Veteran Types 1/1.-A TWICE VICTORIOUS BOULOGNE BUGATTI
THERE must be a great many Bugatti enthusiasts to whom the real” Bug.” after their own hearts will always be typified by the old Brescia model. Than the “Blue Bug.” of to-day no one could desire a finer motor ; but it was on the Brescia Bugatti that enthusiasts of all but very short standing learnt their first love of the marque. This model was in fact one of the first standardised racing cars, and when soon after the War replicas of the team which had carried all before it in the Italian race were placed on the market, enthusiasts had presented to them a sports 1,500 c.c. car of a type which was then something to marvel at.
However, the number of Brescia Bugattis still about is not very large and I was thus extremely interested when I heard of a once famous racer of this type and was told that it might be added to the” Veteran Types” series. The car of which 1 heard was in fact well-known enough in its day, although I had lost sight of it for a good many years, and it consisted actually of the machine with which B. S. Marshall won the Boulogne Grand Prix for light cars in 1923 and 1924.
Special Front Axle.
The car was in fact something of a remarkable Bugatti when it first appeared in 1923. It was a full Brescia model and must have been among the very earliest of its type to have the redesigned radiator with only a very narrow shell visible from in front and just the Bugatti plaque to break the plain surface of the honeycomb. Moreover it was a charge often levelled against the Bugatti in those days that although it had proved often enough that it could go, it was not nearly so certain as to whether it would stop—an accusation which Monsieur Ettore Bugatti is always supposed to have met by remarking, shrugging his shoulders, ” mais ca marche I ” ; while enthusiastic Frenchmen talked about “braking with the horn.” However, this particular Bug, which immediately concerns us was remarkable in that it had a special front axle equipped with Perrot brakes. It was this car then that B. S. Marshall took with him in August, 1923, to Boulogne and entered for the light car Grand Prix. Sunday, 31st August, the day of the race, dawned wet and windy, but little daunted,
the Bugatti crew fitted the car with diminutive front wings and took their place on the starting line. Their most formidable competitor in the race was G. E. T. Eyston’s Aston-Martin, and at the end of the first round, the Bugatti, Number 16, appeared in third place behind the English car and one of the French Antonys. At the end of the next lap the Bugatti was second, and soon afterwards the Aston-Martin ran off the road and retired, thus letting Number Sixteen up into first place, which was held unthreatened until the end. Marshall covered the 232i miles of the race in 4 hours 16 minutes 12 seconds, and his average speed was thus 54.46 m.p.h.
Not content with this victory, however, Marshall and his Bugatti returned to the fray again in 1924 and on Sunday, 30th August, the veteran car, now Number Eleven, again took its place on the starting line for the Boulogne Grand Prix. This year the team’s most dangerous rivals were the Frazer Nashes and for the first few laps Gallop’s car of this marque led Number Eleven. On the third lap, however, the English car was delayed by plug trouble, and once more the Bugatti took the lead, not again to lose it, to the end of the race. This year the race was over a longer distance, 278i miles, but Marshall’s time was less than four minuted greater than on the previous occasion at 4 hours 20 minutes 5t seconds, and his speed went up by nearly 10 m.p.h. to 64.28 m.p.h.
The next month the car started in the 200 Miles Race at Brooklands, but was put out of the running fairly early on with a broken valve spring ; and thereafter I think the motor retired into private life, and I saw no more of it until the other day.
In Mixed Company.
However, soon after I had discovered its whereabouts I determined to go and have another look at the veteran Bug. and got in touch with the owner who promised to give me a run in it. Accordingly one bright morning which made one feel that Spring had already arrived, I betook myself to the car’s lair near the Embankment I came across it in a big yard, a tiny black Bug. among an assorted collection of motor vehicles parked there, ranging from a 1910 Renault taxi to luxurious 1931
saloons, and noted with approval its compact and wicked appearance.
The general specification of the Brescia Bugatti is known to almost everyone. The 4-cylinder engine has a bore and stroke of 69 x 100 mm. which give it a capacity of 1,496 c.c., and four overhead valves per cylinder operated by an overhead camshaft. Transmission is by a separate four-speed gear-box and an open propeller shaft, and the suspension is of course on the well-known Bugatti principle with half-elliptic springs in front and reversed quarter-elliptics at the rear.
