Historic Car Brands


Automobiles Ettore Bugatti was founded in 1909 by Italian-born industrial designer, Ettore Bugatti. The new company was established in Molsheim, in the then-German, now French Alsace region of eastern France. Ettore’s background was designing cars for companies that included De Dietrich, Mathis and Deutz.


Ettore’s family background in Milan headed him down the industrial design path, because his father was a noted furniture and jewellery designer.

The prototype for Bugatti’s own car line was a vehicle he built while he was chief engineer at Deutz.

Later named the Type 10, this little machine was powered by a then-radical, monobloc, four-cylinder engine with overhead camshaft. It was very ‘undersquare’, with a 60mm bore and 100mm stroke, displacing 1131cc.

The bodywork was tub-shaped, so the factory staff later referred to it as ‘la bagnoire’.

The Type 13 was the racing version, with a bored-out engine and four valves per cylinder, displacing 1368cc. It was fitted with twin Zenith carburettors and power was 30hp (22kW).  Given the vehicle’s 300kg weight, performance was impressive and what the little Bugatti lacked in sheer power, it more than compensated with good handling and braking.


A Type 13 Brescia 1922 – Lars-Goran-Lindgren.


A Type 13 scored second place in the French Grand Prix at Le Mans in 1911.

Production Bugattis before World War I were Type 15, 17, 22 and 23 eight-valve, four-cylinder cars. 

A wild-card vehicle was the five-litre, three-valve-per-cylinder race car. One was built for Roland Garros, the famous French aviator – later killed in Word War I. Bugatti himself campaigned one and picked up a class victory at Ventoux in 1912. Another five-litre went to the USA (the USA not yet being in the War) and competed in the 1915 Indianapolis 500 and other races without much success. 

Eli ‘Barney’ Oldfield didn’t like the car, reckoning it was too slow for the ‘Brickyard’.

Ettore Bugatti designed eight-cylinder and H16-cylinder aero engines before the War. The 250hp eights were licensed to Delaunay-Belleville and Diatto, and the 410hp 16-cylinder design was built in the USA.

After the War, Ettore returned to his factory that was now in post-Versailles Treaty France and hurriedly assembled three variants of his pre-War models for display at the 15th Paris Motor Show, in 1919.

Also, the Type 13 was resurrected for post-War racing and scored a win at Le Mans and the top four placings at the 1920 Brescia Grand Prix. Because of that success, all Type 23 production vehicles that used the 16-valve engine were called ‘Brescias’. Road-going engines had plain crankshaft bearings, but the race-car engines had part-roller-bearing crankshafts.


Type 23 – Bonhams


Interestingly, Bugatti didn’t have full pressure bearing lubrication on its engines until 1928 and this is one of the reasons why the racing cars used roller-bearing crankshafts.

In 1921, Bugatti unveiled its first eight-cylinder car engine, based on the wartime aero engine design. The three-litre, Type 28 engine didn’t go into production, but a year later came the Type 30, two-litre straight-eight.

This engine had three valves per cylinder and three-ball-bearing mains, plus plain con-rod bearings. Four-wheel brakes were a production-car first for Bugatti, but the troublesome initial hydraulic front/ cable rear design was replaced by all-cable setup.


Type 35B

The Type 30’s success was eclipsed by the famous Type 35 and 39 models that followed. In 1924, the straight-eight engine was upgraded, with greatly improved bearing lubrication. The ra e car crankshaft was supported by three double-row ball bearings, two split-roller races and a sixth thrust ball-race at the rear. The one-piece con-rods were fitted with rollers in bronze cages.

Touring-car models had plain main and rod bearings.



The Type 35 engine was further developed, including 1.1-litre, 1.5-litre and 2.3-litre versions, with and without superchargers, to suit various racing events. The basic engine design continued until replaced by the twin-camshaft Type 51.

Bugattis dominated European racing in a way that wasn’t seen until later arrival of the Nazi-sponsored Silver Arrows in the late-1930s.



The 1926 Type 41 Royale, was far removed from racing and was positioned at the stratospheric end of the price scale. Powered by a 12.7-litre, iron-block straight-eight engine, putting out 300hp, it was intended for royalty and the ultra-rich, so only seven production models were built.

The Type 43 four-seater was the touring car to have in 1927, being basically a type 38, but with the T35B supercharged 2.3-litre engine and the detachable-rim aluminium wheels for the GP cars.

A lower-priced Bugatti – the Type 40, four-cylinder model – was introduced in 1929, using the Type 37 engine, but with full-pressure lubrication.

