Bugatti Type 35

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Bugatti Type 35

1924 - 1931
Inline-8, sohc, 3v/cyl.
1100-2300 cc
90+ bhp
4 spd. non-syncro man
Top Speed:
125mph / 201 km/h
Number Built:
5 star
Jean Bugatti with the Royale
Bugatti Type 35
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


In 1924, Bugatti produced the famous Type 35, a car that would achieve some 2000 competition victories in its production life of seven years.There were several sub-derivatives of the Type 35, with engines ranging in capacity from 1100cc to 2300cc, and body work built to sports or purpose built racing car specifications.

The Type 35, like the earlier Type 30 of 1922, used a straight-eight cylinder engine, originally of 2 litres and good for 90bhp. It is interesting to note that Bugatti made the leap from 4 cylinders to straight-8 cylinder engines without ever developing a mid-range 6 cylinder unit. Later there were 2.3-litre Type 35Ts ( the T designating "Targa Florio"), and various Grand Prix types, including the supercharged Type 35Bs and 35Cs.

The Type 35 provided stellar performance, was blessed with an extraordinary chassis and had a wonderful weight distribution perhaps only bettered by later mid-engined vehicles. At the Parisian Fair of 1927 the Type 35 was displayed, fully adorned with the trophies of countless race wins up until that time. The straight-eight engine was a masterpiece, both in its appearance and in its function. Two separate four-cylinder aluminium blocks were fixed to a common crankcase, all fits and finish being such that gaskets were not required.

The engine was fed by twin Zenith or Solex carburettors, while the crankshaft ran in five ball (or roller) bearings. A Type 35 weighed about 1650lb, and racing versions were dominant in GP racing for several years. Most 'touring' versions were Type 35As, which looked like the GP racing derivatives, but had a less-complicated three-ball-bearing crankshaft engine from the Type 38. These cars were good for a top speed of around 90mph (145 km/h), though competition types were capable of well over 100mph (160.9 km/h), and a 35B was clocked at almost 125mph (201 km/h) in 1930.

Nuvolari's Mystery Type 35C

We can thank automotive historian Cesare de Agostini for learning a lot more about the Bugatti 35C built for the world famous driver, Tazio Nuvolari. It was Agostini who unearthed reference to a strange single-seater Bugatti built for Nuvolari in 1928, a car that carried the insignia of an aeroplane on the radiator with the words "Let us give wings to the Fatherland." The car had been built by Alberto Massimino who had worked with Ferrari, Maserati, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and other companies on racing projects during his long career. It was after the death of Massimino in 1975 that de Agostini mentioned a "Special" Bugatti with a photograph of it in an "Autosprint" tribute to Massimino.

This mystery Bug aroused great interest among motor racing historians in Britain. Hugh Conway, the renowned Bugatti specialist, was mystified, but the strange radiator motif was a clue that set Cyril Posthumus on the tangled trail of the very special single-seater. From de Agostini's photographs, Conway could identify the chassis as a late-model Type 35 and from the blower hole in the bonnet he deduced it to be based on a Type 35C, the supercharged 2-litre. From his comprehensive Bugatti records, Conway discovered that Nuvolari had taken delivery of two Type 35Cs in the spring of 1928 - and as both these cars had since disappeared it would seem that Massimino used one or both cars as the basis for the Nuvolari single-seater.

Tazio Nuvolari

The irrepressible Nuvolari had been racing motorcycles since 1920 and cars since 1922, combining two and four wheels with extraordinary success. By 1927 he was into cars on a really professional basis with a Type 35 Bugatti and he won the Rome Grand Prix of that year. Posthumus presumed that Nuvolari must have bought the Bugatti from another private owner since no factory records existed of the sale and he suggested it could have come from Count Maggi who had raced a Type 35 in 1926 but switched to Maseratis for 1927. Nuvolari and Achille Varzi were the top motorcycle racers in Italy and both desperately wanted to establish themselves in cars. Both were individualists, a chalk and cheese matching of motorcycle champions but in a marriage of convenience, Varzi decided to drive for Scuderia Nuvolari which Tazio had formed in 1928 and they ordered a pair of Type 35Cs.

