Today, the Bugatti Type 35 is one of the legends of the automobile, both as a road car and as a racing car. However, its competition debut at the Grand Prix Automobile de France was not as good as the French manufacturer had hoped. Nevertheless, this " failure" allowed Ettore Bugatti to show the world the potential of his new car.

The first steps of the legend

The year was 1924. Five Type 35s set off from Molsheim, Bugatti' s historic headquarters in Alsace, on their way to Lyon, the host city of the Grand Prix Automobile de France. A race organised by the ACF (Automobile Club de France) on a 14.4 miles road circuit, with a total of 35 laps. Over the 298 miles that linked the two French cities, the route was completed without the slightest problem. A sixth Type 35, the original prototype, also made the trip but was kept in reserve.

Bugatti Type 35

The 5 Bugatti Type 35s entered for the Grand Prix Automobile de France. A 6th was kept in reserve.

During testing, stone guards were fitted in front of the radiator and a bonnet in front of the driver. In addition, a thermometer was placed in the radiator cap. Prior to the race, no problems were reported on any of the five cars entered by the French manufacturer. However, drivers Jean Chassagne, Pierre de Vizcaya, Leonico Garnier, Ernest Friderich and Bartolomeo 'Meo' Costantini were not ready for what the race had in store for them.

Between bad luck and tyre problems

The first problem appeared on the very first lap for Pierre de Vizcaya's n°18 Type 35. However, it wasn't the car itself that caused the problems, but rather the tyres specially made for the Bugatti, which proved to be problematic. Indeed, on the 3rd lap, a tread came off the sidewall, causing the Spanish driver to crash eight laps later, on the 11th lap.

In front of the 100,000 spectators present at the event, Bugatti encountered a number of other problems, again related to the tyres fitted to the Type 35s. Jean Chassagne, 7th in the final standings and the first Bugatti driver, saw sections of tread come loose and become tangled in the steering.

Bugatti Type 35

Bartolomeo Costantini was undoubtedly the unluckiest Bugatti driver of the event. While he was having cooling problems due to leaks from a welded joint in the radiator overflow pipe, the Italian driver also had treads wrapped around the gear lever. With the lever bent, he was unable to select 2nd or 4th gear, which damaged the gearbox and forced him to retire on lap 16. However, the driver of the No. 22 Type 35 was awarded the fastest lap.

Ernest Friderich, driving the No. 13 Type 35, finished the Grand Prix behind his team-mate in 8th place. The last Bugatti, that of Leonico Garnier, finished in 11th place, two laps behind the winner, Giuseppe Campari, at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo P2.

Bugatti Type 35

Jean Chassagne (n°7), Ernest Friderich (n°13), Pierre De Vizcaya (n°18), Leonico Garnier (n°21), Bartolomeo " Meo " Costantini (n°22)

A blessing in disguise

At the end of the race, an investigation was launched. This revealed that the tyre problems were due to manufacturing faults. The tyres fitted to the Type 35s had not been properly vulcanised (the process by which tyres are heated to give them their desired properties). The tyres were therefore unable to withstand the stresses imposed by the race.

Obviously, Ettore Bugatti would have liked a slightly more successful debut. However, this test and this "failure" served to demonstrate the solidity of the Type 35's innovative lightweight cast aluminium wheels.

"Contrary to expectations, not only did they stand up to the race, but they showed no sign of the terrible knocks they must have taken from a lot of rim rolling caused by burst tyres. " - The Motor, " Lessons of the Grand Prix"

After the French Grand Prix Automobile, Ettore Bugatti changed specification and supplier. The brand's founder then tested his Type 35 equipped with new tyres, convinced of the car's future success. He drove a total of 323 miles between Strasbourg and Paris, at an average speed of almost 62 mph.

"Ten of these cars have been built. Almost all of them have been sold to customers. Some have already been delivered and their owners are delighted. They can be used just as easily in town as on any racetrack. I hope, on the next occasion, to give a better demonstration of the quality of my construction." - Ettore Bugatti

Bugatti Type 35

Bugatti Type 35

Bugatti Type 35
Bugatti Type 35

The start of a long series of successes

Bugatti had the opportunity to give another, much more successful demonstration at the San Sebastian Grand Prix in Spain. Bartolomeo Costantini once again set the fastest lap and secured the Type 35's first podium finish in 2nd place. With its problems now behind it, the Type 35 quickly became one of the most successful cars in motor sport, with over 2,500 victories and podiums in a career spanning a decade.

This year, the Type 35 celebrates its 100th birthday. One of the world's greatest motoring legends, it is now highly prized by collectors, who are prepared to pay several million euros to snatch up the rare examples that can be found. In fact, only 38 examples of the Type 35 were produced by Bugatti (340 if you count its variations : 35A, 35C, 35T, 35B, 37, 37A and 39A).

Bugatti Type 35