Bugatti Type 55

Bugatti Type 55

Total Production: 38 1932 - 1935
Bugatti had a distinguished history when it came time to produce the Type 55. Their resume included extremely successful race cars and elegant and sophisticated road-going vehicles. In the racing department, the minimalist Type 35 was a very competitive car that racked up many impressive victories. It was, like so many other Bugatti's, available with either a naturally aspirated engine or with the addition of a supercharger. In the early 1930s, a new car was needed to keep Bugatti at the front of its game and to comply with new racing regulations.

Bugatti had been very successful in creating great racing machines and using the lessons learned to create performance-minded road-going cars. In other words, the technology that worked on the track often made it into the production vehicles. This continual growth and constant evolution aided in the marque's success both on and off the track.

Bugatti had been working on the Type 47 and its Grand Prix sibling Type 45 when the French Grand Prix ended in 1928, effectively canceling these projects. Much time and attention had gone into designing these machines. The deep-section rail frame for the Type 47 Grand Sport was designed to house a three-liter U-16 engine. The chassis frame, with its widely spaced rear springs and long rear-axle trailing arms, was strong enough to house a larger engine, which it did with the Type 54 Grand Prix. The engine was a 4.9-liter unit straight-eight. Jean Bugatti continued his previously successful endeavors by offering a de-tuned version of the Grand Prix car for road-going purposes.

The Type 55 was given the Type 47/54 chassis and a lower compression Type 51 Grand Prix engine. A very attractive, Jean-Bugatti-designed, two-seater coachwork was created for the Type 55, along with a similarly styled coupe body coachwork.

Production of the Type 55 began in 1932 and continued until 1935, with a total of 38 examples created. Twenty-three examples were completed during its first year of production. The straight-eight engine had a cast-iron block and head, dual overhead camshafts, Zenith carburetor, Roots-type supercharger, and displaced 2262cc. There was a four-speed manual gearbox, cable-operated drum brakes at all four corners, and live axle suspension.

In 2008, this Type 46 Sports Saloon was offered for sale at the Gooding & Company Auction held in Pebble Beach, California. It was estimated to sell for $650,000 - $850,000 and offered without reserve. The lot was sold for $440,000, including the buyer's premium.
By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2009Despite what every adolescent boy in America may tell you, the awe-inspiring Veyron was not Bugatti's first car. Nor was it Bugatti's first tribute to speed, excess, and unbridled wealth.

The 16-cylinder, quad-turbo Veyron was conceived under Bugatti's current Volkswagen ownership. Before the German takeover, the Italians had some fun with Bugatti as well. For a few years during the early 1990's, an Italy-based Bugatti produced the EB110 supercar with as many turbos and as much presence as the Veyron, albeit with a paltry 12 cylinders.

The Veyron and EB110 represent the whole of Bugatti's recent history. Between 1956 and 1991, no new Bugattis were produced.

That fact may say more about the Bugatti legend than anything else. Here was a company that could vanish for 35 years and then come back, under foreign rule no less, to build the fastest, most exotic machines on the planet. Only an absolutely exhilarating past could have inspired the inception of these modern Bugatti vehicles, and from 1909 through 1956 the French marque founded by Ettore Bugatti had just that.

Though marvelous excesses like the 12.8-liter Royale had most in common with the extravagant Bugattis of today, the company also had the power to produce less glitzy cars in the name of tasteful perfection. One such work was the Type 55 produced from 1932 through 1935.

One of the best sports cars of its time, the Type 55 was an incredible piece of engineering. Sharing its chassis with the Type 54 and its basic engine design with the Type 51, it was a terrific performer on road and track.

The detuned Type 51 engine found in the Type 55 was a dual overhead cam inline eight displacing 2262cc. Fed by a Zenith carburetor, the engine featured a roots supercharger that helped bring power output up to 130hp. In a car that weighed as little as 1,800lbs, that kind of power proved ample for rapid motoring. The cast alloy rear wheels were driven through a four-speed transmission.

Only 38 Type 55 chassis were produced. Close to half of these were fitted with roadster or coupe coachwork by Ettore's son, Jean Bugatti. These bodies reinforced the Type 55's image as a sports car and established the car as one of the best-sculpted vehicles ever produced.

Jean Bugatti was undeniably talented. The work he did for his father resulted in some of the most stunning and gorgeous cars in automotive history. While he may be best remembered for the drastically curvaceous lines of some of the Type 57 bodies, Jean Bugatti's Type 55 coachwork was brilliant in its own right.

The Super Sport roadster especially was a lovely design. Perfectly proportioned and with just enough curvature, it was tasteful elegance at its best. The delicate front fenders swept down to form short running boards which then leaped up quickly to form rear fenders that fell in tight circles around the rear wheels. The stately Bugatti grille stood proudly up front, situated between carefully placed headlights. The long nose, with louvers on its sides, hinted at the car's potent powerhouse as the short tail, bedecked with twin spare tires, finished the declaration of the car's sporting intentions.

With its speed and style, the Type 55 fit perfectly with Bugatti's history as an independent carmaker. It was as enjoyable to drive as it was to look at, and its price tag and small production ensured that it would only fall into the hands of a fortunate few. The Type 55 helped establish a story incredible enough to compel a new generation of aficionados to dust off three and a half stagnant decades and bring back one of the most phenomenal names to ever grace an automobile.


'Bugatti Type 55.' The Bugatti Trust 29 Mar 2009

'Bugatti Type 55 1932-1935.' Auto Evolution 29 Mar 2009

'Lot 147: Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport Roadster: Collectors' Sports & Grand Touring Motor Cars, Bonhams (10th May 2008).' Motorbase 29 Mar 2009

Wise, David Burgess. 'Bugatti, Germany, France, 1909-1956; Italy, 1991 to 1994.'The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Automobiles. 2000.

By Evan Acuña