Conway listed the cars as chassis 4892 with engine No. 119 leaving the Molsheim factory on March 22, 1928, and the second car (chassis 4915, motor 160) leaving on April 4. However, Posthumus noted that on March 11, before Scuderia Nuvolari received either of their new cars, Nuvolari had won a race in Tripoli with Varzi third, both in Bugattis! Nuvolari presumably won in his 1927 car, but Varzi must have borrowed a similar model for that start-of-season event. With the new Type 35C only three days out from the factory, Nuvolari won at Pozzo and when both team-mates had new cars they finished 1-2 (Nuvolari winning) at Alessandria.

Campari, Chiron and Nuvolari at Monza

They ran several races that summer before Varzi's enthusiasm began to wane; he wanted to be a winner, not a team driver and it was apparent that Nuvolari was getting all the gravy in his own scuderia. At Cremona on June 24, Nuvolari finished second and again Varzi didn't feature. What did take his eye there was the old P2 Alfa Romeo Grand Prix car driven by Giuseppe Campari. The car had obvious potential and for the European Grand Prix at Monza in September, Varzi had a surprise in store. He turned up with Campari's Alfa which he had purchased for 75,000 lire and the deal included Campari's services as co-driver for the Grand Prix. Louis Chiron won the race in a Bugatti, Varzi was second in the Alfa Romeo and his erstwhile team-mate Nuvolari was a chastened third in the Type 35C.

Decimo Compagnoni and Amedeo Bignami

With the 1929 season approaching, Nuvolari had his back to the wall. He was 37, a motorcycle champion bursting to get to the top on four wheels, but without the equipment or the opportunities. There were no factory drives offered, Varzi was now a front-runner with the P2, and Nuvolari still had the two Bugattis on his hands. Nuvolari decided that if he couldn't get a works drive, he would go it alone. Massimino set to work with Nuvolari's personal mechanic Decimo Compagnoni and Amedeo Bignami and they produced a special version of the Bugatti, a single seater with the motor and seating position offset, the motor to the left and the driver's seat on the right.

While researching this history, Posthumus concluded that "...the chassis remained pretty much Bugatti but with the side rails drawn closer in. The axles and suspension were the same as a Type 35, the reversed quarter-elliptics at the rear being enclosed by the new body as they were on the standard Type 35. They made a horrid job of remounting the front dampers higher on an extra tie-rod, rather like some of the ERA boys did after the War. They had to make up another broader radiator as the old horse-shoe bonnet-line would not have given enough clearance for the re-positioned motor."

Massimino had also been at work on Ettore's 2-litre engine and de Agostini quoted Compagnoni saying that the engine would run up to 7000rpm, which in the terms of the time makes a rather sensational comparison with the Pomeroy figures of 135bhp (101kW) for a Type 35 at 5300rpm in a standard form. Posthumus suggested that the Type 35 didn't have a particularly good head form and Massimino had obviously worked on it. A new exhaust system is visible in a photograph of the car with the bonnet raised, but later photographs showed the car without this special "collector box" exhaust.

Test Drive on the Autodromo

Despite the amount of work carried out on the car, Nuvolari was disappointed in progress as he indicated in a letter to Massimino dated December 12, 1928, and reproduced in "Autosprint" by de Agostini. Nuvolari had tested the car at Monza and told Massimino in the letter "I can assure you that it needs very major adjustment in connection with its stability ... I am now trying to rectify certain weaknesses which have come to light and I will then test drive the car again on the Autodromo and if you would like to be present I will let you know in good time and I will reimburse your expenses both for your journey and your accommodation.

