Throughout automotive history there have been a number of manufacturers that have created some truly stunning, artistic models of cars that have captured the imagination and inspired future generations. However, there was likely never a better blend of artistry and mechanical arts than with Bugatti. But, Bugatti wasn't all looks. Performance would be what helped Bugatti to enrapture its admirers. However, by the mid-1930s, Bugatti would be struggling to find new illumination. The innovative racecars, and the performance that completed the picture seemed to be missing. War looming on the horizon, Bugatti would try once more to create an automotive masterpiece. However, due to other mitigating circumstances, this final creation would prove to be one of the company's, and yet, unsuccessful works of art.
Ettore Bugatti would be born at a time when Thomas Edison was still perfecting his lightbulb. However, capturing light and color to reflect emotion and passion was already a part of Bugatti's life. Before Ettore was even a teenager his father, Carlo, would be holding exhibitions of his artwork. It was clear that artistic style was very much a part of Ettore's life.
But art comes in many forms and it can be found in all spheres of life, even in the apparently cold and unfeeling world of machines. Bugatti would be growing up through adolescents at a time when the automobile was first coming onto the scene. Seemingly a novelty at first, novelties meant canvases for artists, and Ettore would end up finding his medium in which to practice his artistic talents.
After starting out training as an engineer, Ettore would come to build his first automobile just a couple of years later. Then, just a little after the turn of the 20th century, Bugatti would take on a new partner and would begin to construct a number of new automobiles.
One of those automobiles Bugatti would go on to produce would be the T13. This car, in the hands of Ernest Friedrich, would go on to score a 2nd place finish in the 1909 Grand Prix of France despite competing against numerous other cars with much larger engine displacements.
But then came the outbreak of the First World War. Bugatti would become involved in the production of engines for aircraft upon the Bugatti family moving to Paris once Italy joins the war. While the engines would see interest, none of the engines are ever mass-produced. Bugatti would see more success while designing and building a 16-cylinder engine for the United States. However, the end of the war would bring Bugatti's interest in aviation to a halt and, by 1919, the Bugatti plant in Molsheim would be re-opened and resuming producing of Type 13 chassis.
The end of the First World War, and the move into the 1920s, would see Bugatti enter what most would consider to be the company's 'Golden Era'. This statement would mostly draw from the company's creation of the Type 35 racecar. The revolutionary and distinctive design would provide the first horseshoe-shaped grill that would become famous and a trademark for the company. The simple, sleek design would end up earning no less than 500 victories over a period of less than two years.
While the success of Bugatti's on the road circuits of Europe was undeniable, the same sleek and artistic styling would prove ever-popular with Bugatti's road-going family cars as well. One of the more famous and elegant designs would be the Bugatti 'Royale' produced in 1926.
In 1929, a Bugatti Type 35B, driven by Englishman Grover Williams, outlasts Rudolf Caracciola in a Mercedes SSK to win the very first Monaco Grand Prix. The tight street course proved a near perfect venue for the nimble Bugatti.
By the early 1930s, Bugatti was still very much a company in demand. Its Royale Roadster would continue the Bugatti mystique with the affluent of society. But, between the terrible economic conditions around the world and especially in the United States, and a number of untimely deaths and strikes, Bugatti would be relying upon designs more than a few years old. While the elegance and all that made Bugatti what it was seemed to remain, the innocence, the artistry, seemed to have hit a creative block.
The creativeness was still there, evident in the striking Type 50 coupe. Still, it seemed Bugatti's works were lacking something, a soul. Starting production in 1933, the Type 59 certainly seemed to be the company's latest effort to regain that personality, that passion that had made Bugatti the most sought-after racecar manufacturer of the early 20th century.
