ON THE ROAD WITH A 5-LITRE BUGATTI
By CECIL CLUTTON
BUGATTI type numbers are a perpetual stumbling block, even to the most enthusiastic and elect. Some pin their faith in the belief that the cubic capacity and type numbers bear some reference to each other, such as that the 4,9-litre is the Type 49 and the 5-litre the Type 50. It is, therefore, tiresome to find that the Type 49 is of 3.3-litre capacity, that the 4.9-litre is the Type 50 and that the 5-litre is the Type 46! No less confusing is the series of Types 57, 57C, 57T, 57S and 57SC. One might reasonably suppose that the Type 57S Would be the supercharged edition of the Type 57, but not so ; it is an almo4t entirely different, unsupereharged model, and it is the 57.0 which is the blown form of the Type 57.
Misapprehension about these type numbers sometimes manifests itself in the shape of amusing remarks by dealers. Recently, for example, one was loudly proclaiming the merits of his latest acquisition—”a genuine 4.3-litre, old boy” —which turned out to be an ingenious telescoping of a 2.3-litre, Type 43! Another well-known firm of sports car dealers spent a long time not long ago advertising an entirely mythical “Type 57 f.s.”—by which one can only conclude they intended a Type 57, 4-seater ! Broadly speaking, it is not a bad method to divide Bugattis up into three families. First of all the various four-cylinder models ; then the roller-bearing straight eights, and, finally, the touring straight eights. The four-cylinder cars include the original Type 13 of 1910 (1,327 c.c.) ; the typeless 5-litre “Black Bess” ; the Breseias (Type 28); the 1925 li-litre, Grand Prix Type 37; and the touring, 1i-litre Type 40, introduced in 1926. The roller-bearing straight eight machilICS are those upon which the firm really made its name in competition, starting with the three-main-bearing, 2-litre, Type 30 of 1923, and proceeding via very many types to the final 2.3-litre, double oix.e. supercharged Type 55, first made in 1931, and continuing in production up to the war. It had a top speed of some 112 m.p.h. in generous touring trim. Very famous were the various editions of the Type 35, which furnished the victorious Grand Prix types up to 1927, and other Grand Prix models were the 1926 11-litre Type 39 (or 39A with blower) and the 1931 Grand Prix
Type 51. A favourite production model of 1927 was the Type 48 single o.h.e.
But roller bearings have certain disadvantages for the ordinary man. They have to be warmed up exceedingly carefully ; they have a fairly limited life and are very expensive to renew ; and they are mechanically noisy in operation. The competition Bugatti models also had a reputation for being somewhat temperamental, and all these factors undoubtedly put off a number of otherwise potential buyers. Such people must, therefore, have been very pleased when le Patron devoted his attention to a plain-bearing, silent and generally reliable touring car, whose first Inallirestation was the Type 44 of 1927. The earlier models had jet lubrication to the big-ends, and the general result was the somewhat excessive lnbrication of the sparking plugs, while not enough oil reached the bearings. The later models had pressure-feed and were generally very satisfactory motor-cars, with a normal top speed of 80 m.p.h. at 4,000 r.p.m. They were rather squat and displeasing in appearance as a whole, a large number being fitted wit h very overblown Weymann saloon bodies.
In 1929 appeared the 5-litre Type 40. It was primarily intended as a town carriage and continued to be produced, I believe, right up to the war to special order. The cylinders measured 81 x130, giving a total capacity of 5,350 c.c. and an R.A.C. rating of 32.5 h.p. The crankshaft was carried in five plain bearings and lubricated on the dry-sun-1p principle. A single overhead camshaft, driven from the front of the engine, operated three vertical valves per cylinder, and there was coil ignition to no fewer than 16 plugs, all in a row along the offside of the engine, looking, as some wit remarked. just like a row of semi-detached cottages. By contrast to all these plugs and valves, there was only one carburetter, it having been M. Buga It i’s opinion for many years that if you want more carburation you should supercharge and not multiply the instruments. The results he has achieved with single carburetters are really remarkable and suggest that he knows more than a thing or two about manifold design. It is interesting to note that he has long been an adherent of the American pump-type Sehebler & Stromberg carburetters.