"Anyhow I would be grateful if you could let me know what you wish to charge, taking into account the unhappy outcome of our endeavours and seeing that I have decided not to content myself with the present state of the car but persevere until I succeed." It would appear that the car never completely satisfied Nuvolari and he kept it out of sight early in 1929 while he drove a regular two-seater Bugatti (probably one of his 1927 pair of 35Cs) at Tripoli and Rome, an Alfa Romeo at Mugello in June and a Talbot at Monza where he finished second - to Varzi's P2. At the end of September in his last race of the season, he ran what may have been his unloved single-seater Bugatti at Cremona, but retired after only three laps.

Amilcare Moretti

For 1930, Nuvolari received a works contract with Alfa Romeo and the special Bugatti was forgotten in a garage, although de Agostini suggested that Nuvolari's friend Amilcare Moretti (Posthumus wondered whether his Italian counterpart was in fact referring to Amilcare Rossetti, a well-known motorcyclist from Rome who did the testing of the 4-cylinder CNA motorcycle which became the Rondine and then the Gilera) may have driven the car in what could have been its only race at Montenero, although he was unsure whether the car ran in the race of 1929 or 1930. Cyril Posthumus claimed he could prove that the single-seater Bugatti did race again and that it was, in fact, raced by Nuvolari in the Rome Grand Prix of 1931 - three years after it had been built and rejected as unraceworthy!

The 1931 Premio Reale di Roma

The Rome GP of 1931 was moved from a rough road course to a track marked out on the new Littorio airfield. The name of the race was the Premio Reale di Roma, and the course comprised two straights connected by an unbanked bend, then a banked corner leading to a long curving stretch and then a hairpin back into the straight - a very fast course for the time. Posthumus was of the opinion that Nuvolari's presence in the race was an early case of a top driver in a "starting money special", signed by the race organisers to attract a bigger crowd. The race was on June 7, a "free weekend" for Nuvolari who had won the Italian Grand Prix with Campari in an Alfa Romeo two weeks earlier, and the French Grand Prix was not until June 21. He had presumably kept the abortive single-seater for no better reason than that he had been unable to find a buyer, and this race at Rome meant at least a meagre return on his lost investment.

Let Us Give Wings To The Fatherland

It was in this race that the Bugatti carried the strange aeroplane motif on the radiator with the words "Let us give wings to the Fatherland", and Posthumus concluded the slogan likely represented some form of Mussolini propaganda as the Littorio airfield had only just been opened with a great deal of publicity, and the slogan had an ominous ring to it. Whatever the manoeuvring behind his entry in that race - the last pre-war Grand Prix of Rome and the last documented appearance of the Massimini single-seater Bugatti, Nuvolari qualified fifth in his heat and dropped out of the final on the fifth lap. It could have been some sort of mechanical trouble or it could be that he was fed up with trailing behind the field (Varzi tore off to win in a Type 51 twin-cam works Bugatti) and just packed it in, feeling he'd earned his money by qualifying and starting in the final.

And that was apparently the end of the mysterious Massimino-modified single-seater Bugatti, a curiously involved tale of what was a technical disaster, a creation that Nuvolari and Massimino were happy to forget, but which has re-appeared in fragments of information and a few faded photographs to torment the historians.
The start of the 1931 Rome GP on the Littorio airfield circuit
The start of the 1931 Rome GP on the Littorio airfield circuit with Nuvolari (left) in the special Bug with the aircraft insignia on the radiator. Maseratis are all around with a 1.5-litre Talbot behind. Ernesto Maserati won in a 16-cylinder Maser with Dreyfus and Biondetti second and third also in Maseratis. Nuvolari lasted five laps.
Massimino and Bignami working on Bugatti Type 35
Massimino and Bignami working on the single-seater during testing at Monza. Massimino had done a lot of work on the engine and had made up a new exhaust system.
Bugatti Type 35C In Profile
A side shot of the Type 35C taken during Monza testing in 1929, showing the special Massimino-modified exhaust which had disappeared by the time the car was brought out for Nuvolari to race in the 1931 Rome GP.
Nuvolari's Bugatti prior to the 1931 Rome GP
Nuvolari's Bugatti prior to the 1931 Rome GP.

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