A 1910 Type 13 Bugatti
If the 1901 Mercedes was the first modern motor car the 1910 Bugatti was no less certainly the prototype of all modern, high efficiency light cars.
The 1908, 3-litre “Prince Henry” Vauxhall, designed by Laurence Pomeroy, preceded the Bugatti in pioneering high crankshaft speeds as a means of attaining high power from a given engine capacity. Indeed, while the little Bugatti’s 3,000 r.p.m. was regarded as distinctly daring in 1910, it looks quite modest when put beside the Vauxhall of two years earlier, which attained the same crankshaft speed with cylinders more than twice as large as those of the French car.
But, having paid this tribute to Pomeroy and Vauxhall, the Type 13 still stands out as one of the great events in motoring history; a car that is still modern in all essential particulars and performance, and displaying that supreme artistry which belongs to Bugatti alone among automobile designers down the years.
What sets the Type 13 apart from contemporary light cars is that it was a real motor car, at a time when other manufacturers were content with aircooled twins, the sketchiest of coachwork, and Heath Robinson systems of transmission and controls.
The Voiturette formula in the 1908 Grand Prix had already pointed the way towards the modern, multi-cylinder light car, but Bugatti was the first to make a successful example, and he was by a long way the first to put such a car into production. Having gone so far it seems strange that he did not go even further, for it is doubtful if the Type 13 developed any more power, per litre, than the “Prince Henry” Vauxhall. It seems very questionable if one of these engines could ever claim more than 20 b.h.p., although the general design makes it difficult to understand how it could have avoided producing about 28. Even so, with a modest frontal area and an unladen weight of less than 6 cwt. for the complete car, 20 h.p. was capable of giving a really useful performance, especially when coupled with the flat-topped’ power-curve which has characterised most Bugatti power units.
Another thing which made the Type 13 unique among its contemporaries was its high cost. At a time when no one owned a light car if he could afford anything larger, Bugatti set out to show that a small motor car was not merely a poor substitute for the real thing but that it was very much of a real car in its own right. So he lavished upon it perhaps even more craftsmanship and care than on most of his later models and sold it for the then very substantial figure of £800. And people bought the thing.
The critics were universally captivated by what Charles Faroux described as this “boite de vitesse lilliputienne,” and the Motor remarked that “such a high-speed engine has only been made possible by the use of the finest and most expensive materials and the greatest care in construction.”
In the light of subsequent evidence it seems doubtful if the machine shown to the Press in 1910 was the model which actually went into production, as the standard specification differs in several particulars from the contemporary descriptions. It is, therefore, not unlikely that the machine then tested was either the same that ran second in the 1910 “formula libre” Grand Prix, or one similar.
The engine dimensions were 65 by 100 mm., giving a capacity of 1,327 c.c. and, as already stated, maximum speed was put at 3,000 r.p.m., with cruising revs. at 2,300 per minute. In this connection, later catalogues vary somewhat about permitted crankshaft speeds and lower figures are sometimes mentioned, but, be that as it may, the standard car certainly proved itself capable of a safe 3,000 in practice. The crankshaft of the prototype was supported by two roller bearings (there was no centre bearing but the crank was, for that period, exceptionally stiff), but the production model had plain bronze bearings all round. The main bearings were lubricated by drip-feed and the big-ends by splash. The front and back halves of the sump were completely sealed from each other and there was no means of ascertaining the oil level in either — an embarrassing state of affairs which also exists in the 1908 G.P. Itala.
The overhead camshaft operated only two valves per cylinder through the traditional “banana-shaped” tappets, all enclosed and formed into one unit removable with the camshaft cover, the space in the top of the cover being filled with oil which lubricated the shaft by means of wicks, and had an overflow drain-pipe to the crankcase.
The amount of oil reaching the main bearings was metered at will by the driver, who had two visible drip-feeds on the dash, fed from a main oil tank by air pressure. Pressure was maintained in the oil and petrol tanks by the exhaust, a not uncommon arrangement at that time, which was almost universally unsatisfactory and generally replaced by a manually operated airpump.
The camshaft was shaft-driven from the front of the engine, the drive also operating a cross-shaft with a magneto and oil pump mounted at its two ends. The magneto advance and retard operated on the normal system, and not upon the vastly superior quick-thread arrangement which Bugatti later adopted giving maximum spark whatever the setting selected. There was, of course, a single carburetter and characteristic Bugatti four-branch exhaust manifold. There was an air “hot-spot” through the block, coming from a shielded exhaust manifold. The clutch was the customary Bugatti multi-plate pattern delivering power to a separate four-speed gearbox. The prototype seems to have had three-point mounting, which suggests that there had been trouble with cracked mountings owing to chassis movement. but on the production models the conventional Bugatti mounting for all types up to 44 was adopted. It is also doubtful if the prototype did not have closer ratios than the production boxes, being given at 1, 1.3, 1.82 and 3.2 to 1. The back-axle ratio was given as 3.43 to 1 (from a 14 by 48 crown-wheel and pinion), which, with 700 by 85 tyres, gave speeds of 23 3/4, 18 1/4, 13 and 7 1/2 m.p.h., at 1,000 r.p.m., but the production car mostly used 12 or 13 by 45. Maximum speed was quoted at 60 m.p.h., at which sped the fuel consumption was no less than 40 m.p.g. At 2,300 r.p.m. the cruising speed was 55 m.p.h.
