Bugatti Type 35 – Sculpture in Motion

Ettore Bugatti was born into an artistic family of painters and sculptors and his cars are surely the most beautifully built motorcars in history. His exquisite 1924 Bugatti Type 35 racer won over 1,000 races and the Grand Prix of 1926.

Today we showcase this 1930 example, which raced at the Targa Florio of that year, came in second to an Alfa Romeo and has survived untouched for over 90 years.

It bears the serial number 4959 and its driver was Louis Chiron, whose name is immortalised in the modern Bugatti Chiron.

An old-looking Bugatti Type 35 racing car in a museum
A very original Bugatti Type 35

The British spy William Grover-Williams drove the Type 35 under an alias to victory in the 1928 and 1929 French Grand Prix. Also in ’29 he won the first Monaco Grand Prix in a British racing green Bugatti Type 35B, beating the German driver Rudolf Caracciola in his Mercedes.

Pure Bond, James Bond.

The old-looking Bugatti Type 35 racing car in a museum, showing the front of the car
Alloy wheels and a hollow forged front axle

This car introduced alloy wheels fifty years before they became commonplace.

“Nothing is too beautiful, nothing is too expensive,”

Ettore Bugatti

Instead of building wheels with Sir George Caley’s wire spokes, Bugatti cast his wheels out of aluminium. These featured eight wide, flat spokes, a removable wheel rim and an integral brake drum.

The design is simple and sculptural and reflects Ettore Bugatti’s aesthetic aspirations.

A new-looking Bugatti Type 35 racing car in a museum, showing the wheel.
Eight spoked alloy wheels 50 years before they became used on other cars

The Bugattis weren’t necessarily perfect inside, though.

The two-litre engine had eight cylinders in a line, cast as two blocks of four, and the crankshaft was built up of many pieces, allowing the use of roller and ball bearings and high revolutions. It was like two four-cylinder engines running 90 degrees out of sync, that is to say, one running a ¼ turn ahead of the other.

The great English motoring journalist Laurence Pomeroy, or “Pom”, made this assessment: 

“Both the firing order and the layout of the crankshaft are unique,” he explained. The firing order “goes 1, 5, 2, 6, 3, 7, 4, 8, i.e., taking each bank of cylinders separately the firing sequence is 1, 2, 3, 4 on the front bank and 5, 6, 7, 8 on the back bank.”

Laurence Pomeroy, The Motor, December 30, 1942

But four-cylinder engines are not perfectly balanced, even two running together in this fashion.

“In this layout, the engine is well balanced except for a severe couple between the front and back halves of the shaft, which imposes severe loads on the centre bearing.”

A couple is a to-and-fro twisting or rocking force. Pom didn’t like the look of the cylinder head, either. The cooling was insufficient, and the valve guides were too short. Not content with this, he went on to criticise the cylinder block cooling.

“Taken as a whole, it will be seen that the design of these engines is entirely characteristic of Ettore Bugatti, being unconventional in nearly every aspect, demanding the utmost in skilled workmanship and fitting, and yet, at the same time, reflecting a severe, almost brutally practical outlook…”

Laurence Pomeroy, The Motor, December 30, 1942

We might add three things Pom missed: the inlet tract had no less than six sharp bends in it between carburettor and the inlet valves, something most engine designers would avoid nowadays, as these slow down the flow of mixture.

And whereas most racing engines have larger inlet than exhaust areas Bugatti reversed this, the figures being 1.34 and 2.70 sq. ins. per cylinder.

Furthermore, instead of the two inlet and two exhaust of the 1912 Peugeot (the first four-valve car engine) the Bugatti only had three valves per cylinder. Four valves are considered best practice today.

So, given what appears to be a completely damning assessment, how on earth did the Type 35 win so many races? The simple answer was something all the aero engine builders knew about: the supercharger.

Internal combustion engines are simple creatures: put more fuel and air in and you get more power out. If you just increase the revolutions there isn’t time for the air and fuel to get in, especially if there are six right-angled bends as in the Bugatti.

A supercharger is an air pump which pressurises the air and pumps more fuel/air mixture into the cylinders. More oxygen is added to the chemical reaction of combustion and thus more power is developed by the engine, and if it’s well-made and reliable like the Type 35 the sky’s the limit.

Even diesel engines can develop stupendous power when turbo supercharged, and the 1.5 litre BMW Formula One turbo M13 petrol engine produced 1,400 hp (1,044 kW) in qualifying trim (This was based on the 1962 BMW 1500 saloon’s 80 hp engine, an increase in power of 17 ½ times!).

Ettore Bugatti didn’t like superchargers, but when he fitted them, his engines doubled in power and started winning races.

The old-looking Bugatti Type 35 racing car in a museum, showing the interior of the car
The gorgeous cockpit of the Type 35. Patina, patina.

One can only imagine what he would have had to say about the great Pom’s list of criticisms, as Bugatti had a robust approach to customer care. When one buyer complained that his Bugatti was difficult to start, he was told

“Monsieur, if you can afford a Type 55, surely you can afford a heated garage?”,

and to another who complained that his Bugatti wouldn’t stop he retorted

“I make my cars to go, not stop.” Privately he added, “The car’s brakes were merely symbolic…”

The old-looking Bugatti Type 35 racing car in a museum, showing the rear of the car
The boat tail concealed a large fuel tank.

