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Editor: Jaap Horst

Volume 19, Issue 1

Bugatti Land Speed car revealed

'We can only imagine how thrilling it would have been' Peter Stevens

Whilst researching Bugatti images on the internet I came across a very poor quality but intriguing image of a drawing that was attributed to Jean Bugatti.

The drawing showed side view and plan sketches of a Land Speed Record car that appeared to have three engines within a dramatically streamlined body.

I knew nothing about this proposed French competitor to the Auto Union that was driven to a record speed of 400 km/h (248mph) by Bernd Rosemeyer on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt autobahn in October 1937, but thought it would be interesting to imagine how this remarkable project might have looked.

The Bugatti Trust has some basic information about the proposed record-breaker. The single-seater was to have used three 4.9-litre supercharged Type 50B engines, and power was expected to be about 1000bhp. The drive was taken by a short prop-shaft through a double step-up gearset to a rear-mounted gearbox integral with the rear axle casing.

The chassis would have been enormous: the wheelbase was no less than 5.0m (more than 16ft) with a track width of 2.3m (seven and a half feet). Weight was estimated at between 1800 and 2000 kg.

The Jean Bugatti sketch appears to date from early 1937 and it is thought that it was part of a submission to the French government for funding for three record-breaking projects: the rail world speed record (ultimately raised to 196km/h by the Bugatti Royale-engined railcar); the P100 record attempt aircraft; and the one-kilometre and one-mile public road automobile records. While funding for the aircraft project was forthcoming the French government was not convinced by the "cultural" benefits of the car, causing Jean Bugatti to abandon the idea.

1930s "back of envelope" plan and side views (top) fit together perfectly (above)

Using the poor quality sketch as a basis for a set of illustrations, I was surprised to discover that a side view of a type 50B engine, when reduced to the same scale, fitted perfectly into the chassis, as did a set of Type 59 wheels and tyres. The wheels fitted within the elegant wheel fairings, allowing for a steering lock of around 18 degrees.

This all suggests that although the original Jean Bugatti sketch was little more than a "back of an envelope" doodle, he had an excellent grasp of the size and proportion of the mechanical elements of Bugatti cars.

Peter Stevens' idea of the completed chassis

There are some suggestions that Jean was considering monocoque construction for the chassis but this would have been contrary to all accepted practice at Molsheim and would have created difficulties in mounting the three engines. The chassis structure of the successful Type 59 Grand Prix cars would have been a much better understood technology in 1938.

The completed chassis with body overlaid

By overlaying various elements of the original sketch, a side view concept of how the chassis and engines could have appeared, and an illustration of the aerodynamically sophisticated body, I found it was possible to build up an idea of how this spectacular machine might have looked in the late 1930s.

Sadly money was not made available to Ettore Bugatti and his highly creative son Jean and we therefore can only imagine how thrilling this 450km/h Bugatti would have been.

First Published in FortyOneSix.com

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