Ettore Bugatti’s passion for racing began at the age of 16, when he drove a motorised tricycle on a 100 km race in Milan. He won with a ten minute lead.
The automobile pioneer then poured his fascination for speed into his racing cars. His racing victories – supposedly more than 5,000 – served as the perfect advertising for his serial models, because then, as today, this is indisputable proof of brand performance. Back then, it should be noted, accidents were quite common and drivers risked their lives in every race.
Already in the first racing year of 1910, the Bugatti brand attracted the attention of the international press in France and Great Britain, sometimes with the company founder himself at the wheel. At legendary hill climbs, such as Gaillon, Limonest or Mont Ventoux, Bugatti cars took the lead, leaving behind automobiles with much greater cylinder capacities. In 1920, Ettore Bugatti’s closest colleague, Ernest Friederich, was finally able to seize the company’s first big victory – at the now legendary race in Le Mans. In 1921, more victories followed, most notably in Brescia, Italy, which earned the Type 13 with its 16 valves the official nickname “Brescia”. Because of these racing achievements, Type 13 became the most commercially successful Bugatti model, and about 2,000 vehicles were sold. The fabulous Type 35 followed, which was suited to racing as well as daily use – and was also a serial success..
While most automobile owners at this time preferred to be chauffeured, self-drivers had a preference for Bugatti. The clientele were very often aristocrats or industrialists, with the necessary funds for their automobile passion. In contrast to other manufacturers, who maintained their own racing teams, Ettore Bugatti killed two birds with one stone: he provided his affluent clientele with racecars they could also drive on the streets, which boosted the renown of the brand at no extra cost to Bugatti.One could describe the many small races – the so-called “Village Grand Prix” – as brand championships, because they would never have taken place without the private drivers of Bugatti cars. These races were also possible, in part, because private drivers could drive their automobiles to and from the race in everyday traffic, after re-assembling the fenders and lights.