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Peter Giddings Racing


by Peter Giddings

I regard the Bugatti Type 59 as the most beautifully proportioned of any prewar racer. Indeed, in my book, it is well in the running for the best-looking-car period, although the likes of the postwar 250F Maserati would be very close.

The first Type 59 I ever saw "in the flesh" was owned by Sir Ralph Millais. Ralph subsequently, after a season or two, sold the car to the ebullient "Doc" Taylor of "Caesar Special" fame. I believe "Doc" affixed the small horseshoe to the Bugatti's wire stone guard. Whilst the initial Type 59 was anemic at 2.9 liters (just ask Nuvolari !), in its later 3.3 liter form, it did pretty well and on the contrary was streets ahead, in handling at least, of the Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3 (particularly in the Tipo B P3's first form with half-elliptic rear springs).

A Type 59 can be confidently drifted close to that of the attitude of a 250F Maserati in Fangio's hands. Without doubt, the Type 59 is the best-handling pre-war racing car of its type that I have ever owned and raced. Individual corner weights are close, and with its low center of gravity and surprisingly effective brakes, it's a delight and will out corner any Tipo B P3 (and I have owned and raced two). However, admittedly once you got to a straightaway, it is a different story, but nevertheless a 3.3 liter Bugatti Type 59 is no slouch.

Years ago Rene Dreyfus told my wife Judy and me that the quarter-reversed elliptics on the Bugatti Type 59 (while by no means being the first Bugatti to feature quarter-reversed elliptics) was liked by him, who having started as a Ferrari works driver in an early Tipo B P3 (i.e., with half elliptics at the rear), convinced Enzo that a change to quarter-reversed elliptics might aid the handling of the Tipo B P3.

This modification was so successful that four of the original run of six of half-elliptic rear suspension Tipo B P3's were converted to quarter-reversed elliptics, and all subsequent Tipo B P3's were manufactured with rear quarter-reversed elliptics. According to Rene, the greatest concern with the Type 59 was its piano-spoke wheels. Rene explained: " The boss had a thing about wheels: You just have to look at the Type 35 with its cast alloy blade wheels to know that."

Unfortunately (and I can personally vouch for this), these exquisite wheels creak and groan, thus reducing one's confidence, particularly when cornering hard. On the other hand, I cannot recollect there ever being a Type 59 accident as the result of a broken wheel.

Rene and his fellow team drivers decided that they needed to take Ettore to task on this matter with a view to conversion to conventional Rudge wire wheeels. The problem was that no one dared to propose this to him, particularly as the Bugatti organization was very much run along feudal lines, and one did not cross the boss lightly. It was finally decided to draw straws, and poor Rene got the short one.

Rene described his timidly knocking on the heavy wooden door leading into Ettore's office and then having to face him sitting behind a massive desk on the raised dais. (Keep in mind that Rene was not exactly tall). Plucking up his courage, Rene explained that he and his team colleagues did not like the piano-spoke wheels which incorporated toothed drive; when the teeth wear, in addition to the creaking and groaning, you also get a sharp metallic cracking sound upon acceleration and deceleration!

Of course, we asked Rene what the outcome of his pleading was, and being ever the gentleman (particularly in front of Judy), he sanitized Ettore's response for us which was basically if Rene or any other team member did not like his creation, they could "stick it where the sun doesn't shine, and, by the way, plenty of other drivers are ready, willing and able to fill their shoes!"

This article is from Pur Sang, Vol. 48, No. 2, Spring 2008 and previously appeared in Vintage Racecar in November 2007.

Rene Dreyfus