Ettore Bugatti, From Making His Own Liquor to Cars and Patenting the Alloy Wheel

Ettore Bugatti 8 photos
Photo: Bugatti
Ettore BugattiEttore BugattiEttore BugattiEttore BugattiEttore BugattiEttore BugattiEttore Bugatti
September 15th would have been Ettore Bugatti’s 140th birthday, though the famous car engineer and designer passed away in 1947, aged 65. Nonetheless, he did leave a huge mark on the automotive industry and not only, because he also created other things.
In his relentless desire to come up with better products, Bugatti ended up creating his own distillery, as he was unhappy with the era’s liquor. He also designed bicycles, as the ones on the market back then were deemed as not good enough.

Motorcycle frames, security locks, surgical instruments, and a cylindrical razor were also signed by him, and he designed numerous other items for everyday use that were not patented. The famous Type 52 pedal car came to life when Ettore wanted to buy one for his son, Roland, yet there was nothing on sale back then that could satisfy him.

Bugatti will always be remembered for founding the eponymous company, though before doing that, he ventured into the early days of motoring by designing his own motorized tricycle that he put through its paces in the Paris-Bordeaux race. Ettore was 17 years old at the time, and was an apprentice at the Prinetti and Stucchi factory for one year, where he went encouraged by his father, Carlo Bugatti, who recognized his talents after seeing him repair a motorized tricycle.

At age 18, he left Prinetti and Stucchi to create his own car, funded by the Counts Gulinelli. Everything was sketched by him, and he also assembled it by hand, subsequent to overseeing the creation of the parts. The groundbreaking design earned him several awards, and shortly after, he was hired by the De Dietrich company to design and build vehicles. The contract was co-signed by his father, as Ettore was still too young to do so on his own.

Ettore Bugatti
Photo: Bugatti
Ettore Bugatti’s ideas were well ahead of their time, as the car he built in 1903 for the Paris-Madrid race, while he was employed by De Dietrich, was not allowed to race. That’s because he placed the driver and mechanic low in the chassis, for enhanced aerodynamics and improved center of gravity, and back then, the organizers thought that a high-seating position was the correct way to do it.

But that was not going to affect the young designer, as in 1907, while making big, heavy-duty vehicles with large engines for Deutz, he also built a car that was small and lightweight. The rear-wheel-drive model was dubbed the Type 10 or ‘Pur Sang’ (thoroughbred), tipped the scales at 365 kg (805 lbs), and had a 10 HP, 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine that helped it max out at 80 kph (50 mph).

A modified Type 10, known as the Type 13, was entered in the 1911 French Grand Prix, driven by Ernest Friedrich, who went against cars almost twice as heavy, with engines almost three times as large. Nevertheless, the Type 13 finished in second place.

A new racer, christened the Type 35, was developed next, with an even more advanced engine that could be revved up to 6,000 rpm. It also had alloy wheels, a patented innovation by Ettore, and could hit over 190 kph (118 mph). The evolution was named the Type 35 B, used a 140 HP, supercharged 2.3-liter eight-cylinder engine, and could reach more than 215 kph (134 mph).

Ettore Bugatti
Photo: Bugatti
The Type 35 was first raced in the 1925 Raga Florio, and scored a victory. In total, it won approximately 2,000 races over the next 5 years, and became the most successful racing car ever made.

Realizing that the world’s elite needs a suitable vehicle, Ettore then designed the Type 41. This was the longest and most luxurious car at the time, and since its owners were mostly kings and aristocrats, it received the ‘Royale’ suffix.

Weighing up to 3.5 tons (7,715lbs), depending on the body style, the Type 41 Royale used a 12.8-liter inline-eight engine, making around 300 HP. It had a 200 kph (124 mph) top speed, a three-speed gearbox channeling the torque to the rear wheels, elliptical suspension for extra comfort, and solid alloy wheels for brake cooling.

Nowadays, Bugattis are some of the fastest and most luxurious vehicles on the planet. True record-setters, the Chiron, together with its derivatives, are favored by the rich and famous. The successful story will continue into the next generation with the all-new hypercar, which is still a few years away.
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About the author: Cristian Gnaticov
Cristian Gnaticov profile photo

After a series of unfortunate events put an end to Cristian's dream of entering a custom built & tuned old-school Dacia into a rally competition, he moved on to drive press cars and write for a living. He's worked for several automotive online journals and now he's back at autoevolution after his first tour in the mid-2000s.
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