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Editor: Jaap Horst

Volume 26 (2021), Issue 2

"Macoco" Alzaga Unzué and his 1923 Bugatti Raid to Indianapolis

Lao Iacona

The year 1923 marked for the first time the participation of Argentine pilots in the Indianapolis 500. The team, led by Martín de Álzaga Unzué, registered as pilots Raúl Riganti, “Macoco” himself and the Frenchman Pierre De Vizcaya, a friend of the former. Alzaga had ordered three new cars from the Bugatti house to contest the race, tempted by the good result that Bugatti had obtained in the 1922 Grand Prix of Italy, where he placed a car in second place, very close to Pietro Bordino's Fiat.

The cars in question were the Bugatti Type 30 Indianapolis, built especially on “Strasbourg” chassis, monoposto, and with bodywork drawn by Frances Bechereau, who had designed the famous Spad plane, a hero of the First World War.

But the story goes that Bugatti sent five cars to Indianapolis instead of three, and that the Bugattis of the Argentine team were not new cars, but replicas made on Type 30 chassis, used and modified. The two remaining cars, which would be driven by Count Stanislaw Zborowski (s / n 4004) and the Prince of Cystria (s / n 4002), apparently did meet the specifications requested by "Macoco" himself.

Consequently, it did not take long for him to shout to the sky and with good reason, since the Argentine team's cars were a fiasco, and all abandoned the test due to mechanical problems.

To make matters worse, the assistance in qualifying and in the race had been hampered, since the Bugatti team instead of three cars, had to attend the five that had entered ...

The 1923 race was planned with a new regulation for engines up to 2 liters, and had 46 cars on the starting line, including Packard, Durant, Dusenberg and Miller from the United States, and Mercedes-Benz and Bugatti as European representatives, among others.

The first Bugatti to be out of the race was that of the company's mentor, Martín de Álzaga Unzué; a broken connecting rod put him out of the race on lap six. On lap 20 Riganti stops in the pits, but will no longer return to the track, due to the ruptured fuel tank. On lap 41 it is Count Zborowski who suffers the same problem as Álzaga Unzué, and must leave. On lap 165, and after having reached fifth place, De Vizcaya enters the pits; after breaking the third connecting rod for the team.

The only survivor of the Bugatti house was the prince of Cystria, who arrived in a poor ninth place. Tommy Milton was the winner of the race, driving an HCS Special, averaging 91 miles per hour. “Macoco” told Enrique Sánchez Ortega about his odyssey in Corsa, July 1972. “I was in Europe and I wanted to form a team to go racing in Indianapolis. Fiat dominated racing, but they couldn't give me any cars for this contest. I was going to go with Riganti. I then got in touch with Ettore Bugatti, and bought the cars from him since in the Grand Prix of Italy, one of his cars had entered second two meters away from Bordino. The Bugatti was driven by Pierre de Vizcaya. The cars were two-liter, eight-cylinder models. " “Old Bugatti was a mystifier. We were on the circuit with Riganti waiting for our cars to arrive, while we admired the wonder that the American cars were. Perfect in every way, flawless, with engines that were genius. Such is the case of the Millers. When the boxes with our Bugatti arrived and they opened them there on the track, we looked at each other with Riganti and we wanted to “flee” from the shame they gave us. The cars were hammered, all poorly painted, looking pitiful. Ettore Bugatti was a failure, a bad person. "We looked at each other with Riganti and we wanted to “crack” from the shame he gave us. The cars were hammered, all poorly painted, looking pitiful. Ettore Bugatti was a failure, a bad person. "We looked at each other with Riganti and we wanted to “crack” from the shame he gave us. The cars were hammered, all poorly painted, looking pitiful. Ettore Bugatti was a failure, a bad person."

“In training we broke six engines. We were going in the middle of the straight and suddenly… BOOOMMM… everything exploded. I was lucky, because when it happened to me, the connecting rods and pieces came out from the bottom ... If they had come out from the side or up, they would have cut my legs. Riganti was very scared and had put some kind of extensions to the pedals aboard his car. He drove like he was squatting, but if the engine blew, he had a better chance of saving his legs ... "" I was only able to do six laps in the race. Then my engine broke. All the time I felt under me, in training, a noise like blu-blu-blu-blu, and you know what happened? Under the seat was the oil tank, it was heating up and started to boil: I had him put an asbestos sheet between two aluminum sheets under the seat, thus, if the tank would explod, at least I would come out unscarred...” Indianapolis marked the first chapter of the idyll between Argentines and the Molsheim brand, and it is precisely in our country where the only surviving specimen of Indianapolis 1923, s / n 4004, is found. Count Zborowski's car.

The above article First appeared in Restrovisiones.com, 04/21/2014, and was translated from Spanish

Type 31 hypothesis, about the Indianapolis cars, by Sylvain Vezier First appeared in the Bugatti Revue Volume 24, Issue 1:

Desirous to participate in the Indy 500 miles race of 1923, Martin de Alzaga, to the intigation of his friend Pierre de Viscaya, asked Ettore Bugatti, after the race of Monza, 2 Sept 1922, to build for him 3 cars derived from the 22/29 of the Strasbourg GP, but with various modifications because he knew that these cars will be inadequate for the brickyard.

These modifications were revealed by Martin de Alzaga, himself, in "Bugantics vol 41 n°3 , Autumn 1978". He said: " We had agreed, verbally, that our engines were to be 122 cu.in ( 2 liters ) with brand new inclined four-valve heads, and the cranckshaft mounted on ball bearings metal bearings only on the rods and of bigger diameter than the ones used in 1922 in Italy, and incidentally, only two speeds in the gearbox".

What came after this is perfectly known, de Alzaga only saw the cars on his arrival at the speedway on 20 May 1923. The modifications were not at the rendez-vous.

Conway told us that the cars were ordered on 8 January 1923, but de Alzaga had determined the great lines of what he wanted, with Ettore, near September 1922, after the race of Monza.

Now the question is: did Ettore begin the study of the new engine asked by de Viscaya ? If it was the case, had it a type number ? In this supposition, number 31 seems to be the most logical, isn't it ?

Chronologically, we know that the first drawings of type 30 frame are dated August 1922, we also know that the type 32 tank made its first appearance at Tours in July 1923 for the ACF GP, that means that the study of this very innovative chassis must have begun sufficiently early, certainly before the end of 1922. Until now, all the bugatti types have known a realization or a beginning of it. The only realization between first type 30 drawings and type 32 was, until proof of the contrary, the cars that ran at Indy in May 1923.

My scenario, right or not, is the following: Ettore Bugatti, who was verbally engaged with Martin de Alzaga, give type number 31 to the car, or its engine and gearbox, which must run at Indy ; nearly at the same time he began the study of the car he wants to engage at the ACF GP of July 1923, which he, naturally, named type 32. This project, relatively revolutionary in comparison with all he had, precedently, realized, might have required much more time than foreseen. We must know, also, that during 1923 the type 33 project, still an innovative one was launched. In the same way, Bugatti had a contract with the French government to built 6 aeroengines called type 34 ( first patent on it is dated 10 August 1923 for FR 569676).

During this intensive period of activity, the Molsheim workshop had to start the production of the new type 30 cars, but also to secure the production of types 22 and 23 "Brescia modifié" which constituted the only incoming of money for the Bugatti factory. All these necessities made that the type 31 study was neglected and then abandoned. In fact this project had carry little weight in front of Ettore's personal projects, and in front of the necessities of a factory which might pass before the interests of a single customer.

Here is my (Sylvain Vezier's) vision of the type 31. Is that true or not ? I don't know, but until to day nobody was able to tell us what was really this type.

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