How many races did the Bugatti Type 35 win?

The Bugatti Type 35 had over 1000 victories, winning the Targa Florio five times, the Grand Prix World Championship once in 1926, and the Monaco Grand Prix three times.

How many Bugatti Type 35 are left?

Bugatti built around 340 Type 35s in total. Because “rebuilt” cars can be constructed around a single genuine part, such as an engine or a chassis, several “rebuilt” cars could arise from one pile of parts.

So it is quite possible that there are now more Bugatti Type 35s in existence than there were genuine ones built.

As with everything, provenance is all.

Who was the Bugatti Queen?

The Bugatti Queen was Hellé Nice, a French model, dancer and racing driver. She was the owner of Bugatti Type 35 chassis 4863, taking delivery in March 1930. She raced in a number of minor Grands Prix in France and in the non-championship Monza Grand Prix.

She was badly injured during the 1936 Sao Paulo GP in Brazil when her car hit a soldier attempting crowd control. She was in third place behind Brazilian champion Manuel de Teffé when her car cartwheeled through the air and crashed into the crowd, killing six people and injuring more than thirty others.

Hellé Nice was flung from the car and freakishly landed on a soldier who took the impact of her body, saving her life. But the force of the blow killed the soldier and because she lay in a coma, she too was assumed to be dead.

After the war Hellé Nice was accused of collaboration with the Nazis by the Bugatti racing driver Louis Chiron, at a party at Monaco in 1949. True or not, this ended her career and she died in poverty in Nice in 1984 (source: Wikipedia).

Specifications of a Bugatti Type 35:

Eight cylinders in line.

Single overhead camshaft.

Roots-type supercharger.

Three valves per cylinder.

Displacement: 2261 cc (138 cubic inches)

Power: 140 hp at 5000 rpm.

Weight: 1,680 pounds.

What is the top speed of a Bugatti Type 35 B?

The Bugatti Type 35 B top speed is 130 mph/209 Km/h.

How much does a Bugatti Type 35 B weigh?

The Bugatti Type 35 B weighs 762 Kg / 1680 lbs.

How much horsepower (bhp) does a 1927 Bugatti Type 35 B have?

The 1927 Bugatti Type 35 B developed 140 bhp (break horse power) / 104 kW (kiloWatts).

How much is a Bugatti Type 35 worth?

A 1925 Bugatti Type 35 Grand Prix (serial 4487) sold for $3,300,000 at a Gooding & Co. auction in 2017 (source:

And a 1927 Bugatti Type 35 Grand Prix (serial 4863) sold for $2,970,000 at a Gooding & Co. auction in 2014 (source:

The car featured here, in such untouched condition and with such a racing pedigree has to be worth in excess of $5,000,000.

How to buy a Bugatti Type 35 replica

The sheer cost of a genuine Bugatti Type 35 means that there are many replicas available. Some are VW Beetle based with a rear engine and are not particularly faithful to the original. These sell for around $10,000.

A new-looking blue Bugatti Type 35 racing car replica in a street in Malta, showing the side of the car
A Bugatti replica, Morris Marina based.

Then there are the famous “Pur Sang” (pure-blooded) Bugatti Type replicas, made in Argentina, which are as close as you can get to the real thing. Jay Leno owns one to save his real Bugattis from road use.

A new-looking dark blue Bugatti Type 35 racing car replica in a museum, showing the side of the car

Argentinian Jorge Anadón used to restore genuine Bugattis and was well aware of the value. When he had one of the genuine Type 35s apart for restoration he measured every single part and began to manufacture copies (source: speedhunters).

His company Pur Sang made everything: the engines (still three-valved but with an improved firing order), properly English-wheeled aluminium panels, even the tyres.

Most of the new parts could be interchanged with the original parts. The quality is superb and even experts could be fooled. The clutch is now a modern multi-plate instead of the old oil-bath variety.

Some improvements were made. The old roller-bearing crankshafts needed regular rebuilds after 5000 miles, so a plain bearing crankshaft is used instead. This has firing intervals at the preferable interval of 45 degrees instead of Bugatti’s 90 degrees.

Pom would have approved.

The engine is otherwise like the original Bugatti unit, with supercharging, eight cylinders in line producing 180 bhp instead of 140 bhp. (source hymanltd) Modern fuels would account for most of that, with higher octane.

One of these Pur Sang replicas sold for $249,200 at Sotheby‘s. Another on bringatrailer for $233,000.

Maybe that Morris Marina or VW Beetle-based kit doesn’t look such bad value now?

A new-looking blue Bugatti Type 35 racing car replica in a street in Malta, showing the rear of the car
This was one of the many Bugatti “replicas”, spotted in Malta.
A new-looking blue Bugatti Type 35 racing car replica in a street in Malta, showing the front suspension of the car
This Type 35 replica used Morris Marina parts. Recognise that front suspension?