In recent news a rare 1937 Bugatti sports car, which would hardly be recognized as such in today’s high tech world, was unearthed by relatives of a wealthy English doctor by the name of Harold Carr. One wonders if he was once a member of the Bugatti Owners Club of England which publishes "Bugantics". This classic Type 57S Atalante is only one of seventeen such cars so you can imagine the amount of money it was auctioned for- in February they were quoting $4 million!
Bugatti has a prodigious name in the world of automobiles. In consulting the book that my father let me borrow, "The Golden Age of the American Racing Car" by Griffith Borgeson, the Bugatti ‘twin straight eight’ was manufactured at Bara of Levallois (near Paris) in the first decade of the 20th century. Later, Duesenberg of New Jersey was manufacturing a 16-cylinder version by 1919. Ettore Bugatti may have been a catalyst but certainly not the father of the idea which of course was taken to fruition in Henry Ford’s and Frederick Duesenberg’s in-line eights. They were certainly influenced by this refinement of his straight eight which was used again in his design of aircraft engines consisting of two straight eights with two crankshafts on a single crankcase.
He built the prototype for the twin eight at his factory at Strasbourg in Alsace, which was German territory at that time. It was intended to run well from four advantages which were listed in an essay written by E.W. Sisman in The Automobile Engineer in July of 1927. These four points were:
1. High ratio of mean to maximum torque.
2. The reciprocating parts are in both primary and secondary balance.
3. More efficient cooling than an engine with a lesser number of cylinders for a given piston displacement.
4. Decreased stresses in the working parts for a given piston displacement and a given speed.
His twin eight features were three vertical valves per cylinder and a shaft-and-bevel driven SOHC for each of the two vertical, parallel banks. The two crankshafts were geared together and the propeller hub doubled as a cannon which spat buckshot through its 1.46-inch bore, an idea rented from Hispano-Suiza ! He relocated his factory to Paris taking his engine with him and his old friend W.F. Bradley were in constant dialogue which eventually made it possible for Bugatti to present it to the technical committee of the Bolling Mission. One of the Mission’s main assembly and training bases was where Orly Airport now stands, on the southern outskirts of Paris.
In the 1923 Indy 500, one of the most interestingly contested of all races at the Brickyard, Bugatti’s contribution was five mechanical jewels, all modified Type 30s driven by Louis Zborowski, Pierre de Vizcaya, Prince de Cystria, M. Alzaga and Raoul Riganti and Lieutenant Retired Colonel George Robertson as team manager. A group of wealthy amateurs who nonetheless ran extremely well, keeping positions among the top contenders. All of the straight eight Bugattis were equipped with hydraulic brakes at the front and cable-operated brakes at the rear. The two-liter engines were new to the U.S. but had been adopted in Europe a year before which gave them a distinct advantage.
Bugatti’s result was ninth, thanks to the consistent driving of novice Prince de Cystria but most of the cars ate up their connecting-rod roller bearings and left the race one by one. The race apparently was plagued by many unforeseen mechanical errors. Tommy Milton in his H.C.S. (stands for Harry C. Stutz) special won that year. This won over the Miller 183 which was considered a synthesis of all the most advanced ideas at that point and was originally Harry’s car.
By the time of 1927 when Frank "King of the Dirt Tracks" Lockhart was established as one of the greatest racing drivers in the world, breaking LSRs (land speed records) everywhere, an original idea of his was to use Miller 91 and Milton’s LSR Duesenberg to new heights by placing some of his engineering thoughts toward aerodynamics. Interestingly, he produced drawings of the sixteen cylinder Bugatti aircraft engine to show how a pair of straight eights could be joined in a very compact manner by integrating them into a common crankcase.
Lockhart’s name may never be eradicated from the books even though his life literally came to a crashing halt in 1928 clocked by the AAA at 198.29 mph. This achieved the American National Class D record for the flying mile! His legacy lives on in his two 91s which remained virtually unbeatable until the end of the formula. A few short years later Leon Duray on the strength of breaking another of Lockhart’s records the next year at 124.7 ( a record which stood until 1937) showed up to compete in the Monza Grand Prix and promote the new Cord car and its "front-drive" which was based on Miller patents.
Accompanied by Jean Marcenac he was welcomed to Europe by W.F. Bradley and attacked the absolute closed-circuit record on the Montlhe’ry track near Paris. Its track was only half the circumference of the Packard track but he raised the five-mile record to 139.22 and the ten-mile record to 135.33 mph. This was with Europe in force of a no-limit formula. A Paris Match journalist wrote:
‘We have no French cars of similar displacement capable of rivaling the speed of these Millers.’ These words enraged Ettore Bugatti who approached him a month later at the Grand Prix at Monza. He exchanged the two Millers for cash and three new Bugatti 2.3 liter supercharged Targa Florio models. Duray sold the Targa Florio models in Hollywood and Bugatti took the Millers to Molsheim, copied their engines’ top-end layout and introduced it on his Type 50. This was the point at which the SOHC gave way to Bugatti’s DOHC.
Hence, the recently discovered 57S Atalante has an intrinsic value on reputation alone. This particular model found in Mr. Carr’s garage had been driven up until 1960 and left un-driven all these years. Its original ownership traces back to Earl Howe, the first president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club who had first fired up its 26S turbine upon sale to him in 1937 from Sorel. Bonham’s proclaimed last February, "This is a true supercar with impeccable credentials ready to be displayed again on the world stage."
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Evelyn M. Wallace
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