The small flywheel and dutch Are enclosed, and in contrast to the Ordinary littgatti wet, Multi-metalplate clutch the 5-litre had a dry clutch, the alternate plates being lined with Ferodo. The gearbox is integral with the back axle and the long propeller shaft is of tubular type. The gearbox is very compact, carrying only three forward speeds, whose ratios are 9.8, 5.45 and 3.9 to 1. respeetively. With 32′ X6″ tyres and 3,500 r.p.m. as top engine speed, this gave maxima of 33, 60 and 83 m.p.h. In top, however, this limit could be exceeded, and a top gear range of 4 to 90 m.p.h. is mentioned in the maker’s catalogue. The petrol consumption claimed is 15 m.p.g. and the chassis weighed 23 cwt. The earlier models had the pressed aluminium wheels with short transverse ” spokes” between the brake drum and the rim, similar to those of Types 49 and 50, but later examples had normal wire wheels. Telecontrolled shock absorbers were provided fore and aft. A development of the Type 46 was the Type 46S, which was the same car with a low-pressure boost ; it was produced in 1931. The next development in the touring types was the Type 49, brought out in 1930 and continuing until the introduction of the Type 57 in 1934. It was in many ways a cross between the Types 44 and 46. The cylinder dimensions were 72 X100 min.. giving 3,257 e.e. and a 25.7 h.p. 11.A.C. rating. The carburation and ignition (10 plugs all in a row, now very close together and equidistant) were similar to time Type 46, hut the lubrication was wet sump and the single o.h.c. (three valves per cylinder again) was driven from the superior position in the middle of the engine. The clutch is wet and the four speed gearbox is in the normal position. Forward ratios are 11.6, 7.51, 5.37 and 4.17 to 1. Speed in the gears is supposed to be limited to 3,500 r.p.m. and 4,000 r.p.m. is mentioned in top, giving maxima of 25, 38, 54 and 80 m.p.h. In point of fact, all of these can he exceeded. This model was exceedin2ly flexible and silent, and possessed excellent road-holding and superlative brakes. In my humble and somewhat (‘(‘centric opinion it is the best Buga t t i uf all, but not many people agree with me. My own example, with a closecoupled saloon body, was owned for several years by K. W. Bear and completed a quarter of a million miles before indenting for a new set of bearings. A peculiarity of this model was an exceptionally difficult gear change either up or down into second, while a remarkable weakness was a propensity to silted radiators. Both Types 46 and 49 are very reliable starters, while the dual ignition is also a strong contributory factor to their exceptional flexibility.
Last of all come the various editions of the Type 57, introduced in stages from 1934 to 1938. The cylinder dimensions ware the same as the Type 49, but there were now double o.h.c.s. and single ignition. The traditional Bugatti clutch gave way to a normal single-plate affair with the gearbox in unit. The earlier examples had rigidly mounted engines, which were rather rough and noisy in action. The later ones became notably smoother and more silent, and were flexibly mounted. Gear ratios were identical to those on the Type 49, but permissible engine speed went up to 5,000 r.p.m., the crankshaft being a suburb piece of work. In 1938 the Type 57 became available with a blower, and was then the Type 57C. This put the power up from around 130 to some 160 b.h.p., and the motorcar could travel along at over 100 m.p.h. with luxurious saloon coachwork. These most recent cars had superlative hydraulic brakes and shock absorbers, the latter very large, of direct-operating piston-type. The Type 57C was even more flexible than the Type 57 and sold at the modest chassis price of £745.
The Type 57S had a more powerful edition of the Type 57 engine and a practically Grand Prix chassis. The front axle was articulated, giving a slight degree of independence, and some of the cars were fitted with the fantastically expensive and much vaunted de Ram shock absorbers. Subsequent experience has given rise to doubt whether they were all that fancy painted. The Type 57S ran up to 5,500 r.p.m. and, I believe, gave some 160 b.h.p. – an amazing figure for an unblown 31/3 litre engine, which owners suffered for in the shape of poor starting. This was entirely cured in the blown Type 57SC, which was (practically) only manufactured in 1937. The markers claimed 15 m.p.g. and 130 m.p.h., while specially tuned works examples topped 150 m.p.h.
