THE 5-LITRE TYPE BUGATTI KNOWN AS “BLACK BESS ” THE motoring world is sharply divided into those to whom antique vehicles appeal, and those to whom their attraction is quite incomprehensible. Even among the former, I think their enthusiasm may spring from quite a variety of different reasons. To some, the appeal is almost entirely historical ; others enjoy getting the machinery back to its original condition ; another type may enjoy exercising the skill and sensitiveness necessary to coax the older veterans along, while the appeal of the Edwardian touring Car is quite different. At its best it had a refined and easy performance bred of big engines and flywheels, very high gear ratios and low compressionratios, coupled with extremely comfort able springing and coachwork. Lastly there is the thrill of the pre-war sports and racing-ears. First developed by Panhard in 1901 or thereabouts there grew a race of giants that reigned supreme till 1912, when the 15-litre LorraineDietrich was beaten by the Peugeot ” Voiturette?” of a mere 6 or 7 litres. From that Peugeot developed the relatively super-efficient Grand Prix cars of 1914 with ‘9verhead camshafts, multivalves and practically ;everything that was regarded as advanced design until the
late ’20s. These machines must have developed around 23 b.h.p.. per litre. Indeed, this is quite understandable when their advanced design and top engine speed of around 3,000 r.p.m. is recollected. As against this, the giants seldom offered more than 10 b.h.p. per litre at peak revs. of around, 1,600. There were, however, premonitions of
the high-efficiency engine. As early as 1898 the De Dion tricycle engine was capable of 3,500 r.p.m. though why, and for how long I have not been able to discover. A less fortuitous effort was the AustroDaimler designed by Herr Porsche of Auto-Union fame, for the 1910 Alpine Trial. One of the most handsome cars ever made, it had a 5-litre engine with overhead camshaft, exposed and inclined valves. Final drive was by chain as was then customary with large cars owing to the difficulty of persuading universal joints to carry any considerable load without disaster. A curiously obsolete feature of the design was the air cooled exhaust valves, working in the oldfashioned detachable cage s ; but appar
ently they gave nO trouble ; anyway, the Austro-Dahnler team swept the board and I imagine they were quite the talk of the day. What a find it would be if one came to light at the present time. At an even earlier period a perhaps more remarkable car still was under construction by none other than M. Ettore Bugatti. I do not know exactly when he set up on his own, but it must have been -around ’08, previous to which he had, of course, been a designer with de Dietrich. In this year, he built his first 5-litre touring car, but for one reason Or another he never exploited it, and the model was not put on the market till 1912, after which -a few were sold up to the outbreak of war. No type number was even assigned to the 5-litre, and Bugatti’s staple product before the war was the delightful little type 13, a four-cylinder, 1,327 c.c. ol.c. eight valve, four-speed, shaft-driven model of which C. W. P. Hampton has recently magnificently restored a 1910 example. These phenomenal machines pulled a really practical two-seater body along at 60 m.p.h. and were entirely reliable— this, at a time when 35 m.p.h. was considered a really sharp speed for anything under 1,500 c.c.. Following on this, in 1013 came the Type 22 with sixteen valves and the slightly greater capacity of 1,453 e.e. Front this was developed the Brescia type 23, of. early post-war
fame, in passing, it is interesting to observe the magnificently plotted gearratios of the type 22—a feature of design whose mastery seems to have escaped so many otherwise gifted designers, but in which he Patron has so very Seldom gone astray. They were 10,16, 6.29, 4.50 and 3.46 to 1, giving speed at 3,000 r.p.m. of 24,.88, 54 and 70, a proportioning so satisfactory that it is still used, almost verbatim, on the modern 57 series.
