn't buy
for possession, rather for another facet of a Renaissance-man
of life. So I adjusted the brakes on the T49; they'd been
but when I finished they worked. Ettore had this
Rube Goldberg lash up that made cable brakes work as well as
If you ever see a Bugatti, see if you can get the owner to show you the
side-to-side brake balancing yoke; it is a piece of engineering art.
...and here am I in the early 70's...I had set up my 5x7 view camera
(on tripod and all, an old time camera) to take the picture of Dad above...whereupon he turned the tables on
me, and said, 'You get in the care, and I'll take the pictures!
There I am, young, thin, plenty of hair, the world ahead of me...and wearing pince-nez, which I'd asked Dad for as a high-school grad present.
The Type 40 Now
...lives in Switzerland in loving hands, is in use (not just a trailer queen) and looks like this:
French for pure blood, what Ettore said of what he sought in his work
More writings on the Bugattis and cars...
“I’m still trying to pick my jaw up of the floor. You learned how to drive/wrench in/on Jean Bugatti’s personal T40?! Simply incredible.”
Yes. My father was a eye surgeon, a fierce loving, deeply
devoted husband to my mother (who had been almost completely paralyzed
by polio a year after my birth), an all around tool and knowledge freak
and Renaissance man. He had this incredible gift for finding,
learning and coming to know quality in art, work and life. He
painted/sculpted passably, he cooked well, made sourdough bread (“You
knead the dough until it is the consistency of a soft but firm young breast”) and
gardened *very* well with a greenhouse we built with him full of his
camellias. He wanted and was always on the lookout for something
we could do close to home (in the days before handicap access and
parking). One was something to learn my brother and I about
machines: old cars. Funny: recall that then (1960 or so) these cars
were 30 years old: like a 1980 Chevy now. Anyway, no one much then knew or much cared
about old cars, certainly not in Kentucky. We got the T49 from De Dobbeleer of Brussels in 1959 and T40 from
Loyens, of Luxemburg and the Netherlands in 1960. He had it ex-works from Molsheim. Bugattis in France
itself are National Treasures not allowed sold out of the country.
My father knew what the Bugattis were: a priceless, pure-bred of
highest standard...but few other did then. Another time, another
My father experienced the hell out of the Bugattis, gave my brother and
I a priceless experience...and then gracefully surrendered them when
his life didn't allow him to give them their due. He was then 62
or so, eight years younger than I am as I write this. A man of parts.
And…while this was Jean’s car, it was also a plaything, like an Austin
Healey Sprite of incomparable class. Jean’s real cars were the
bigger, more powerful GP racers and roadster Type 54 and 57S.
This Type 40 was a bagatelle for a summer’s picnic in the country
"I had come into the turn way too fast. The tires broke free.
“Oh God, no, I am going to crash this lovely little bus.” And then I
found myself in a perfectly controllable four-wheel slide, drifting
through the turn at 45mph, glee in my heart. It was probably 1964, and I
was driving my father’s pride and joy, a type 40 Bugatti. But not one
of the stogy little sedans. This was one of two subscale body prototypes
for the ultimate Bugatti, the Type 57S Atlantique
Here are pictures of representative Type 57SC
the Type 40 was the concept prototype for:
These images are copyright of Paradise Garage, London, England, who
have this car for sale at 300,000 pounds sterling;
I requested use of this images.
The apotheosis of this body design was the Aéro Coupé Antlantique
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