The prototype had a wheelbase of only 6 ft. 7 in. and a track of 3 ft. 9 in. and the all-up weight was under 6cwt., whereas the earlier production cars had at least a 7 ft. 11 in. wheelbase and an all-up weight, with lamps, of nearly half a ton.
The earliest models had a quite non-Bugatti type of radiator, on which only the badge was traditional, and semi-elliptic springs all round. “Black Bess” has twin semi-elliptics in front, two complete sets of leaves being mounted side by side, of which M. Bugatti vouch-safed no more than the enigmatic but self-evident remark that the arrangement was “very unusual.” The Type 13 had single semi-elliptics in front, but the double arrangement cropped up again behind. The rear axle and torque arm mounting were as fitted on every Bugatti up to 1940, with the exception of Types 41, 46 and 50 which had their gearboxes on the back axle.
The traditional pear-shaped Bugatti radiator and reversed quarter-elliptics behind were incorporated in the Type 18 around 1912, and it seems possible that some of the later cars went back to the 6 ft. 7 in. wheelbase; for the Type 18 continued to be listed until 1925, when the Types 22 and 28 (Brescia) and the first straight-eights were already current, and presumably it was only finally superseded with the introduction of the touring Type 40, in 1926.
Most fortunately, one of the earliest of the production cars, a 1910 model, exists today, being owned by Peter Hampton, who has restored it with all the thoroughness and artistry of finish which graces the whole of his superb collection of Bugattis. There is an unconfirmed tradition that it was once Ettore’s own car, being finally sold to a Col. Dowson in this country.
“Dainty” is a disgusting word to apply to a motor car, but it is difficult to find any other epithet for a Type 18. Yet there is nothing flimsy about it. It has, indeed, all the qualities of a watch by Breguet who, making his still unsurpassed watches more than a century before Bugatti, is perhaps the only person who has brought the same ruthless unconventionality and artistic sensibility to bear upon mechanical problems as did Ettore himself. It is remarkable how much there is in common between the detail, finish and general layout of this, the earliest Bugatti, and even the latest of his products.
Hampton’s car appears to have a rear axle ratio in the neighbourhood of 4.4 to 1, so that it may even have the 12 by 54 axle. The tyres now fitted are 700 by 80 mm., giving a speed of about 18 1/2 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., and a cruising speed, at 2,300 r.p.m., of 48 m.p.h. And although 40 m.p.h. feels slightly happier, Hampton has, on occasion, kept up 45-50 m.p.h. for many miles on end. Doubtless owing to the low axle ratio, petrol consumption works out at the rather high figure of 30 m.p.g.
On the occasion when I had the privilege of driving the car it was probably not on quite its best form, but with two up, and changing into top at only 30 m.p.h., it accelerated from rest to 40 m.p.h. in 23 seconds. Pulling power on hills is altogether remarkable and the car will run smoothly at 10 m.p.h. in top gear and accelerate away briskly from that speed. Running on Hobson “Nonoi ” plugs, no oiling troubles at all are experienced, the car will crawl through traffic without any difficulty. It nevertheless pays to use the gears fairly freely, and no synchromesh box could be easier to handle, as single declutch changes either up or down can be made with complete silence. One finger is sufficient to move the gear lever, and the clutch pedal operation is equally light. Except for bottom to second, when a slight pause is desirable, all upward changes are effected instantaneously. Top gear is forward in the gate, as with most early Bugattis and all racing Types, and the gears themselves are commendably silent.
Hampton’s car distinguished itself considerably during the 1939 season, when it climbed Prescott in the excellent time of 82.87 sec., which gave it an easy Edwardian-Class win on the Clutton formula, and it also averaged 39.32 m.p.h. over three laps of the Crystal Palace circuit, from a standing start.
The steering has all the Bugatti magic and indeed, it may be said that the steering characteristic is the only thing common to the handling qualities of this, the smallest true Bugatti ever made, and the “Royale,” with more than twice the wheelbase and ten times the engine capacity. Even if Bugatti had made cars that were in every other respect bad, they would surely have sold on the steering alone. The Type 13 steering is, naturally, light, even for a Bugatti, and the whole machine is essentially one to be controlled with the fingers and toes, rather than with the hands and feet.
Hampton’s car has no shock absorbers and gives an extremely comfortable ride, the rear springs, in particular, being very flexible. With so short a wheelbase considerable pitching is set up on a bumpy surface.
Among its contemporaries it is difficult to think of any but the baby Renault which can in any way compare with the Type 13 Bugatti. And good and reliable car as the Renault was, it had only two cylinders and quadrant gearchange, and it was, in all essentials. a veteran car with an extreme maximum of 35 m.p.h. But the Bugatti was in all essentials a modern car, and a sports-car at that. Even when 37 years old, it is still a car in which one would set out cheerfully on a long journey, confident of passing a large proportion of other cars on the road. In his Type 13 Bugatti Hampton undoubtedly possesses a splendid example of one of the most historic cars ever made.