A virtual magazine for a true passion!

Editor: Jaap Horst

Volume 19, Issue 1

Driving around with Walt Woron in 3 Bugattis

From the US magazine Motor Trend, November 1956

Scans provided by Herman van Oldeneel.

Bugatti A wondrous name that rolls off the lips of aficionados with a reverence usually rserved for things that are sacred. Bugatti. About whom and which more truths, half-truths and legends have been written than about any other name and marque. Bugatti - Le Patron, the man who knew as much about building fabulous cars as he did about breeding horseflesh. Bugatti - the car with as many temperaments as its temperamental progenitor.

For the past few months I've been watching with interest the acquisition by Precision Motor Cars (Beverly Hills, Calif.) of one after another pre-war Bugatti. THe first one I knew Bob Estes and Otto Zipper had brought into the country was a beautiful and diminutive 35-B. Then came a Type 46, a 55, a 57-C and another 55. And more are on the way.
"Why not," I asked Otto and Bob, "give our readers the enjoyable experience of going along with us while we drive one of the Bugs?"

"Why not three?" they said. "We can let you drive the 46, the 57-C, and the 55." And that's how it wound up one weekend not long ago climbing in and out, over and around these three Bugs. It was a day to remember.

Type 46 Bugatti

THE TYPE 46 BUGATTI was the monster of 1929, exceeded only by the Royale. Its two-door convertible club coupe body is mounted on a 138-inch chassis. Like all other Bugs, it has right-hand drive, and takes some orientation before driving it. Otto blithely passed it off as being "very simple. You have two levers here (extreme right of the dash); one is the throttle, one is the ignition advance. You open the throttle slightly, put the ignition control between full advance and full retard, and pull out the choke button. THe ignition key is the starter (a key that is interchangeable among all Bugs). You press it in, and the engine fires. After it warms up slightly, you retard both the ignition and the throttle." as he did this, the loud throaty roar became the ka-chug, ka-chug of a powerful motor launch.

Steering is phenomenal for such a heavy car. Get rolling above five mph and it becomes so easy you'd swear it has power steering. It's exceedingly quick, taking about 3/4 turn of the wheel to get around a 90-degree corner.

THE TYPE 46 ENGINE is a huge (by 1929 standards) 5.35-liter (326.5 cubic inches) model, has a single overhead cam, three valves for each cylinder, and dual ignition, with two plugs per cylinder. The large updraft carburetor sprays its fuel/air mixture through a beautifully designed single manifold to the eight cylinders. Machining and workmanship are the finest. It's a relatively low rpm engin, putting out 120 horsers at 3400 rpm, that will idle in top gear at 250 rpm. To demonstrate this point we slowed down as low as the car would go (which was four mph), retarded the spark, and it chugged along with nary a buck or jerk. Full-throttle acceleration brought as smooth a takeoff as you'd get with Dynaflow.
The three-speed gearbox is at the rear axle, uses straight-cut gears, and is shifted by a long shaft running from the floor shift lever. It's a standard H-pattern, with first gear in the lower right, reverse in upper right. Hitting each gear without clashing takes some getting used to.

FRONT SEMI-ELLIPTIC springs go through the one-piece front axle in typical Bugatti fashion. Damping is by friction-type shock absorbers, controlled for "hard" and "harder" ride (there's no such thing as a "soft" ride on a Bugatti!) by a cable control leading to a rheostat-like knob on the dash. The large brake drums are finned to cool down the terrific heat generated when you push with all the leg-power you have to bring the 4200-pund car to a halt. As Ettore Bugatti said, "I make my cars to go, not stop." Mechanical brakes were very much the rule on Bugs. Roller bearings keep the 20-inch aluminium wheels rolling so free that when Otto jacked up the front end and spun the wheels, they still spun 5 minutes later!

Type 55 Bugatti

INTERIOR OF THE TYPE 55 BUGATTI is tight for two, with right-hand drive, floor gearshift, and just barely enough room to step on the controls without stepping on your own foot. THe throttle is between the cluthc (left) and brake (right). Reason pointed out by Otto is that in racing competition, when you intend to downshift you first brake down with your right foot (and you need lots of leverage with these mechanical brakes!) declutch and throw the lever into neutral. With the same clutch-foot, you rev the engine, declutch again and slam the lever into the nexr lower gear. Starting this magneto-equipped car is no particular problem: you pull out the "kill button," pull out the choke, push in the starter key, and it should fire. Shifting takes practice because of the straight-cut gears in each of the 4 speeds forward, For reverse you pull out a knob on the front, lower side of the lever, then push the lever forward and up. Bugatti apparently changed his shift patterns from car to car; this one has first on the lower left of the "H" and fourth on the upper right.

THE 55 ROADSTER body is typified by the lack of doors, but as Otto pointed out, the tail end and fenders of this roadster were modified. THe area back of the front wheel was filled in, and rear fender skirts were added. Usually the back end was rounded and two spare tires were put on, whereas this one has just the one sunken into the streamlined deck. The body is on the frame of the Type 54 Grand Prix car.

Cornering ability of this brute is simply fantastic. Not knowing the car too well I didn't push it through the turns; I asked Otto to take over and he handled it like a master. He would slide into corners, through the, go into them hard without sliding, then let drift - you name it, he and the Bug did it. And this was all with the two best cylinders out of commission because their plugs were fouled. With the windshield folded flat, the air rushing by your ears and the supercharger's scream pounding into them, it makes one think of what it must have been like to drive down the dirt roads of Italy in a Mille Miglia or Targa Florio. Time to take this 1933 Bug ti 60mph is about 3 seconds. It can do 99 mph in 1/4 mile, 112mph in top.

THE 2.3-LITE ENGINE of the Type 55 is basically a de-tuned Type 51 engine, and to further confuse the issue, it's mounted in a Type 54 4.9-liter Grand Prix chassis. THe 138.5 cubic inches of displacement is divided among eight cylinders, each with two valves driven by twin overhead camshafts. Bugatti's own Roots-type two-vane blower is driven from the front at crankshaft speed. It sucks the fuel/air mixture from the updraft carburettor and boosts it to the manifold at up to 12 punds pressure. The crankshaft rotates in roller bearings safely up to 5000 rpm.

Type 57-C Bugatti

HERE'S A JEWEL - one that makes Bugatti lovers go into ecstasy and spins the heads of those who (forgive them!) don't know what it is. This 57-C, vintage 1938, was combed in detail by the Bugatti factory, and sports an immaculate 4-passenger Gangloff convertible body. The superb cornering characteristics set up by the typical semi-elliptic-solid-front-axle and quarter-elliptic rear springing were retained this model year. Wheelbase is a solid 130.5 inches, which cradles you in a comfortable ride unsurpassed by anything built today. Top speed is 105. A concession to progress in brakes was finally made on this model - it had a hydraulic system, with independent master cylinders for front and rear pairs of brakes.

IN THE PHOTO OF THE ENGINE, Otto Zipper has his left hand on the dual breaker distributor of the single spark plug syste, for the 57-C engine, Like all Bug engines, it's an eight and has twin overhead cams. Displacement is only 199 cubic inches, yet with a low boost (3/4 pound) Roots blower, it gives 160 horsepower (with some later engines going as high as 175).

TWO MORE BUGATTIS I've got my eyes on are the black Type 55 convertible modified for Jean Bugatti and the 35-B Grand Prix car. the Type 35-B might have been one of those race cars that helped foster the "temperamental" tag on Bugs. Many of them ran into difficulties that didn't allow them to finish a race, but this one runs sweeter thn any race car I've ever heard. I'm just dying to hear it from behind the wheel.

- W.A.W.

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