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From Aerolithe to EXK 6
First ride in a vintage
First ride in a vintage Bugatti
By Martijn Visser
This years summer holiday (2007) was planned around the yearly Bugatti gathering
in Molsheim. The French city in the Elzas where the Bugatti myth started. Jan,
one of my Bugatti friends lives a part of the year in a French city not far from
Molsheim. He owns a vintage Bugatti and invited me and my mother for a tour in
his car. The roads in center of the Netherlands (He lives in Amsterdam) are
nowadays so crowded and filled with traffic that he decided some yeas ago to
drive his Bugatti to the Elzas. After being in the Elzas ourselves for two days
we can only agree with him that the Elzas is the place to drive these great cars.
Lots of open mountain roads, small old villages and hardly any traffic. On the
13th of September the weather was perfect. A Bugatti blue sky and around 23 degr.
Celsius. In September the mornings can be cold and foggy. We therefore decided
to meet Jan around 14:30 at his home. We visited him two days earlier and where
hoping that we could recognize the house. While going uphill we spotted a nice
Bugatti parked on the right side of the road. Even close to Molsheim it is not
common to find a Bugatti parked on the public road and we spotted our friends on
the other side of the road talking to one of their neighbors who got his first
Bugatti ride during the morning while the car was driven out of the garage.
After a nice cup of coffee it is time to get prepared for the trip. The lady of
the house decided to not join us during the trip. Packed with caps, jackets and
cameras we go to the car. There it is standing, shining in the sun. An original
1927 Type 43 with Grand Sport body. Jan bought the car back in 1960 and fully
restored it himself. Besides the type 43 he has owned three more Bugattis (1x
type 44 and 2x type 40) in the past and brought down his collection to only the
As you probably know the type 43 Grand Sport is a 4 seats roadster. Officially
it was sold as a 3 - 4 seater. There is a backseat wide enough for two persons.
Room for legs… well…. close to non. This was probably the reason why the lady of
the house decided to not join us during the trip. The drivers seat (All Bugattis
are right hand driven) is placed more backwards than to co-divers seat. This
means that the right rear passenger has no room to place his legs. As bonus the
main switch is also placed on that location. Conclusion.. A type 43 Grand Sport
is a 3 seater if the rear passenger has short legs… My mother has shorter leg
than I have.. So mother in the rear and me on the co-drivers seat.
When the car is started the air is filled with a mechanical noise. The type 43
is equipped with a crankshaft supported by ball bearings. Some owners have
changed to new constructed crankshafts supported by plain bearings. The car we
are sitting in is 100% original and has the same engine components as when it
left the factory in 1929. The crankshaft is build-up out of 9 separate parts. A
masterpiece of mechanical engineering. The rattle of the bearings is getting
less dominant when the engine is getting warmer but will always be present. The
plan is to drive to a friends restaurant in the mountains and have a nice glass
of Elzasian whine. The car is turned and we start our trip going through the
center of a small French city. The nose of the car is enormously long in
comparison to modern cars. The type 43 is equipped with a 2.3 liter supercharged
8 cylinder engine. All cylinders are placed in line resulting in the long nose.
The engine is basically the same as used in the well known type 35 Grand Prix
cars. When we start to accelerate the exhaust noise is joining the engine, the
mechanical driven compressor is also joining in and we start to accelerate
downhill towards the town center. The sound of the car is reflected by the
houses that are placed on both sides of the road, only split by the narrow
sidewalks and a road wide enough for two cars to pass. The view you have in the
car is so different than in a modern car that it looks like all corners are made
to wide and that you are ending up on the wrong side of the road. This in
combination with the noise and speed makes the whole thing… well… let’s say
exiting….. When we make a turn to the right to head for the mountains the engine
noise seems to disappear. When Jan pushes the accelerator down again the noise
is back and we go uphill like a rocket. The pulling force of the car is
A Vintage Bugatti, perfect weather, open roads and a nice sigar… Live can’t
Jan told me earlier that he is not running the engine over 3000 rpm to spare the
engine. Well… I am glad he mentioned this earlier so I do not have to worry that
we will reach the maximum of 5000 rpm. What a machine… Soon we are leaving the
town center and we are out on the French country roads in a vintage dream
machine. While passing some small villages we get a couple of thumps up from
people sitting outside enjoying the perfect weather. With my left hand I am
holding the side of the car hoping to not fall out. With my right hand I am
holding the photo camera. No idea yet how and if it is possible to take any
pictures while the car is moving. Not aware of my relative comfortable sitting
position I look over my right shoulder and see my 60 year old mother sitting on
the right side of the car with her legs behind my chair (left side). No idea how
she is keeping herself in place, but she has the video camera in her right hand.
