Ettore Bugatti was an Italian artist who began in sculpture and ended up making the ultimate automobile of the '20s and '30s.  His cars were thorobreds (Bugatti was a horseman and all his cars had the trademark horseshoe 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 Ferrari 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 dominating blend of handling, exceptional brakes and quite enough power.  They 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 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. 

The Type 49

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 was like driving a lighthouse down the road.  Laughable aiming (On big honking nut held them on and they could only be pivoted left and right): when someone came at you, you flipped on the high beams, which went into the trees.  The wheels were another visionary engineering feat of Bugatti's: a cast iron drum cast into an aluminum finned wheel.  Yes, you can see aluminum fin brake drums from the 60's, but in '32?  Another charming feature of these cars were the fitted wooden floorboards.  When you wanted to work on anything below them, they simple unclipped and were removable: you didn't need a "creeper", you just removed the seats (one wingnut apiece), rolled up the carpet, removed the floorboards, and 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 killed.  This car went up on blocks at the works.  We bought it, ex works for $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 drive it.  It had no vices.  It always started, was completely predictable and would do the most delightful slalom drifting turns with opposite lock steering....though the first time it happened was an utter surprise and delight!.  19" wire wheels, with real knock-off hubs (it was my father's great delight to track down a real brass hammer for them).  Grey paint, red leather.  Oh, and the license plate: plexiglas letters on a black 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 machines.. 

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 the dashboard; 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 speedo is over to the side!


These images were done with a 5x7 view camera using Plus-X; these are scanned from contact prints.  The background is the old Speed estate in Louisville, KY.  They were a fast pass I did for Dad in the early when he sold the T40 (from the then princely sum of $10,000 <sigh>.

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 dogs.  My old Anglia 130 from college days is in the background....what a lovely 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 drive crash-box Bugattis.  Thirty-seven years later, I'm still double-clutching 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: clutch-accelerator-brake and the T49 H shift was mirror image flipped so that 1st was on the side 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: for the experience, to suck his sons into machinery.  He didn't buy things for possession, rather for another facet of a Renaissance-man experience of life.  So I adjusted the brakes on the T49; they'd been marginal, but when I finished they worked.  Ettore had this wonderful Rube Goldberg lash up that made cable brakes work as well as hydraulics.  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:


Pur sang

More writings on the Bugattis and cars...

My father and the Bugs                                                   Driving the T40

...and now I have been published in the NYTimes, writing on cars!

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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.

Here are pictures of representative Type 57SC that 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.