It was one of my greatest regrets that I have never travelled in a Type 57S or a Type 57SC, but I have been in a late and an early Type 57, and while each was certainly a remarkably fine production, it seemed to have lost some of the essential Bugatti character, which is so fully apparent in the Types 46 and 49. It is for this reason that the latter two retain the foremost place in my affections, despite the superior performance of the various forms of Type 57.
Having given a general perspective of the plan bearing straight eights (from which I have purposely omitted the somewhat rare and peculiar 4.9-litre Type 50), I will now proceed to some impressions of a Type 46 on the road.
One of these was recently acquired by Ferry Pilot Rodney Clarke for use after the war, and he licensed and ran it for a short period, just to find “what it was all about” before more or les laying it up. It was during this process that Laurence Pomeroy and I had an opportunity of testing the carriage. From a mechanical point of view the whole machine was in splendid condition, though not in the best of tune. The ignition was not perfectly au point and there was a fairly noticeable vibration period in the transmission at high speeds. “Pool” petrol was not entirely acceptable to the large cylinders (some 670 c.c. each) and all tests were conducted with four up.
This particular car is undoubtedly one of the most handsome ever, as is universally agreed by all beholders, and I very much wish that an illustration of it could have been reproduced. The body is a two-door, four-light Weymann, with a large travelling trunk behind. The wheels are of the aluminium type. Some 5-litres are rather “lumps” in appearance, but this one is essentially “sleek.” An overall height of only 5’ 3”, as against a wheelbase of no less than 11’ 6”, largely contributes to the exceptionally fine appearance. Nor is there any counter disadvantage in the shape of inconvenient floor wells (the floor is flat) or inadequate head room. Under the bonnet is a positively virtuoso display of fine workmanship rejoices the eye. The big engine is rigidly four-point mounted, the bronze engine brackets being of considerable interest. In addition, a tubular member passé from side to side of the chassis, underneath the back end of the engine. The oil tank is on the dash. The cylinder block, which incorporates the camshaft drive, measures a trifle less than 3 ft. from front to back. There is a tubular cross-member immediately behind the clutch and another just in front of the gearbox. The considerable space between is entirely unbraced.
The exhaust note is pleasantly subdued, but not obliterated, as is the modern rather tiresome habit, and it has the invariable Bugatti “beat” when idling. As usual with the centrifugally-operated clutch, the pedal pressure at low r.p.m. is quite negligible, and the drive takes up with perfect smoothness. Some of the early 5-lites were reputed to have an insuperably difficult gear change, but this is certainly not the case with Rodney Clarke’s car. There is a certain difficulty in getting out of any gear, making clutch-less gear changes practically impossible, while the travel of the lever is fairly long and heavy. Changes are effected fairly quickly with a normal double-declutching movement, and a straight-through upward change can be made at the expense of some noise. However, so powerful is the torque of the engine, even at 200 r.p.m., that the gear lever can practically be ignored and all ordinary motoring is conducted on the 3.9. to 1 ratio.
For high-speed cruising this ratio would seem rather low, having regard to the long stroke, and one feels that a ratio of about 3.6 to 1, giving 25½ m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., would more than justify the very slight loss in flexibility. As things are, the cruising speed is not more than 70 m.p.h., although on our trial run even this was not agreeable, owing to the transmission vibration, which noticeably held the car back. Making the necessary allowances for this quite easily rectified shortcoming, however, the performance of the car was a complete delight. Powerful acceleration and easy cruising on a fairly high ratio is always most impressive, especially when coupled with the smoothness of an eight-cylinder-in-line engine.
