By Will Silk
Bugatti is one of the most famous marques in the history of automobile manufacture, and Classic Cars for Sale takes a look at a Bugatti Type 50 that was offered in the the August 1957 issue of Motor Trend magazine.
The classified advertisement displays a Bugatti Type 50 roadster sporting the blown 4.9 liter engine. It was perhaps the engine that truly set this car apart and helped Ettore Bugatti really achieve setting the world on notice that his machines would always be held in the highest regard in terms of power and speed.
The Type 50 succeeded the Type 46, which was a car that was aimed at a broader market upon its debut in 1929. The Type 46 sported an inline eight cylinder engine with single over head cam architecture and retained the same bore and stroke dimensions of those cars that preceded the Type 46 in the Bugatti line up. For the Type 50, Bugatti would turn to something for inspiration that many were mystified with in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and that was the marvelous racing engines of American Harry Miller.
Miller had built a dual overhead cam straight eight racing engine as early as 1921 with four valves per cylinder and a displacement of 183 cubic inches. This engine powered Jimmy Murphy’s Duesenberg race car to victory in the 1922 Indy 500. While Miller went onto become an internationally known engine and race car constructor, it was engines like the mighty Miller 183 that inspired Bugatti’s design of the Type 50 engine.
Having acquired a few of Miller’s engines to examine, Ettore set about constructing a dual overhead cam design of his own, the result of which went into the Type 50 road car and the Type 51 Grand Prix car. While the Type 51 saw action in 1930, it wasn’t until 1931 that the road going version of the mighty DOHC inline eight was fit to take to the streets. In road spec, the engine sported dry sump oiling, a cylinder bore of 86mm, and a stroke of 107mm. Displacement was 4.9 liters, block and head construction were of iron, and compression was rated at 7.5:1. The heads employed two valves per cylinder, and with the help of a Roots type supercharger, an easy 225hp was on tap at 4,000rpm with a very suitable 310lbs ft. of torque available at just 2,800rpm.
A three speed gear box backed up the beautiful Bugatti inline eight, and power flowed to the live axle rear end. The chassis was of a traditional ladder frame design and was sprung via leaf springs at both ends, semi-elliptical front and quarter elliptical at the rear. Two wheelbases were offered, a short and a long, the latter being designated a Type 50T and made use of a 200hp mill for touring purposes.
Performance was incredible for the time period, with zero to sixty times reported to be in just eight seconds and zero to 100 coming up in 22.5 seconds. These figures largely depended on what body work was fitted to the car, the most common selection being coupe bodywork by the affluent clientele that could afford a finished Type 50 chassis by Bugatti.
Production of the Bugatti Type 50 ran from 1931 through to 1933 and a total of 65 cars were produced, including three cars that were built to run the Le Mans 24 Hour race. These three machines ran in the 1931 race and were withdrawn after one of the cars suffered tire failure in that year’s French Classic.
The ad that was originally published in the August of 1957 issue of Motor Trend magazine lists a price of $3500 for this iconic French classic sports machine. That would have been fairly expensive for a pre-owned sports car in America in 1957, as one could easily obtain a new Ford Thunderbird right from the showroom floor for just less than the asking price of this vintage Bugatti. However, the connoisseur that did manage to find this French gem in 1957 would have been very pleased with the appreciation of the car’s value. In 2010, a Gooding and Company Auction reported a sale of a Bugatti Type 50 at over one million dollars, cementing this car as one of the top collector car investments in the automotive collector hobby.
[Source: www.ultimatecarpage.com; www.conceptcarz.com; www.milleroffy.com; Motor Trend]
By Will Silk
I remember it was about 1970 when Bill Harrah brought his impeccable Type 50 to the Hershey show. I happened to be standing next to the car when the judges came to stand right next to me. Suddenly the Handler (I’ll use that term to describe the Harrah employee responsible for showing the car’s feature to the judges) appeared and climbed into the car. This of course attracted a sizable crowd since everyone knew they were about to judge how well the car started. Silence came over everyone and the ritual began. Well the starter turned and nothing happened. Beads of sweat on the handler’s forehead. More RRRRRR and still nothing. By this time everyone was anticipating the worst: It wouldn’t start at all. Finally after it seemed like ages there was a mighty roar and a blue flame shot out of the right side of the hood scattering the judges, me and most of the crowd. The engine finally roared to life. The handler looked totally crushed as the judges busily scribbled notes on their records. That and the fact that the side windows of the car were about 1/2″ thick were two of the most memorable features of that year’s annual trip to central Pennsylvania.