To return to the 5-litre type (the 1927 5-litre type 16 is, of course, quite different, and has eight-cylinders) only two are still known to exist. One is in the Bugatti museum and the other is the famous car owned by Col. G. M. Giles, M.C., and keown as ” Black Bess.” There was, until r«-ently, a third, in Switzerland, but it was somewhat fragmentary, and Col. Giles bought it, for spares. ‘The car was first sold to a French ahman called Garros who was killcd in the
war, but he left it to a friend who subsequently sold it to Louis Coat elen, the famous Sunbeam designer. In 1923 he in turn sold it to Ivy Cummings who had it tuned and used it extensively in sprints during 1923 and 24. During this time it put up several fastest times of day in the hands of this spirited lady driver, though racing starts, sometimes broke different parts of the transmission. I believe ” Black Bess” never visited Brooklands in .anger at this time, but during an unofficial canter she exceeded the hundred mark. This is really staggering from a car designed in 1908 as a touring car of .only 5-litres at which date nothing short of a racing machine of 10litres was considered adequate to reach three figure velocities.
Even at a time when unbraced chassis etc. were the order of the day ” Black Bess” was regarded as a handful, for she had no shock absorbers, only snubbers, she was high built and very short. and the weight distribution was not extra special. Front wheel skidding and Sideways motoring were favourite pastimes, as S. C. H. Davis, who sometimes drove her, will bear witness. Still, she would go up to 78 m.p.h. in second with a rare rush and this, combined with determined manipulation, made her an exceedingly formidable figure in
competition. In passing, it should be noted that she was invariably driven to meetings and frequently competed in full touring trim, with the sweeping mudguards and tiny lamps she then effected. It was Miss Cummings who christened her ” Black Bess.”
In 1925 a Mr. H. L. Preston bought her and drove her in one or two events, including the Inter-Varsity speed trials and the Brooklands Bank Holiday meeting, before he sold her to an unknown individual who, in turn, passed her onto a Mr. James Justice. He apparently, had great ideas as to the things he would do With her, and handed her over to Mr. McEvoy to tune. However, her gearbox split beyond the aid of any system of Welding then known and the brave car Was wilfully allowed to sink into a shameful state of neglect and decay until rediscovered by Mr. Aylward. Finally, during 1935, Col. Giles took pity on her and bought the battered remains. Then started a long period of
reconstruction ; gradually, missing parts were replaced and the body brought back to its present condition. The early knock-off 8 wheels were rebuilt to take 5.25 section tyres, friction shock-absorbers, modern electrics and instruments also installed, were new hood and upholstery and at last after a really terrifying expenditure “Black Bess” stood up once again in her full beauty and strength, a monument to the early pre-eminence of M. Bugatti, and to the enthusiasm of Col. Giles in so lavishly restoring her. But still the troubles were not over. Lubrication was by a most mysterious system of mechanical pumps. It may have worked once, but it had become very confused during the years of neglect and nothing would make it operate pro
perly. Finally, the bearings exploded at Lewes and a new system of low pressure and splash lubrication, in con-junction. with white metal was installed. Now, It Black Bess” is a 100 per cent, reliable touring car with every amenity except front brakes, side curtains and a selfstarter. Mechanically the engine has fourcylinders, measuring 100 x160 and having a swept capacity of 5,026 c.c. The overhead camshaft is driven by a shaft from the front end, runs in five roller bearings and prods three valves per cylinder through a somewhat unusual system of rockers. The valves are not inclined in the head ; M. Bugatti only has inclined valves with two camshafts. The magneto is driven from the base of the vertical shaft and advance and retard is effected by the famous Bugatti quick thread arrangement, which insures the fattest possible spark, whatever the position of