Despite the handicaps of four passengers, “Pool” petrol and imperfect ignition, the acceleration time for 0-50 m.p.h. (using first and second gear) was 16 secs., while the top gear acceleration from 10-30 m.p.h. only occupied 11 secs. Both these distinctly creditable figures are undoubtedly capable of about a 12 per cent improvement under reasonably favourable conditions. The brakes were pulling rather badly. When properly adjusted they would undoubtedly be powerful, but not, in all probability, as good as those of the Type 49.
a little hard on front tyres, is superb. Springing is definitely of the “right” type, although on the hard side ; for some reason the Telecontrols fitted to the rear of my car have always given trouble. The four-speed, all-synehromesh gearbox is definitely ” usable,” although perhaps a little heavy ; careful alignment. of the engine and box, which is separate, is very important for smooth running.
Engine and chassis finish. and underbonnet cleanliness, have always been rather a fad wit h me, and the Alvis would satisfy the most. exacting. Every possible part is chromium plated or beautifully black stove enamelled. Bodywork, alt hough perhaps a little too heavy, is naturally of the first, order, and the car looks and feels definitely a thoroughbred. As for reliability, I can only say that niv car has done over 70,000 miles, 40.000 in my own hands, and uses no oil (Simplex rings having been fitted at about 40,000 miles), and during that mileage I do not think I have had more than two involuntary Stops. During the time I had this car some sort of a hack was found desirable, and so I started looking out for a ” 45 car.” (Flow I envy Londoners their scrap yards, which seem to sprout the most exciting cars, never costing more than £5 !)
I found in one of these delectable paradises a very good and nearly new Austin Seven chassis, lacking the rear portion of its van body.
A further search, covering most of Staffordshire, Cheshire. and Lancashire, procured another Austin Seven which had taken a nasty knock at the front, and the best parts of both (at a total cost of 111) were amalgamated, and an Austin Seven complete in every detail resulted and was eventually sold for £45, the only car on which I ever made a profit!
It was at this time that the residents of our Very desirable neighbOurhOod began to complain of the scrap-yard-like aspect of our garden ! The money thus forthcoming was spent on a 1933 “J.2 ” M.G. Midget, suffering from rather an excessive mileage I subsequently found, so this I completely dismantled, rebuilt and re-cellnlosed in my own workshop.
Thus the war found me with the Alvis and the M.G., when the War Office, finding a use for my professional qualifications, drew me into its fold.
The Alvis was carefully laid up and the M.G. sold, and in a sudden zeal for economy a very nice (looking) coupe of a quite famous make was purchased. Over this car a veil must be drawn, for I have never really recovered from the many weary miles I travelled in it trying to keep up even a moderate speed ; suffice it to say that after two months it N’as sold for the price I gave for it. I must admit that I was then rather caught on the rebound, for I fell for a most attractive 1,750-e.e. twin o.h.c. unsupercharged Alfa-Romeo, which I soon found was suffering from a very great deal of ” unfair wear and tear.” The chassis was 1929, and I believe it started life as a 2-seater, but was fitted with a most attractive 4-seater saloon body, of restrained streamline shape, by Bertelli, in
However. in the very little time at my disposal I started to go over the whole car and eventually got it pret t y well right. Although old and not particularly fast., there is something very nice about the fret of this car, and the finish of the whole job is of a first-class order ; and it will also put up a very reasonable average on a long run. 1lowever. although I never had any real difficulty getting. sparc.s from Thompson & Taylor, what with the entry of Italy into the war and needing eomplet reliability for my work. I decided that it had better go and very reluctantly I sold it, at. a very poor time from the financial point of view. I was genuinely sorry to do this and should very much have liked to have kept it to use after the war, but having the Alvis laid up I had nowhere to put it, so it had to go. Posting round for something econowical, reliable and yet interesting to drive,
I found -a 1937 ‘• ‘1 M.G. in very nice order and so far this suits my purpose most admirably, though having had it only about a month it is really too soon to say much about it. Other family cars of which I have had pleasant recollections include a 1923 10-h.p. Humber, a very well-made, sedate car that did a great mileage ; an Armstrong Siddeley Fourteen, a good goer. though ” over robust ” ; two Essex Terra planes, both excellent cars; a 1927 Crossley Ten, a comfortable but slow car ;
a 2-litre Rover 1931. NVeymann saloon, rather exciting, but with an au ful gear change and brakes that (lid not work when the engine stopped ; a I 9:15 Crossley Ten, rather too fussy ; a 1929 sleeve-valve Daimler, of’ expensive memories, which put up the best smoke screen I have ever seen ; a Ford V8 ; and a fine Railton saloon, once belonging to Jack Hulbert, which is still knocking up an amazing mileage in the hands of my father.
