Type 57 Bugatti
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Thread: Type 57 Bugatti

  1. #1
    Fellow Frogger!
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    Default Type 57 Bugatti

    Following is an abridged copy of a story I did for "Classic Driver" magazine on a Type 57 Bugatti. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed doing it! The best bit is the car I drove out to follow as a camera car was a type 37A Grand Prix car/


    The car we are looking at is a 1934 type 57, chassis no. 57111 and is one of the earliest type 57 Bugattis to have survived from the 710 produced between 1934 and 1940. Still wearing itís correct Galibier pillarless 4 door body, it is believed that this is one of two remaining examples. Powered by a 3.3l twin cam straight eight engine producing 135hp and like all Bugatti motors, a work of art in itself. The crankcase is engine-turned aluminium, with side plate covers and cam boxes hand scraped.
    The legend of the car goes like this:- Produced in February 1934, the car was a gift from Ettore Bugatti for Elizabeth of Bavaria, the Queen of Belgium. Queen Elizabeth then passed the car on to composer and conductor Ugo Tansini as a reward for an opera which he had written and dedicated to her. From then, the story goes, the Belgian Government seized the car due to unpaid debts. From here little is known until it was sold in 1957 by well known Belgian Bugatti collector/dealer Jean de Dobbeleer. Soon after, 57111 went to the USA and sat, unused and unloved from 1958 to 2005. By the time it came into Garry Donnithorneís ownership the engine and gearbox had been taken for use in another car, and many of the small, shiny bits (not to mention a few more of the bigger bits, like the steering wheel) had also disappeared making the restoration a very challenging project.
    A correct un-supercharged type 57 engine was found and imported, but it was not in the best of condition. It looked like every bolt and cover had been loosened and uncovered, then the whole lot left to ďmatureĒ outside in a wet climate. By the time it got to Auto Restorations it was in a pretty parlous state. Bugatti engines (well, genuine ones anyway) do not exactly grow on trees or pop up at your average swapmeet, so it was left to Morris to do his best with what he had.
    The gearbox was the same but different. Again the correct item was located overseas and sent to Christchurch. From an external view with the casing comprised of lots of bright polished aluminium, it looked ready to bolt in the car. Removing the top for a peek inside revealed an entirely different story. Not rusty and knackered like the engine, but worn out and knackered.
    There is nothing which draws attention from pedestrians and fellow motorists like the sight and sound of a pair of Bugattis driving through town. Why two Bugattis? Greed, really! We needed a car to take moving photos of the type 57 from, and as well, I had a romantic image in my mind of a photo of a Bugatti road car on a tree lined country road being overtaken by a Grand Prix example. As a camera platform a type 37A Bugatti is a bit extravagant I admit, but it certainly added to the atmosphere and enjoyment of the day, it didnít matter if it accidently got into a shot, and it was a damn good excuse for me to have another drive of the car. As for my atmospheric overtaking shot?? Well, how was I to know it was rubbish day, so the roadside was going to be liberally littered with wheelie bins, and that Old Tai Tapu Road now is a training route for every wannabe Tour de France rider in Canterbury?
    Sitting in the GP car as I followed Allan Wylie from Auto Restorations to our chosen photo spot I had plenty of time to observe the T57 on the road, and the more I looked at it, the more I was impressed. The big eight cylinder engine had a burble to it which was not overly obtrusive but certainly conveyed the message that this was not a car to be trifled with. My first impression of the styling was that it was understated almost to the extent of being plain. The more I looked at it and the more attention I paid to the detail, I think I can understand what the designer had in mind. If you wanted flashy and show, get Figoni et Falaschi to do your coachwork. If you want a clean, practical yet quality body to clothe your chassis, this factory body more than fits the bill and certainly is not lacking in style or innovation. The pillarless design had a different meaning to what we are used to now. The front doors are hinged from the front. The back doors are hinged from the rear, but instead of closing onto a central door pillar, they instead latch to the chassis and the top of the body. With the Bugatti being built on a sturdy separate chassis there is no problem with the body flexing and doors flying open, and this design does make getting into and out of the car very easy.
    From inside with Allan and I in the front and photographer Alex snapping away from the back seat we all had the chance to see what the mid 1930ís version of a Supercar was like. Follow the lead of the exterior, the interior was almost austere. The seats were very comfortable, although Allan did comment that the driving position was a little high. The wooden dash featured a circular Jaegar speedo with amps, fuel, temperature and oil pressure inside the dial. It looked vaguely familiar but took a couple of minutes to work out why. Then the penny (or should that be centime?) dropped. The same item can be seen in the considerably more pedestrian Peugeot 302 and 402 from the same era. The one thing still to be done to the dash is the fitting of a Scintilla switchbox which is one of the parts missing from the car when it arrived in New Zealand and so far efforts to locate a replacement have not been successful.
    Engine and gearbox noise does enter the cabin, and leaves you in no doubt of the sporting nature of the car, but it is not loud enough to be annoying. The gearlever lives where it belongs, in the middle of the floor alongside the handbrake unlike the ancient British practice of putting these somewhat vital pieces of equipment on the right hand side of the car. Two chrome plated levers on the far right of the wooden dashboard look after ancillary controls and a knob in the centre opens the vent on the top of the scuttle to allow fresh air inside the cabin, which is the 1930ís version of air-conditioning. It was a particularly warm day when we were in the car, and this simple form of ventilation was more than effective in making the interior habitable, and with no noticeable wind noise as a bonus.
    As we rode the back roads of Canterbury the big Bugatti coped admirably with the less than perfect road surface and Allan do not have to work the steering to hold the car in a straight line. Despite Bugattiís often repeated line of ďI build my cars to go, not to stopĒ, the traditional and by 1934, outdated cable brakes (later versions of the type 57 were fitted with hydraulics) pulled up the big car seemingly effortlessly. The ride was firm, with no evidence of body roll but at the same time it was not harsh. Having climbed of the little type 37 to get into itís big sister, I had an appreciation for how different a road can seem when in trying it in a car built for speed and not comfort. The Grand Prix car leaves your ears ringing and the backside looking for padding. The type 57 seemed (as it was intended) the epitome of luxury.

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  2. #2
    Fellow Frogger!
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    thanks for sharing your wonderfully described experience of a life time.enjoyed every bit

  3. #3
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    Gald you enjoyed it. Buried somewhere in another computer is my experience of the T37A Grand Prix car, which I have been very lucky to have to have been able to borrow for a couple of weekends. That is a truely amazing car! When I find the story, I will put it up here as well

    Quote Originally Posted by alpine View Post
    thanks for sharing your wonderfully described experience of a life time.enjoyed every bit

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