A virtual magazine for a true passion!

Editor: Jaap Horst

Volume 12, Issue 2

First ride in a vintage Bugatti

Martijn Visser

This years summer holiday (2007) was planned around the yearly Bugatti gathering in Molsheim. The French city in the Elzas where the Bugatti myth started. Jan, one of my Bugatti friends lives a part of the year in a French city not far from Molsheim. He owns a vintage Bugatti and invited me and my mother for a tour in his car. The roads in the center of the Netherlands (He lives in Amsterdam) are nowadays so crowded and filled with traffic that he decided some yeas ago to drive his Bugatti to the Elzas. After being in the Elzas ourselves for two days we can only agree with him that the Elzas is the place to drive these great cars. Lots of open mountain roads, small old villages and hardly any traffic. On the 13th of September the weather was perfect. A Bugatti blue sky and around 23 degr. Celsius. In September the mornings can be cold and foggy. We therefore decided to meet Jan around 14:30 at his home. We visited him two days earlier and were hoping that we could recognize the house. While going uphill we spotted a nice Bugatti parked on the right side of the road. Even close to Molsheim it is not common to find a Bugatti parked on the public road and we spotted our friends on the other side of the road talking to one of their neighbors who got his first Bugatti ride during the morning while the car was driven out of the garage.

After a nice cup of coffee it is time to get prepared for the trip. The lady of the house decided to not join us during the trip. Packed with caps, jackets and cameras we go to the car. There it is standing, shining in the sun. An original 1927 Type 43 with Grand Sport body. Jan bought the car back in 1960 and fully restored it himself. Besides the type 43 he has owned three more Bugattis (1x type 44 and 2x type 40) in the past and brought down his collection to only the type 43.

As you probably know the type 43 Grand Sport is a 4 seats roadster. Officially it was sold as a 3 - 4 seater. There is a backseat wide enough for two persons. Room for legs… well…. close to non. This was probably the reason why the lady of the house decided to not join us during the trip. The drivers seat (All Bugattis are right hand driven) is placed more backwards than the co-divers seat. This means that the right rear passenger has no room to place his legs. As bonus the main switch is also placed on that location. Conclusion.. A type 43 Grand Sport is a 3 seater if the rear passenger has short legs… My mother has shorter leg than I have.. So mother in the rear and me in the co-drivers seat.

A Vintage Bugatti, perfect weather, open roads and a nice sigar… Live can’t get better…

One of the shots taken while going uphill. No hand free to point the camera correct.

The type 43 parked in front of the restaurant

A picture describing the feeling of going down hills at 80 km/h on tight French country roads with a 74 year old Bugatti owner at the wheel with 50 years of driving experience in Vintage Bugattis.

When the car is started the air is filled with a mechanical noise. The type 43 is equipped with a crankshaft supported by ball bearings. Some owners have changed to new constructed crankshafts supported by plain bearings. The car we are sitting in is 100% original and has the same engine components as when it left the factory in 1929. The crankshaft is build-up out of 9 separate parts. A masterpiece of mechanical engineering. The rattle of the bearings is getting less dominant when the engine is getting warmer but will always be present. The plan is to drive to a friends restaurant in the mountains and have a nice glass of Elzasian whine. The car is turned and we start our trip going through the center of a small French city. The nose of the car is enormously long in comparison to modern cars. The type 43 is equipped with a 2.3 liter supercharged 8 cylinder engine. All cylinders are placed in line resulting in the long nose. The engine is basically the same as used in the well known type 35 Grand Prix cars. When we start to accelerate the exhaust noise is joining the engine, the mechanical driven compressor is also joining in and we start to accelerate downhill towards the town center. The sound of the car is reflected by the houses that are placed on both sides of the road, only split by the narrow sidewalks and a road wide enough for two cars to pass. The view you have in the car is so different than in a modern car that it looks like all corners are made to wide and that you are ending up on the wrong side of the road. This in combination with the noise and speed makes the whole thing… well… let’s say exiting….. When we make a turn to the right to head for the mountains the engine noise seems to disappear. When Jan pushes the accelerator down again the noise is back and we go uphill like a rocket. The pulling force of the car is unbelievable.

