When we think of Bugatti today, we often flip to the most recent Young Money video or some generic rap reference to the fastest production car in the world. Bugattis have become the latest luxury obsession. Praised for expense and rarity, often while the French brand’s record-breaking heritage goes ignored, the Veyron is the latest hip-hop ride obsession. There’s much more than Bugatti Boyz (we see you Diddy) to Bugatti History, so we wanted to walk you through the history of Bugatti’s best cars of all time.
Bugatti has been doing this supercar thing for nearly a century.
It all started in 1924 when Ettore Bugatti debuted his racing masterpiece, the bright blue Type 35. It was an instant marvel, dominating the race track. The little blue machine was both aerodynamic and aesthetically pleasing. This was a time when winning a race on Sunday meant selling on Monday, a car manufacturer’s success on the racetrack was the ultimate advertising. Track record directly affected your public sales. To further solidify its high profile, Bugatti ingeniously offered a GP model, which owners could race on the weekend and drive to work during to the week. This increased sales tenfold, as they could be sold at higher prices to wealthy, ambitious individuals and when these private Bugattis won races it was free advertising for the Bugatti team. This was a great strategy unique to the pioneering Bugatti camp. And while many racecars of the era either did not survive the race life or were scrapped during wartime, people soon realized the importance of the very special Type 35 as a testament to the unrivaled quality and unique technology.
Then there’s the Bugatti Royale, its name says it all. Only six of these 15-foot masterpieces were ever built, although Ettore Bugatti originally planned to build 25 of these impressive machines and sell them to royalty. Sadly, they weren't trying to blow money during the Great Depression. Three of the six Royales remained in Ettore's personal collection, preserved in a garage on his estate, and surviving WWII behind a protective wall. The car’s massive front-end makes room for an enormous 12.7-liter engine originally meant for an aircraft. To this day, it's one of the largest engines ever fitted for a car, making this one of the biggest and most highly sought after automobiles ever created. All of the remaining Royale engines were later used for high-speed Bugatti railcars.
The 1930's were a rough time to be producing outrageous luxury performance automobiles, extreme social unrest, great depressions, and war providing an unbalanced landscape for sales. Needless to say Bugatti sales suffered an extreme decrease from 1930 to 1933 and the factory was completely shut down in 1934. As the Bugatti family survived the turbulent thirties, it became apparent that the company needed to change their ways. Ettore's young and talented son, Jean, came up with a solution to the problem — instead of producing several different models that were hardly selling, they needed one single design to serve all purposes. Jean headed the new project as he oversaw the entire new design of the Type 57. Ettore left his son completely in charge of the new direction of his company.
The Type 57 reflects Jean’s ambitious, if not radical, new ideas and undoubtedly inherited creative talent. The established Bugatti company was now in the hands of it's youngest name holder. Only in his early twenties, Jean came up with a completely new concept that strayed far away from the traditional Bugatti practice. It was so outlandish, in fact, that his father told him to abandon the idea (independent front suspension) immediately. But like every good headstrong son, he did not listen and continued to conceive his wild brainchild. The Type 57 bore countless unique innovations that were completely unlike the past Bugattis, everything from the camshaft at the rear of the engine instead of the front, a single plate clutch instead of Ettore's favored multi plate design to a split front axle instead of the original solid front axle. Official production began in 1934 and continued until World War II was declared in 1939.
The young visionary ingeniously created an effortless silhouette of sweeping lines and aviation style.
As the brilliant new design had much success, multiple variations were created. The high-class clientele now called for a sports version, which was answered with a dramatically revised 57S. By 1935 young Jean had created the ultimate Bugatti. Only 48 of the exclusive, sophisticated, rapid, and beautifully constructed Type 57S Bugatti's would be built of which only seventeen were bodied with the beautiful, elegant, athletic Atalante coupé style. This incredible creation of the Bugatti prodigy was not only an unbelievable example of his natural abilities, but it would also immortalize his legacy. Jean Buggati was killed, at just 30 years of age, while testing a Type 57 race car.
Before his premature death, Jean presented the world with one more remarkable gem, the Bugatti Atlantic, built from nothing less than the stuff of legends. The young visionary ingeniously created an effortless silhouette of sweeping lines and aviation style, building an industrial sculpture with a mechanical beating heart. It's skin is made of Electron, an alloy of magnesium and aluminum from IG Farben of Germany. Although it is strong and much lighter than aluminum, it is highly flammable. This meant that each panel had to be hand riveted. This process created the raised dorsal strip, which showed off an unbelievable marriage of function and form. Our other favorite characteristics of the holy Atlantic are the six beastly exhaust pipes and free-form suicide doors.
Only three Atlantics were ever produced, and only two remain to bless the streets and the world's most prestigious car shows. The third was tragically totaled in a fatal train collision in 1955. The most well known one is all black and owned by famous car collector and fashion designer Ralph Lauren. The mighty Atlantic’s name holds weight, as it is the most expensive car in the world and possibly the first true supercar to ever reach an untouchable top speed. A few years back, an Atlantic sold at auction in the neighborhood of $30 million. Yeah take that Birdman, your Veyron only cost a measly million.
The contemporary Veyron possesses some similarities to its magnificent predecessor—both are capable of top speeds that double that of any rival and both appear to have come from somewhere out of this world. Bugatti’s legacy will continue on, as a final decision to pay proper homage to its original God—the upcoming Galibier is touted as "the world's best sedan"—has been confirmed. Bugatti has been doing this supercar thing for nearly a century. The latest chapter will be the world’s greatest ever sedan. One certain to become an object of lore and desire for our favorite celebrity drivers.