In addition to playing about with fullsize cars. I have also been an enthusiastic model car builder, and no doubt. some of your readers will have seen some of my work, noticeably the Shelsley Walsh ” Newsome ” Trophy and the Bugatti Owners’ Club ” Monro ” Trophy. I am at present engaged on a model of Monro’s Invieta, but am afraid under present:conditions it is not getting on very fast. I forgot to mention my father’s first car, a Violet-Bourget, which he bought in about 1916; what year it was I do not know. Nor did I ever ride in it, for under no circumstances would it ever go when required to, and I think he only kept it about a fortnight ! Can anyone say what they were like ? [This was later, surely, the French Violette eyele-car, with 500-e.e. flat-twin engine, as raced in the Ilol d’Or ?-Ed.] Since writing the foregoing notes nearly 12 months have passed and I am now in a position to say more about the ” M.G. Alidaet. This, I find, is not one of those which cruises at 96 m.p.h., even under the patronage of St. Christopher, but On one occasion both speedometer
and rev.-counter conspired to synchronise at 89 m.p.h. I make no claims as to timed speeds, however. Bought at 27,000 miles, this car has now done 41,000 miles, mostly in the rough country of Mid-Wales.
In spite of the fact that at most times she is made to go as quickly as conditions permit, a rebore has not. yet been necessary and oil consumption has not reached that stage when one gets fussy about cheeking what it zwtually does do, though there is no doubt that long fast runs do lap it up quicker than previously. There is. however, little smoke and little smell, and with no more than ordinary attention the rev.-counter will go round to the 5.000-r.p.m. mark on the gears without any fuss and with little noise.
As regards the engine, 110 mishaps have occurred and, with the exception of taking up the big-ends at about 33,000 miles, no dismantling has been necessary. A new battery and tyres and a new front spring are the only other replacements so far necessary, and it has not been ” decoked ” during the last 10,000 miles and shows no signs of needing it. Petrol consumption, driven hard, varies from 35 to 38 m.p.g. The body work, though getting no more than a weekly wash and polish. is ” as new ” and quite free from squeaks and rattles, and the chromium plating is of excellent qual it y. Candidly I cannot speak too highly of this car, and I do not think that anyone who requires a completely reliable car for heavy work, yet having all the feel and much of the performance of the More out-and-out sports jobs, can improve on the ” T.A.” M.G. Midget. Incidentally, for anyone, like myself, who is a bit “rheumatieky ” in cold weather, the all-weather equipment is
excellent. It does, however, require bigger shock absorbers and the steering is rather heavy for so small a car, otherwise I have little criticism to make. Whenever I go to a new town one of the first things I do is to locate the local scrap yard, and during the summer I picked up a very nice C.I.S. 9-h.p. Amilear. After a 17-mile tow in pouring rain behind the M.G., I got down to stripping it, with the idea of rebuilding. The chassis was in splendid order, but the engine was not so good, for the valve guides, which are not replaceable, were oval and the flywheel
would not tighten up on the shaft. After doing quite a lot of work on the engine, I decided that, both from the point of view of condition and design, it was not worth spending a lot of time on, so I bought a Riley Nine engine to replace it.
This is in the process of being fitted and is going in (so far) remarkably well, the only trouble being that the very thin Amilcar prop-shaft is difficult to connect up to the ltiley gearbox. The chassis has been overhauled and, as it appeared to be very cocked up at the back, has been lowered in relation to the back springs. The body is to be rebuilt, making use of the rather nice pointed tail, but considerably widened.
If anyone has any use for the old engine I shall be pleased to let them have it for the cost of the carriage.