Editor: Jaap Horst
lnstead of making another scale model that would only take up more space on the shelf space in his home, Don Shank decided to make a scale replica that he could park in his garage.
What actually began as plans to build a 1/16th scale model of a Classic
Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport Roadster, turned out to be a real drivable 1/1
scale project that took a total of nine & one-half years to complete. The
replica of the French made car became 'street legal' in October of 1994, it is
registered with the state as a 'specialty constructed vehicle' and carries the
license plate nunters of "Type 55".
Shank also considers himself as a some what self-styled Bugatti historian and has been a fan (ie-"nut") of the now defunct marque's cars for well over 40 some years.
After having a chance to extensively measure a real T-55 (#55215) that at the time was in the private collection of J.W. Shakespeare, for the purpose of later building a true scale model, something went wrong with the original idea and a enlarged set of scale plans soon appeared on Shank's drawing table, one quar ter size to be exact. Aided with many-many detailed photographs that were taken by his son of #55211 that was in the Briggs Cunningham Museum in California, Don was able to layout the full sized patterns and templates that would be needed to construct the replica.
Shank has done virtually everything on the car himself from cutting out the rectangle and square steel tubing for the chassis, the 3/4" plywood bulkheads, the 1/2" plywood side panels, various 2X4 & 2X6 wood braces for the sub-structure, , & to covering the rear body panels with a 1/4" wire mesh. The fender molds were constructed by using a 3/4" plywood keel that had several pieces of 1 1/2" building grade styrofoam that was glued to it before the actual carving took place to acquire the desired sweeping contour flow of that famous Jean Bugatti fender design. Four layers of heavy bid-cloth (bi-directional crowfoot) fibergass were used to cover the fender molds, other types of fiberglass were used on the body panels and the thickness varies due to the stress factors needed.
Making the individual items such as the steering wheel, dash panel, windshield frame, wheel covers, hinged hood panels, spare tire mount, dummy gas tank, false radiator shell, fake supercharger gauges along with the simulated magneto were the things that was the most interesting to construct along the entire process. After making one of the before mentioned items, Shank says that it finally felt like he was actually accomplishing something, the glass work was taking such a long time to finish.
The donor car used for the front axle assemblies & the rest of the running gear, was taken from a 1972 Ford Pinto, the 4 cyl. engine is the 2,000 c.c. variety & supplies sufficient power to cruise at 65 mph. Some of the other car parts that were used on Shank's creation came from various makes, such as the wheels came from a '78 Ford Fairmont station wagon that happened to be 14" with the correct bolt pattern, the rebuilt Chevette radiator core is cooled by a Honde electric fan. The steering parts are a mesh of Mustang/Pinto & VW Rabbit parts, the transmission Cooler is from an Oldsmobile of unknown year, the rear anti-sway bar is off of a Mercury & the short parking brake handle is from a ???? But, so that he can truthfully say that some of the parts came from France, two horns were taken from a wrecked Peugeot.
State requirements forced him to hedge a bit from the original car design, necessary seat belts were added along with the front & rear turn signal lights, a front license plate mount was made to match the rear license plate mounting bracket. An AM-FM radio is mounted under the drivers seat with the single speaker under the passengers seat. The folding cloth top was a necessary item that had to be made after it was decided to take a trip all the way to Colorado in June of 1996, the lexan wind-wings were also added. Don's next door neighbor, Earl Pickens was instrumental in doing all of the upholstery work & making the cloth top for the car, Don's wife Peggy, was enlisted countless times for various jobs & to help carry numerous items that being worked on at that time, outside/inside or anywhere needed. On the fenders alone which took two years, almost all of the fender work was done outside in the yard or in the driveway, Peg was said to have remarked that the fenders had several miles on them before they were ever mounted on the car. The folding aluminium hood panels were shaped over a 2" pipe & a landscape timber, a lot of prefitting was necessary as you may imagine.
Don's step-son., Glenn Potter & a personal friend Joe Starzyk were instrumental in making all of the necessary welded parts except for the frame, which was constructed by Steve Golightly.
So--the next time you think about having your own Bugatti Roadster, save a couple of hundred thousand dollars and build yourself a true scale model, its even more fun when it is full size & you can drive it where ever you want & don't have to put it on a shelf to admire.