The car which I had come to see has a pleasant long bonnet and scuttle, on which is a little V windscreen, the body is so narrow that it nowhere overhangs the chassis and terminates in a huge bolster petrol tank and vertically carried spare wheel. I found the owner pushing it out of its garage, and he greeted me by remarking that the engine had not been running for five months. Nevertheless the motor started at the second pull-up and we took our seats, I draping my arms elegantly round the back of the driver’s seat and over the side. The Bug. roared encouragingly and we shot out of the yard.
The driver remarked that she was suffering from too small a jet for the cold weather, and the motor did spit a bit during spasms of extreme acceleration. This, however, seemed to have remarkably little effect on her going and the driver soon showed himself an expert at that flicking to and fro which one can do with the Bugatti gear-lever. I sat and watched the needle of the big rev-counter in front of me flutter up to about 3,500 r.p.m. before the note changed, what time the driver played skilfully with the rnag. advance in the best Bugatti style.
It was soon apparent before we even got out of the London traffic that this, so far from being a motor with an ordinary performance, was even no ordinary Brescia Bugatti. One of the chief contributing factors to B. S. Marshall’s success in the Boulogne races was, I Rave always believed, the scientific way in which every part of his Bugatti was lightened to the utmost limit to which this process could safely be carried. In fact for the 1925 race he was determined to enter the car in the 500 kgs. category and certainly accomplished something of a feat by presenting the officials with a 1500 c.c. car which turned the scales at 465 kgs. or just over 9 cwt. At any rate the nett result of this treatment has been to give the car acceleration of a truly phenomenal nature, and the little Bug. was soon snapping joyously into openings in the traffic and picking its way around, between and
ahead of more cumbersome vehicles. Full use of its acceleration and speed can also be made confidently in traffic as the front brakes really do stop the car in a manner which its light weight renders almost as striking as its getaway. It would doubtless surprise many users of present-day utility vehicles to think of a car which in full possession of its faculties so to speak is incapable of getting into top gear during several miles of driving. Nevertheless
while getting out of London to the South, although some part of our route was free from anything like heavy traffic, the driver only meshed the Bug.’s top speed for about fifteen yards—and then changed down again at once on finding that she would not pull it satisfactorily. Such is the result of a very high top gear which is delightful to use on a good long straightaway, and which may be compared in. effect to the top speed geared up in the gear-box of the big pre-war sports car. However, the continual use of the indirect gears has by no means all the disadvantages which drivers whose experience is limited to the above-mentioned utility vehicles would be likely to expect. As each higher gear is snapped in there is a high-pitched scream from the gear-box-1 mean the scream of meshed, not meshing, pinions—but the note soon rises till it entirely passes out of the audible scale and there remains nothing to indicate that an. indirect gear is being used. Indeed anyone not familiar with the Bugatti gear-change might well be excused for thinking after seeing the lever snapped back into third, that top gear was actually in engagement.
It is a great difficulty when one has to start from the centre of London to take a car for a fairly short run to find a suitable place where a fast machine can be let out to show its actual speed capacities. In fact we were not able to gauge with any degree of accuracy the maximum speed of the Bugatti in view of the fact that there was no chance of running all out for long enough to make timing a satisfactory proceeding and the car has no speedometer. It was obvious, however, that it was by no means lacking in speed even for a car of its type in spite of its unfavourable carburettor setting, but the chief impression which the Bugatti leaves is of colossal acceleration for an unblown motor and of an uncanny handiness which is its chief attraction. The little black Bug. gives one the feeling that one is handling such a tiny car, which can thread its way among other vehicles like a minnow in a school of porpoises. Give it the gas on the right gear and it literally skips ahead only to be checked almost instantaneously by its really efficient brakes, while it has the most useful and all too rare attribute of being apparently quite unobtrusive in spite of the healthy roar of its exhaust. One has only to have a run on a good Bug. to see quite plainly why cars of this marque are so overwhelmingly popular with amateur drivers for racing purposes ; only to experience something of the amazing handiness and road-holding qualities of these cars, which permit of their being forced round corners at a speed in defiance of centrifugal laws to understand just why during the five years after the first appearance of the particular motor in question, Bugattis won a succession of victories in the Targa Florio. Incidentally the Boulogne Bugatti is, I believe, for sale, so someone is going to be lucky. I was asked for my impressions soon after I had been out in it by an enthusiastic ” Bugattisto ” ; and the best description of it I could give was—” Oh, just like a Bug.—only