the ignition lever. There is no deconipressor, but a most ingenious system of compression taps allows the gas to escape through them, so lowering the compression, but not permitting air to be drawn in through them on the induction stroke, which would weaken the mixture and make starting difficult. I doubt if anyone could swing the engine, certainly from cold, but a sharp two-handed pullup is generally effective. The drive is transmitted through the famous Bugatti clutch, that was used in all models until the 57 series, to a fourspeed gearbox and thence by chains to the road wheels. The hand brake works on the large back drums and the foot brake has a drum on the countershaft. I imagine the racing sprockets are still In place, because the ratios are incredibly high for such a relatively small engine. Working them out by winding the starting handle with the respective gears engaged gave figures of 5, 3.25, 2.2 and 1.8 to 1. Actually,this rough and ready method made third and top seem identical—about 2 to 1, but I find difficulty in believing this, even of the occasionally whimsical M. Bugatti, but they are certainly very close, and the figures T have given are probably about right. Unfortunately, the car has no rev,counter, and no one now seems to know the safe rev, limit, but the afore-mentioned 78 in second must have been equivalent to about 2,800 r.p.m. which would give about 46 m.p.h. in bottom and theoretical 120 in third and, an even more theoretical
150 in top ! For use on the road, therefore, all the ratios would be made much more useful by sprockets giving a final ratio 50 per cent, lower than at presenti.e., about 7.5, 4.9, 3.3 and 2.7 to 1. The performance would then be terrific since, even now, it is really impressive. After all, the engine must give something approaching 100 b.h.p., and the whole car to-day only weighs 23+ cwt. Third gear is the direct ratio, and first, second and fourth emit a powerful low-pitched growl. The rear suspension is by the customary Bugatti reversed quarter-elliptics, and there is no doubt that these go a long way towards mitigating the potential evils of such a very short wheelbase. The front suspension is most odd. On each side there are two complete sccs of very narrow semi-elliptic springs, side by side. M. Bugatti makes the guarded remark that they are “very original” but ventures no reason for the peculiarity. The front axle is square in section and, like the rest of the chassis, machined to a top gear, reserving top for real autobahn cruising, but Col. (‘Ales is very properly anxious to spare the old engine wherever possible and uses fourth as normal top, engaging it at about 50 m.p.h. The gear lever can be moved to and fro between third and fourth in the best synchromesh manner with a single declutch, but third to second etc. requires double declutching. Even in top the car still gathers way around the 50s and 60s in a very determined manner. This is now regarded as its cruising speed, hut if its original performance has not been overstated it would hardly be possible to overdrive it
in this country ! Actually, Col. Giles tells me that it becomes very frisky at about 70, despite the double Hartfords, so that one respects Miss Cummings the more for driving, it at 100 m.p.h. with only snubbers and narrow tyres. I should dearly have liked to take acceleration figures, but the speedometer cable broke and so put accurate calculations out of the question. The foot brake is smooth and powerful
magnificent surface. The steering box
is of modern Bugatti pattern.
It will thus be seen that the whole car is in all essentials a modern Bugatti, or, more accurately perhaps, a greatly enlarged Brescia.
Such a machine, with such a history, is one that most people would give a good deal to have driven, so that a recent invitation from Col. Giles was eagerly accepted. The getaway is smooth and easy despite the high w ar, but the engine must not be accelerated until the clutch is fully engaged. Speed gathers quickly until a short pause in neutral bring us to second. This ratio still gives vivid acceleration, though a modern driver, used to a second gear four times as low, might be misled by not hearing the revs, rising in a rapid glissando. The direct drive third is joyfully silent after the howling of first and second, and one has time to appreciate the leisurely beat of the engine and the gentle thrashing of the chains. I think this ratio is meant to be the normal
and does not readily catch fire, while the absence of universal joints or differential makes its general use permissible. The back brakes swing the car about in a petrifying manner, and it is inadvisable to use them with more than finger pressure to augment the foot brake. The steering is true Bugatti—a sheer joy. The wheel does not vibrate at all, yet by gentle tremors the driver is kept informed of every movement of
the road wheels. At ordinary speed, at least, the cornering is splendid, being effected with perfect balance between the sliding of the front and rear wheels.
Altogether, this is a very wonderful car, both on account of its advanced design and honourable history. Since its completion, Col. .Giles has had less and less time for pleasure motoring and he has finally come to the sad conclusion that he can make so little use of the car that he would part with it to a kind
home. Despite the vast sums he has spent on it I think he would sell it for what is really a small figure, all things considered, if he could be sure it would be well treated.