The Bugatti Type 35
As a descriptive, Cars and Coffee is as ‘bottom line’ as most tags are going to get; it combines interesting cars with generally drinkable coffee early on a Saturday morning, and does so in many parts of the country. My first Cars and Coffee would have been in late 2007 or early 2008, shortly after joining Suzuki’s PR department in Brea, California. And that first one was the first one, organized by Ford PR exec John Clinard and held on a parking lot adjacent to Ford’s luxury HQ in Irvine. Fifteen years later ‘my’ Cars and Coffee is at Katie’s, in Great Falls, Virginia. And while it always provides a surprise (or two), nothing matches what was on display this past Saturday: Bugatti’s Type 35, in all its restored and resplendent glory.
Of course, I”ve never owned a Bugatti – and from my suburban window I’ll never own a Bugatti. But in finding Great Cars as a kid, a coffee table volume written by Ralph Stein with photography – splendid photography – from Tom Burnside, I was introduced to a wide variety of Bugattis, beginning with the Type 13 Brescia and continuing with the Type 35, 57 and built for royalty Royale. All Bugattis are captivating, but in looking at the Type 35, even on a page, you’re suddenly put behind the wheel, racing in Monte Carlo…or simply roaring down a Washington-area parkway.
This Bugatti, sitting at the entrance to Katie’s, was both physically and figuratively the center of attention. Parked next to it was a vintage Bentley, but vintage Bentleys are more-or-less regular participants; they get their fair share of eyeballs (as they should), but to these eyes aren’t as captivating. The Type 35 is a night with Ali McGraw (Love Story’s Ali McGraw), while the old Bentley is dinner with Bette Midler; you’d enjoy both, but you won’t go to sleep dreaming of dinner…with Bette Midler.
Stephan Winkelmann, president of Bugatti, describes the Type 35 as “one of the icons of Bugatti’s rich history and tradition.” And that’s fine, but I’d regard the Type 35 as THE ICON of Bugatti’s rich history and tradition. In that same 2019 press release Winkelmann draws a parallel between the Type 35 and Bugatti’s then-current models, the Chiron1, Sport2 and Divo3. And while my opinion isn’t worth a fraction of Mr. Winkelmann’s, drawing a comparison between the Type 35 and Chiron1 is akin to linking McGraw and Midler in the same paragraph. The Type 35 is nothing like today’s supercars; it’s the Spirit of St. Louis, while the Chiron1 is the Concorde – and I could never see myself flying a Concorde.
From its horseshoe grille to its tapered tail, the Type 35 is simply an exquisite exercise in minimalism. Behind that grille is one of the most beautiful powerplants ever, a 2.0 or 2.3 liter Straight Eight capable of revving – in 1924! – to 6,000 rpm, and in the larger displacement producing roughly 140 horsepower. As you’d guess with its minimal footprint the Type 35 was under 1700-lbs. light and looked impossibly fragile, but with some 1,000 wins in its competition history proved to be almost impossibly robust.
Ettore Bugatti, the company’s founder and design chief, was among the first to equate lightweight construction with improved performance; unnecessary weight puts more strain on the chassis, as does the bigger engine required to propel it. And in just seeing this small black beauty you know it delivers big, even within the confines of its smallish visual presence.
If president of today’s Bugatti, I’d complement the company’s hypercar lineup with a limited production offering of a new Type 35. Build 1,000 of them to commemorate the car’s centennial (August, 2024), establish a ‘vintage’ race series to give owners somewhere to go, and offer these special editions for roughly $100K. Bugatti enthusiasts – such as myself – would get bug eyed…or go buggers.