Jan told me earlier that he is not running the engine over 3000 rpm to spare the engine. Well… I am glad he mentioned this earlier so I do not have to worry that we will reach the maximum of 5000 rpm. What a machine… Soon we are leaving the town center and we are out on the French country roads in a vintage dream machine. While passing some small villages we get a couple of thumbs up from people sitting outside enjoying the perfect weather. With my left hand I am holding the side of the car hoping to not fall out. With my right hand I am holding the photo camera. No idea yet how and if it is possible to take any pictures while the car is moving. Not aware of my relatively comfortable sitting position I look over my right shoulder and see my 60 year old mother sitting on the right side of the car with her legs behind my chair (left side). No idea how she is keeping herself in place, but she has the video camera in her right hand. The rear seat is placed a bit higher than the two frond seats. While sitting in the rear it must feel more like sitting on in stead of sitting in the car.

After about half an hour we reach a nice typical French restaurant in a valley surrounded by mountains. After parking the type 43 in front of the restaurant we sit down at the terrace and order our drinks. During our stay in the restaurant the Bugatti got a lot of attention from people who passed by. Some people ask permission to take pictures and look full of admiration to the Elzasian classic.

Time to leave the restaurant and get higher up the hills. The noise the Bugatti makes when the engine is waking up starts to sound familiar and Jan turns the car towards a small road surrounded by trees. The sound of the engine is reflected by the mountains around us and sounds like music to me. The roads are getting tighter and tighter all the time. The only cars that are driving down hills are vans filled with workmen who come back from a day of hard work in the woods. Every time a car passes we see surprise in the eyes of the people sitting in it when the Bugatti is heading in their direction. Faces start to smile and thumbs go up. Jan raises his right foot from the accelerator. I think we took the wrong road he mentioned. I have never driven here and the roads are getting to narrow. I will turn the car and we will go back again. On the left side we spot a small sand road and Jan turns the Bugatti.

What both my mother and me did not realize yet was that it is not possible to use the brakes often when driving a 1929 Bugatti downhill. As Ettore Bugatti mentioned in the past to people who complained about the braking capacity of his cars “My cars are designed to drive and not to brake”. The car does not have a speedometer and the trees are passing us with frightening speeds. Jan seems relaxed and is sitting exactly the same way as when we went uphill. Both my mother and me are holding ourselves as tight as possible.

We reach speeds of more than 80 km/h (checked when driving my own car and trying to remember the speed the trees passed us) and some of the bends are blind so we have no idea what is behind the corner. The car is braking on the engine and often a bang of un-ignited gasoline can be heard in the exhaust outlet. Must look spectacular from the rear… In the Netherlands we often see an old model A Ford or comparable car driving over the roads followed by a row of modern cars who get frustrated by the low speed of the car and try to pass it as soon as possible. The people driving these classic cars look relaxed and all dressed up.... Well.. I can assure you that driving a thoroughbred Bugatti is another kind of experience.... Makes an A ford look like a toy car.... Real men drive Bugattis !!!!!!

While storming downhill in the Bugatti a modern Peugeot 206 is following us. One thing is for sure.. The driver of the Peugeot can’t pass us at all and has a hard time trying to keep up with us. The thoughts about speeds above 150 km/h that the racing drivers reached in the past on roads much worse than the ones we are traveling on generates high respect for the men who played with their lives while racing these machines. An almost 80 year old open sportscar, no safety belts, tries placed around the road, blind corners and high speeds.. What a perfect day….. More and more houses show up around the road and we are entering the village again we started from. Speeds go down to a modest 50 km/h and around 18:00 Jan parks the car again in front of the house and we climb out of the car. After a small leg stretcher Jan is driving the car back to the garage. My mother jumps in the co-pilot’s seat and off they go.

Cramped arms and legs…. Adrenaline levels up to the roof….. What an experience…. Thanks Jan for this great afternoon…. Thanks Doris for the great dinner you served afterwards….

Viva Le France !!!! Viva Bugatti !!!!

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