The Type 46 was developed to suit the luxury car market, but on a more modest scale than the Royale’s. It was powered by a 5.3-litre straight-eight that was later enhanced with a supercharger in the Type 46S.

The Type 49 appeared in 1930, replacing the Type 44 by having its engine enlarged to 3.3 litres. The last of the single-camshaft Bugattis, the Type 49 was judged by many Bugatti fans to be the best of the touring models.

Also in 1930 came the first twin-cam Bugatti: the Type 50 Grand Sport chassis. Powered by a supercharged, five-litre, fixed-head, straight-eight engine that put out around 225hp at 4000rpm. The chassis and running gear were the same a the Type 46’s, but with Royale hubs and cast-aluminium wheels.


Bugatti twin-cam chassis – Larry Stevens

A racing engine with light-alloy crankcase was developed for the Type 50B.

The proper twin-cam racer was the 1931 Type 51, which was essentially a Type 35B, but with a twin-cam head. Several 1.5-litre, two-litre and 2.3-litre cars were produced, with outputs in the 120-158hp range.

The Type 53 appeared in 1932 and was a brief foray into four-wheel drive racing, powered by the five-litre supercharged eight. It was the only pre-WW II Bugatti to have independent front suspension.



The Type 54 was essentially a ‘hot-rodded’ Type 47, powered by the Type 50, five-litre engine, but it was relatively heavy, making its 300hp output difficult to control.

The 1932 Type 55 Super Sport model was much more refined, being essentially a Type 54 chassis, with power from the Type 51’s 2.3-litre supercharged engine. Its two-seater body was designed by Ettore’s son, Jean.


Type 57 – Larry Stevens

It was difficult to eclipse the Type 55, but, with the Type 57 in 1934, Bugatti succeded. The 57 in various forms continued until 1939 and was fitted with some of the most beautiful bodywork ever mounted on car chassis.

The Type 57’s 3.3-litre eight-cylinder engine had revised valve gear, using fingers in place of cups and the camshafts were driven by helical gears from the rear of the crankshaft, not from the front, as in Type 50 and 51 engines.


Type 57SC Atlantic – Mullin Collection

The 57S was a short-chassis model introduced in 1935 and the Type 57C, with low-boost compressor and the 57SC, with higher boost Roots supercharger arrived in 1937. These ‘blown’ models were discontinued a year later, being very expensive to make.

The Type 59 was the last Bugatti GP car, designed for the 750kg-weight formula in 1934. Initially a 2.8-litre car, it was later enlarged to 3.3 litres’ displacement. The Type 59 developed 230hp and would have continued Bugatti’s GP-winning ways, except for the dominance of state-funded Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union cars.


Type 59 GP car – Ralph Lauren Collection

With war clouds gathering over Europe in the late-1930s Ettore Bugatti refocused aircraft engine design, but also found time to redesign the Type 57 engine, using chain-driven camshafts and 4.5-litre displacement in the Type 64. On the eve of WW II, Jean Bugatti was killed, testing a Type 57C tank-bodied race car.



Ettore lived in Paris and Bordeaux during the War and was ready for post-War cheaper motoring with the Type 68 small roadster design, powered by a 370cc, supercharged four-cylinder engine. He also designed the Type 73, 1.5-litre, four-cylinder model, with detachable head.

The Type 101 was a virtual Type 57, but with chain-driven camshafts. It was fitted with beautiful, enclosed bodywork.

The Type 251 was an eight-cylinder race car, with transversely-mounted engine that was spectacularly unsuccessful. 


Type 73 – Alf van Beem

Ettore Bugatti died in August 1947 and the company continued at greatly reduce scale, until 1952. Bugatti survived as a manufacturer, producing aircraft components, until it was taken over by Hispano-Suiza in 1963. Subsequently,  Snecma took over Hispano-Suiza in 1968 and then merged Messier and Bugatti in 1977.

In 1987 an Italian entrepreneur, Romano Artioli, acquired the Bugatti brand and, with Italian designers, produced the Bugatti EB 110GT, with 3.5-litre V12 engine. Michael Schumacher bought one.



However, economic conditions didn’t favour the launch of another supercar and the business failed. Eventually, after several changes of hands the Bugatti brand fell to Volkswagen in 1998.

The resulting W16-powered Veyron and Chiron supercars are among the fastest production vehicles in the world and are priced at Bugatti Royale levels, so perhaps EB would be pleased.


Stay informed and receive our updates

From Jim Gibson & Allan Whiting directly to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!