My father was always looking for things we could do at home (since my 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 taste and instincts. In the late 50's, he got interested in cars and acquired some very interesting machinery relatively inexpensively.
First came a Type 49 Bugatti built in '32, which we got in the late '50s. This was a drophead coupe, a straight 8 with single overhead cam, double ignition (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.
What's involved in doing a valve job of a Bugatti engine? Ettore once lost a race because of a lousy head gasket. Thereafter, in his autocratic way, he decided that he would eliminate them, to not have a detachable head.....so doing a valve job involves removing the engine, turning it upside down, removing the crankcase and bearing caps, then pulling the crank with everything attached. Finally reaching down the long stroke cylinder bore to grind the valve seats.
My father collected artisans and craftsmen...and so took the engine to the machine shop connected to the district mopar warehouse, where the resident wizard...a gleeful, cheroot smoking hunch-bank, not-quite-a-dwarf, Mr. Litrell, took it in hand with the help of his strong right (and young) arm, Jerry. I saw it all apart and upside down while they were doing the straight 8 SOHC engine from the T49.
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 2009
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! (Double click on these pictures to see them bigger).
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!
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.
Similarly, when we got the Maserati, it wouldn't idle worth a damn. Now
I'm no real mechanic (though a big part of why Dad got it
and the Bugattis was to give not only the experience of
driving but also of wrenching) and after tinkering around
under the hood for a while, I discovered the problem. Those
Webers (initially hidden behind an long air cleaner and
complete with velocity stacks) came at various level of
fitment. Ours were the cheapest level, and the the brass
throttle shafts had worn into the pot metal case so that,
when the thrrottle was released to idle, the butterfly never
closed quite the same way twice, thus the idle couldn't be
set.. These carbs at a higher level were fitted with
ball-bearing races, I discovered from reading Weber docs.
Now there was a casting cup collar where the brass throttle
shafts exited the carb body that was probably machined for
the ball bearing races, but left otherwise unfinished on
these cheaper carbs. I put on my thinking cap (I must have
been 14-15) and realized that an oilite bearing could be
machined to fit in those caps. My father, ever encouraging
in this sort of thing (and many others...he paid for me to
learn to fly) sent me to a machine shop he knew, I had them
made and the fix worked perfectly.
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.
When I was a freshman at Amherst, we all had a composition course
where we had to write and write and write. I wanted to write
(stream of consciousness stuff) about the Bugattis, about what it
is like to have a real, pure-blooded class automobile in
your hands...and the professor, a neurasthenic Jewish (I'm jewish
enough I can say this) hyper Eastern intellectual wanted us to
write, I dunno, maybe J.D Salinger stuff. He Could Not Stand me
wanting to write about cars. It was Trade School Stuff. What an
idiot, what an uttter lack of imagination...to demand a particular
kind of imagination and completely miss the validity of an utterly
different sort . Cars can defintely have character or even a sort
of soul...and reflect the mind and spirits of their creators.
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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© COPYRIGHT 2002, 2016 Stewart Dean. All of my web pages, photographs and images included, are copyrighted material! You may NOT copy or use the text, photographs or images without my express permission.