The Type 59 would be first produced in 1933 with a total number of 8 units being built over a two year period. Built for the new 750kg regulations, the Type 59 would bear a great deal of similarity to the Type 54 and Type 51 all being built around the same time. Influenced by the shape of the horseshoe grill, the nose of the Type 59 would feature the usual rounded top line that had been first seen all the way back in the Type 30s models. However, the Type 59 would feature a lower-slung body and chassis meant to reduce ride height and lower the car's center of gravity. This, and the live front and rear axles, were intended to increase stability and decrease roll. But, no matter what the evolutions were, the sheer fact remained that the Type 59 just looked like an updated version of the aged Type 35 of the 1920s.
Even the power for the Type 59 would come from another familiar source. The Type 57 featured an 8-cylinder engine with two overhead camshafts and a Stromberg carburetor producing around 135hp. This same powerplant would be employed in the Type 59 but with two Zenith carburetors and a compressor boosting power up to 250hp.
The main way in which the Type 59 would remain closely attached to its roots would come in the way of its handling and ride. While many other manufacturers were experimenting and utilizing independent suspension, the Type 59 would retain the cable-operated drum brakes and solid axles.
Sometimes, in order to find inspiration, one needs to break away from paradigms, or traditions. Tradition was certainly something incredibly obvious in just about every single Bugatti produced throughout the late-1920s and into the 1930s. Unfortunately, this tradition was leaving Bugatti way behind. The days of dominance at Le Mans were far removed from the memory of most people, and even with some at Bugatti. A new approach, a new design was needed. What's more, Bugatti needed to do this if it had any desire of being around for another couple of decades. Therefore, the company's best, first attempt to break away from its strong traditions would be something of a compromise. It certainly broke away in some ways, but still remained true in others. The car would become known as the Type59/50BIII.
Just one look at the 59/50BIII and the company's efforts to break away from tradition become immediately apparent. Peering at the nose of the car, the famed horseshoe grill would be gone, at least in the way that most people had become familiar. The horseshoe shape would remain, but instead of the blunt straight up and down nose, the 59/50BIII would feature a snout that would droop suddenly out at the very end of the nose giving the car a rather appreciable arch to the slightly protruding nose. The horseshoe-shaped grill could remain seen in the grill design but even the sides of the nose would be contoured to give the point of the nose a much more rounded look.
Because of the contouring of the nose the top line of the Type 59/50BIII would be much more rounded than its predecessors and would be absolutely littered with louvers for cooling of the 3.0-liter straight-8 engine.
The front suspension of the car would still feature the normal solid axle. It was clear Bugatti had become so accustomed in its road-handling arrangement that it was hard for the company to break away from its mold. However, greater lengths would be taken to aerodynamically, and artistically, blend the semi-elliptic leaf springs into the design of the car. Therefore, instead of the exposed axle and leaf spring elements protruding out the front of the car, the elongated and contoured nose would allow for fin-like protrusions to be designed into the car, thereby providing the car a much more modern and aerodynamic look.
The lines of a Bugatti racecar had been quite simple throughout the company's history. Practically in all cases the design of the car featured a box-like design with the driver protruding out of the top of the car as though an after-thought to the car's overall design. The Type 59/50BIII, however, would certainly appear to have been designed with the driver in mind, one driver in mind.
The Type 59/50BIII would certainly boast of some ways in which its designers were trying to break from Bugatti convention. And one of those conventions had been to design simple, light-weight cars, but with two seats so that the cars could take part in sportscar races as well as grand prix events. It would become clear, straight-away, the purpose of the Type 59/50BIII. The car would boast of a single seat and a centerline driving position, practically unheard of at Bugatti.
It would be clear, just looking at the design of the car, that the designers had designed and built the machine around the driver. No longer would the driver simply appear to protrude out of the top of the car. The Type 59/50BIII would feature the top line of the body's design to curve upwards just prior to the cockpit. Furthermore, the car would feature deeply cut out sides and a double-contoured tail section that would provide the driver with a headrest even before it blended into the taught vertical tail.
