FABQ – Frequently Asked Bugatti Questions

Q. When did Bugatti make his first car?

A. Ettore Bugatti was only 20 years old in 1901 when he designed his first car (which won a gold medal at the Milan International Exhibition). He was 21 when he sold a licence to manufacture one of his designs. Bugatti then designed cars for several companies before building the first car with the own name on the radiator in 1910. When he established his factory in Molsheim (Alsace) in 1910, the Bugatti marque was born.

Q. How many cars did Bugatti make?

A. It is hard to be precise because some prototypes and race cars were pulled apart to build other prototypes or race cars. Another complication is that some cars were made after Ettore’s death in 1947 and some post-WW2 Bugattis qualify. However, the generally accepted answer is that about 7800 Bugatti cars were built by Ettore Bugatti between 1910 and 1939. This is equivalent to about three hours of the current Toyota production rate!

Q. Why are there gaps between many model types? For example, The Type 17 is followed by the Type 22 & 23; the next model is the Type 25.  Bugattis range from the Type 10 to the Type 102 and beyond, but there were fewer than 50 basically different models. What happened to the Type numbers between them?

A. Ettore Bugatti had a very fertile mind and created designs for products ranging from an economy car to an aircraft built to attack the world speed record. Most major projects had a drawing board number. For example, Type 56 was an electric buggy produced in very limited numbers.

Q. What are Crossley Bugattis?

A. In 1921, Ettore Bugatti signed a licensing agreement that permitted the Manchester-based Crossley Motors to manufacture 16-valve Bugatti cars. Some were made but the arrangement was not a great success. Bugatti had a similar arrangement with Rheinische Automobilbau AG, the German company known as Rabag, but it too failed to turn the agreement into a commercial success.

Q. Which was Bugatti’s best selling model?

A. Probably the 16-valve series , commonly called Brescia , which accounted for almost one-quarter of the total Bugatti output.  Next came the T44, an upmarket touring car, with sales close to 1100 units.

Q. What was the most famous of all Bugattis?

A. The Type 35. Not only was it one of the most successful racing cars of all time, its exquisite appearance and beautiful proportions made it as much a work of art as an engineering masterpiece. It first appeared for the 1924 French Grand Prix and, more than any other model, established the Bugatti reputation and mystique. It was probably also the first racing car designed for production in relatively large numbers and sold to racing enthusiasts.

Q. What is the Veyron?

A. This 16-cylinder, mid-engined super car is produced in very limited numbers by Bugatti Automobiles SAS which is owned by Volkswagen AG. In 1998 Volkswagen purchased the rights to use the Bugatti marque name and, in 2000, established the new company as a subsidiary of Volkswagen France. VW also purchased the 1856 chateau Saint Jean, located near Molsheim, which Bugatti had once used as its guest house. The new Bugatti company established its headquarters there.  As Volkswagen was not able to buy the original Bugatti factory, they constructed a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility close to the guesthouse to build the Veyron and subsequent models.

The car was named after French Bugatti racing driver Pierre Veyron and the first production model came off the line in 2006. The Veyron is said to be the fastest and most expensive road-going car in the world.

Q. Who was the Bugatti Queen?

A. This was a nickname given to a French motor racing legend named Hellé Nice. According to  Miranda Seymour, who wrote an excellent biography under the title The Bugatti Queen, she was a former dancer, stripper and noted beauty, who developed into a race driver of thrilling audacity. Her racing career took off after she caught the eye of Ettore Bugatti. She became one of the few women to compete on the Grand Prix circuit and was also probably the only woman to drive on the treacherous American speed bowls of the 1930s. Hellé set a new lady’s land speed record in a Bugatti.

Q. How many Bugattis are there in Australasia and which is the oldest?

A. According to Dr. Bob King, whose book Bugattis in Australia and New Zealand (co-written with Peter McGann) is about to be published, about 180 authentic Bugattis have come to Australia and New Zealand. Of these around 100 still exist here; many are fully restored and actively used, others are not yet driveable but potentially capable of being completed.

The oldest is a 1920 16-valve Bugatti owned by Gavin Bain of New Zealand.

Q. Why do writers always refer to Bugatti’s pre-war factory driver, as ‘Williams’ rather than Williams?

A. His real name was William Grover but, he started racing motorcycles and cars against his mother’s wishes, and adopted the name ‘Williams’ so she would not find out. As his career progressed, he continued using the name Williams but later raced under the name Grover-Williams. Born in Paris of an English father and French mother, he switched to racing Bugattis in 1926 and, among many successes, won the 1928 and 1929 French Grands Prix. He also won the inaugural Monaco GP and continued racing until 1935. Totally bilingual, he worked for the British and French military during World War Two but was captured and died a violent death at the hands of the Gestapo in 1945.

Q. How fast do Bugattis go?

A. That depends on the model and engine of course. It should be remembered that, with modern fuels, technology and ‘tweaking’, many Bugattis in use today are capable of higher speeds than when first built. This is especially true of cars prepared for historic racing.

That said, a stock standard, four-cylinder Brescia or Type 40 built in the 1920s is capable to 110-120 km/h. (One ‘blown’ four-cylinder Type 37 was timed at 195 km/h.) A standard eight-cylinder Type 30 might do 125 km/h. Type 43s have been timed at 160 km/h or more and Type 50s at 180 km/h. Type 57s and some variants have been timed at speeds up to 170 km/h. Most eight-cylinder racing models will comfortably exceed 160 km/h, with the supercharged variants clocking up to 195 km/h.