Bugatti is one of those names that evokes a certain amount of mystique in those familiar with both the newest Bugattis and the true Bugattis. There are few marques that garner as much respect, adoration, and money as those that have been produced with the horseshoe grill and red oval.
While the current Bugatti 16.4 Veyron is the epitome of the same cannot be said of Bugattis of yore. Ettore Bugatti, 'Le Patron' as he was known, was a man of principles. And if you didn't agree with his principles, to bad. He was an incredibly brilliant designer and engineer from a family of artists (his father was a furniture designer, his brother a sculptor) and accepted nothing less than perfection, or whatever he personally defined as perfection. When he continued using cable operated brakes long after hydraulics had become the established norm and customers complained about the stopping distances of their expensive new cars, Ettore rebutted, "a Bugatti is made to go, not to stop!" When a client in the Northeastern United States wrote regarding his car's inability to start in the cold winters, Ettore wrote back, "if you can afford a Bugatti, surely you can afford a heated garage!"
Nonetheless, Bugattis sold well as a result of their absolute dominance on the racetrack and the glory and prestige that comes with such success. The most successful racing Bugatti ever was the Type 35, which won more than 1000 races in its day! The Type 35's siblings were the four cylinder Type 37 and the DOHC eight cylinder Type 51 (a fantastic spotter's guide of these similar cars is available here).
Over this past Thanksgiving holiday in November I had the extreme pleasure to get my first ride in a Bugatti, a 1926 Bugatti Type 37. Well presented by a Chicago area lawyer, the car has been under the care of the same owner for the past 40 years and is a beautiful example of a well preserved race car. The Type 37 was built to race though, and as such, as no roof, doors, windows, or weather protection. Despite this, we went out on a blustery November day and blitzed down the Edens, I-94, having no trouble keeping up with the 70mph traffic.
It was a truly visceral experience. The one and a half liter, SOHC inline four is barely muffled and very cammy. The cockpit is cramped and leaves nothing to the imagination, everything is exposed. It was fun to take this 82 year old girl out on the road, and enjoyable to see the excited faces of our fellow motorist, shocked to see such a car on the road. It was also heartening to be going 70mph on the Edens, staring at the wheel wells of the cars next to us and knowing the only thing that would bring us to a halt was a set of large, vented, cable operated drums.
So what would it cost to obtain a Type 37 to enjoy this experience for yourself? Expect to pay around $250,000. For a SOHC, I8 Type 35 closer to $400,000 and for the incredibly rare Type 51, a solid six figure price is a good place to start!