1914 Bugatti Type 15 Eight Valve
History often credits Bugatti’s rise to success with the 16-Valve Brescia and the all conquering Type 35 in all its derivatives. None of this would have been possible without Ettore’s upbringing, his passion as a racing driver at the turn of the century and the revolutionary design and manufacture of Bugatti’s first production Eight-Valve Bugatti in the years leading up to the First World War.
Ettore Bugatti’s unquestionable contribution to the world of automotive design, development and flare for style is not surprising considering his upbringing. Born on the 15th of September 1881 in Milan into an artisan family, his father Carlo was a furniture designer, silversmith and painter and his brother Rembrant was a highly talented sculpture.
Encouraged to take up an artistic career, Ettore attended the Brera Art Academy. Around that time the family also spent time in Paris. It appears a young Ettore soon developed a greater interest in the railroads and mechanical transport that surrounded him.
In Milan at this time there was a large cycle manufacturer called Prinetti & Stucchi. Bugatti’s own notes dated 1926 describe how Mr. Stucchi, a friend of the Bugatti family and knowing Ettore’s interest in locomotion, pathed the way for Ettore to become an unpaid apprentice at these works. Soon he was allowed to fit a De Deion single cylinder engine to Prinetti & Stucchi tricycle and start his racing career racing from town to town in northern Italy.
His notes tell us in 1899 he had the idea of building his own vehicle “of very small dimensions” and with ‘four engines” to be designated the Type 1. At the age of only 18 he soon went onto design another vehicle. With Prinetti & Stucchi deciding to concentrate on cycles it was the support of Count Guilinelli, a friend of his father, who recognised the talent and determination of the young designer who enabled the project to happen.
Construction commenced in October 1900 of what was effectively the first real Bugatti, the Type 2. The 4-cylinder, overhead valve, 4-speed, chain drive, two-seater impressed on its debut at the International Exhibition in Milan in May-June 1901, where it was awarded one of the major prizes. Many of the newley formed motoring manufacturers took notice of the young designer, one being Baron Dietrcht. A license was signed between the de Dietrcht Co. and Carlo Bugatti (Ettore being under age at the time), on the 26th of June 1902, to produce larger versions along the lines of the Type 2.
Ettore moved to Germany and designed what looks like three different designs for de Dietricht, The Type 3 – 16HP – 5.307 litres, the Type 4 – 24HP – 7.433 litres and the Type 5, a 60HP racer of 12.867 litres. Ettore very much indulged and nurtured his passion for racing at this time.
By 1904 the relationship between Bugatti and de Dietrich was deteriorating, maybe because de Dietrich wished to withdraw from car manufacture or because Bugatti was spending too much of his own time and money on racing himself. On the 3rd of February 1904 the licence between the two was terminated. Emil Mathis who was the agent for de Dietrich cars in Strasbourg was a similar age to Ettore and they became good friends. On the 1st of April 1904 he signed a licence with Bugatti to design a new car for him. Bugatti allocated the Type numbers 6 and 7 to the Mathis cars.
In 1907 Bugatti moved to design for Cologne based Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz. Here he went on to produce the Type 8 and 9, both of these designs forming the benchmarks of what was to come. The engine featured a cast iron mono-block with cast water jackets and twin over head valves driven by a single overhand camshaft utilising the precursor of what was to become the famous “banana’ tappets.
Bugatti’s arrangement with Deutz allowed him a design office in his house at Cologne. Around that time he was working on the Type 9 for Deutz he set out to design a lighter weight car of under 1 1/2-litre for himself, the Type 10. The Type 10 owed a lot to the Deutz produced Type 9, just scaled down with its 4-cylinder 62 x 100mm 1,200cc engine matching the specific dimensions of the voiturette racing formula of the time. Built at his home, the finished result’s light weight and performance impressed all who drove it.
Now 28 years old, Bugatti naturally wanted to branch out on his own. Luckily by now he had all amassed a lot of connections and friends who could help him make this a reality. One of which was Baron Augustin de Vascaya. From a distinguished Spanish family, married to a French lady and living on an estate in Alsace, he was keen sportsman he would have competed against Bugatti in some of the motoring trials a few years before. It was de Vascaya who suggested Ettore purchased a property near his hunting lodge. This was a house and potentially a factory on the edge of the town of Molsheim. He also had banking contacts that would help get Bugatti started.
On the 1st of January 1910, Ettore Bugatti Automobiles was established with the plan to produce of series of cars. Effectively a slightly modified version of the 1,200cc Type 10, now uprated to 1,327cc. Still retaining a cast iron mono block with single overhead camshaft and two valves per cylinder, the ‘banana tappets’, and a two part aluminium upper and lower crankcase. The end result was an instant success and was acclaimed by all that drove it. Bugatti produced three different wheelbases the Type 13, Type 15 and Type 17.
Bugatti entered one of the new cars at the Gaillon Hill Climb, where Daritchon took second place in his class. Following this success, Bugatti took a modest stand at the 1910 Paris Salon. In 1911 Bugattis fame and notoriety continued. Producing reputedly 75 cars that year with their racing success also growing with races at le Sarthe, Lorraine, Mont Ventoux, Gaillon and Bugatti’s faithful mechanic Fridrich taking victory in Class A at the 1911 Grand Prix de France.
1912 saw more race wins including a Gold Medal in the 4,000km Tour de France. 1913 saw the first significant design change with the reverse quarter elliptical springs at the rear the oval radiator like you see here. Some 380 Eight-Valve Bugatti were produced between 1910 and 1914 and a further 135 after the first World War up until production stopped in February 1920.
This car was restored by well known and prolific Bugatti collector Uwe Hucke. Uwe’s passion for Bugatti stemmed back to the 1950s and along with Hugh Conway he was leading figure in the Bugatti world through the 1960s and 1970s up to his untimely death in 2008. The chassis is that of a 16-Valve Brescia that dates from between 1924 and 1926. Its wheelbase of about 2.3 metres is less than the 2.4 metres of the Type 22 and longer again, Type 23. As such, the chassis looks to have been shortened at some point. According to leading bugatti historical David Sewell the springs are contemporary to its chassis frame.
The engine, apart from its numbered water pump, is the complete Eight-Valve engine, numbered 329 and from the Type 22 Chassis Number 678 which was delivered new in August 1914. The gearbox, complete with its transmission brake, is from a 16-valve model from about 1924. The front axle is from a late Eight-Valve or and early 16-Valve, while the rear axle is from and Eight-Valve. The radiator is also from an Eight-Valve dating from 1912-1916.
Uwe initially restored this chassis and engine to take an original 1911 Fiacre saloon body. This was later fitted to an original Eight-Valve chassis which he also owned. This striking pale grey, three-seat ‘Prince Henry’ style body was then fitted.
Upon his very sad passing in 2008, this lovely little car passed into its current ownership. Having been lucky enough to know Uwe personally, it gives me great pleasure to be able to offer this car for sale. As a life long Bugatti enthusiast, it is not everyday that one gets to experience driving one of Ettore’s early Eight-Valve powered cars and its performance still does not fail to impress.
With the ever increasing rallies and events and Solo Brescia Rallies, this is a very rare chance to stand out from the norm and experience what started it all.