Although the car's body certainly appeared to depart from Bugatti tradition a fair amount, the majority of the components within the car would not. The car would still feature cable-operated drum brakes. Of course there was the issue with the front and rear suspension on the car. Among the components used in the production of the Type 59/50BIII, about the only one to have any real kind of change made to it would be the 8-cylinder engine. While it would be the same as that which powered the Type 59 and the Type 57 road car, lighter alloys would be used in the 50BIII in order to help the car keep to the 750kg minimum. Aided by a Roots-type supercharger, the 3.0-liter engine would be capable of producing around 275 bhp. This would be an impressive number, but up against the might of the Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, the car would have practically no chance.
Only two or three of the Type59/50BIIIs would ever be made. And while they would have little chance against the might of the Silver Arrows, it would be unreliability that would prove its greatest competition.
The first of the 50BIIIs would take part in the 1938 season when the regulations stipulated a 3.0-liter displacement limit. Prior to that, Bugatti had built the Type 59/50B and 50BII. The body-styling would be practically the same from one model to another. The biggest change, however, would have to do with engine size. Initially, the 50B had been produced with a 4.7-liter engine capable, with boosting, of producing more than 400bhp. The power would then be reduced when the 50BII would be built with a 4.5-liter normally aspirated engine. This model would take part in the one million Franc event held at Montlhery and would eventually finish 2nd in the hands of Jean-Pierre Wimille.
The limit to 3.0-liters in the new regulations for 1938 would see Bugatti return to the Roots-type supercharger. But this would prove to be a tragic partnership as Wimille would suffer engine failures in the two races in which the car would compete with that arrangement.
Only two known Type 59/50Bs would ever be built. One of these, built in 1939, would be fitted with a supercharged, 4.7-liter engine and would take part in the La Turbie Hillclimb with Wimille again at the wheel. The car would earn 2nd place in the overall standings and a class victory. The car, in the hands of Wimille, would then go on to score the first outright victory for the 50B at the Coupe de Paris and at the 1945 Coupe des Prisonniers.
Unfortunately, the Second World War would bring about the end of Bugatti, at least as it was known. Therefore, it would bring about the end of the T59/50B and the subsequent models. Bugatti, therefore, would never properly enter the more modern age, and thus, restore its dominant image in motor racing.
One of those couple of T59/50Bs, chassis 441352, remains a regular in historic events and at such events as the Goodwood Revival to this very day. Understood to be the original T59/50B, the chassis started out life as one of six T59s built all the way back in 1933. The chassis is a rare and very special Bugatti as it would be the one that made the debut as the T59/50B in the 1936 Monaco Grand Prix.
Chassis 441352 would not remain untouched over its lifespan. The car would undergo changes to become the 4.5-liter T59/50BII in 1937 and, subsequently, became a T59/50BIII when it was converted to the 3.0-liter specification in 1938.
Still in the 50BIII configuration to this very day, 441352 would spend a great deal of its life in the United States. However, the car now resides in England and has since undergone a full restoration.
It certainly is clear Bugatti was moving in a newer direction when the Second World War interrupted the company's progress. It goes without saying that had the war not played a part, Bugatti likely could have found its soul once again and gone on to produce a competitive grand prix car that would have seen the Bugatti name restored to its rightful place. Instead, it would be nearly three-quarters of a century, and a whole different ownership, to produce yet another piece of art worthy of the Bugatti name.Sources:
'Tradition: History', (http://www.bugatti.com/en/tradition/history.html?fl_eventYear=1927&fl_eventNum=4). Bugatti. http://www.bugatti.com/en/tradition/history.html?fl_eventYear=1927&fl_eventNum=4. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
'Tradition: Bugatti Models', (http://www.bugatti.com/en/tradition/bugatti-models/t59.html). Bugatti. http://www.bugatti.com/en/tradition/bugatti-models/t59.html. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
'Bugatti Type 59/50BIII', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/4955/Bugatti-Type-59-50B-III.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/4955/Bugatti-Type-59-50B-III.html. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Bugatti', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 December 2012, 09:35 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Bugatti&oldid=526839818 accessed 11 December 2012 By Jeremy McMullen