The rear seat is placed a bit higher than the two frond seats. While sitting in
the rear it must feel more like sitting on in stead of sitting in the car.
One of the shots taken while going uphill. No hand free to point the camera
After about half an hour we reach a nice typical French restaurant in a valley
surrounded by mountains.
The type 43 parked in front of the restaurant
After parking the type 43 in front of the restaurant we sit down at the terrace
and ordered our drinks. During our stay in the restaurant the Bugatti got a lot
of attention from people who passed by. Some people ask permission to take
pictures and look full of admiration to the Elzasian classic.
Time to leave the restaurant and get higher up the hills. The noise the Bugatti
makes when the engine is waking up starts to sound familiar and Jan turns the
car towards a small road surrounded by tries. The sound of the engine is
reflected by the mountains around us and sounds like music to me. The roads are
getting tighter and tighter all the time. The only cars that are driving down
hills are vans filled with workmen who come back from a day of hard work in the
woods. Every time a car passes we see surprise in the eyes of the people sitting
in it when the Bugatti is heading in their direction. Faces start to smile and
thumbs go up. Jan raises his right foot from the accelerator. I think we took
the wrong road he mentioned. I have never driven here and the roads are getting
to narrow. I will turn the car and we will go back again. On the left side we
spot a small sand road and Jan turns the Bugatti.
What both my mother and me did not realize yet was that it is not possible to
use the breaks often when driving a 1929 Bugatti downhill. As Ettore Bugatti
mentioned in the past to people who complained about the breaking capacity of
his cars “My cars are designed to drive and not to break”. The car does not have
a speedometer and the trees are passing us with frightening speeds. Jan seems
relaxed and is sitting exactly the same way as when we went uphill. Both my
mother and me are holding ourselves as tight as possible.
We reach speeds of more than 80 km/h (checked when driving my own car and trying
to remember the speed the tries passed us) and some of the bents are blind so we
have no idea what is behind the corner. The car is breaking on the engine and
often a bang of un-ignited gasoline can be heard in the exhaust outlet. Must
look spectacular from the rear… In the Netherlands we often see an old model A
Ford or comparable car driving over the roads followed by a row of modern cars
who get frustrated by the low speed of the car and try to pass it as soon as
possible. The people driving these classic cars look relaxed and all dressed up....
Well.. I can assure you that driving a thoroughbred Bugatti is another kind of
experience.... Makes an A ford look like a toy car.... Real men drive Bugattis
A picture describing the feeling of going down hills at 80 km/h on tight
French country roads with a 74 year old Bugatti owner at the wheel with 50 years
of driving experience in Vintage Bugattis.
While storming downhill in the Bugatti a modern Peugeot 206 is following us. One
thing is for sure.. The driver of the Peugeot can’t pass us at all and has a
hard time trying to keep up with us. The thoughts about speeds above 150 km/h
that the racing drivers reached in the past on roads much worse than the once we
are traveling on generates high respect for the men who played with their lives
while racing these machines. An almost 80 year old open sportscar, no safety
belts, tries placed around the road, blind corners and high speeds.. What a
perfect day….. More and more houses show up around the road and we are entering
the village again we started from. Speeds go down to a modest 50 km/h and around
18:00 Jan parks the car again in front of the house and we climb out of the car.
After a small leg stretcher Jan is driving the car back to the garage. My mother
jumps in the co-pilot’s seat and off they go.
Cramped arms and legs…. Adrenaline levels up to the roof….. What an experience….
Thanks Jan for this great afternoon…. thanks Doris for the great dinner you
served afterwards…. Vive La France !!!! Vive Bugatti !!!!