There’s no doubt about it: Bugatti racing drivers and their successes have played a key part in the legend of the brand. In this section, we do not just present the factory drivers, but also many of the privateers who have contributed to Bugatti’s renown success. Privateers play a greater role in Bugatti’s history than in almost any other brand. Many privateers began their career in a Bugatti, since the brand offered wealthy customers race cars with great prospects for success.
Bartolomeo „Meo“ Costantini
1889 – 1941
From 1924 to 1926, “Meo” Costantini was a member of the factory team. He then became racing team manager until 1935. For almost his entire career at Bugatti, Costantini stayed at the Hostellerie du Pur Sang, even though it was meant to be for customers. The Italian had a very trusting relationship with his patron, Ettore, and was one of the few people on first name terms with him. Even before working at Bugatti, in 1920/21 Costantini achieved success in a Brescia as a privateer. In 1925 and 1926, he won the Targa Florio for Bugatti, and the same year he won the Spanish Grand Prix. He died of lung cancer in 1941.
1899 – 1979
No other driver is as closely associated with the name Bugatti as Louis Chiron. From 1925, Chiron competed in European races as a private Bugatti driver. He joined the factory team in 1927 and quickly became number one. He won almost all the major Grand Prix events for the brand, such as the 1931 Grand Prix in his home country of Monaco in a Type 51. He was also a successful hillclimbing racer, winning the 1929 Klausenrennen in a 16-cylinder Type 45. After leaving Bugatti, in 1933 he founded the privateer team “CC” with Rudolf Caracciola. He raced in his last Grand Prix in Monaco at the age of 56.
1905 – 1993
René Dreyfus, born in Nice, began his career as a privateer in a Brescia. With the support of Bugatti’s Nice agent, Ernest Friderich, Dreyfus raced a Type 37A in 1927 and 1928. In 1930, he won the Monaco Grand Prix as a privateer in a Type 35B – competing against the factory team. Dreyfus became famous, but Ettore Bugatti was not at all pleased by this victory, since Dreyfus had not used the Bugatti factory as his supplier. He was only allowed to join the factory team in 1932 – the long wait was a punishment for his unseemly victory. In 1934, he won the Belgian Grand Prix in a Type 59, Bugatti’s last ever Grand Prix win.
1886 – 1954
Ernest Friderich was Ettore Bugatti’s right-hand man and competed for Bugatti as a factory driver in almost all the big races between 1911 and 1924. In 1911, he came in second at the French Grand Prix, the only circuit race that Bugatti took part in prior to the First World War. He won the Grand Prix de la Sarthe in Le Mans in 1920 in a Type 13 and the Grand Prix des Voiturettes in Brescia in 1921, also in a Type 13. These wins represented Bugatti’s first ever racing victories. In 1924, he became Bugatti’s Nice agent and promoted many promising young talents such as René Dreyfus.
Elisabeth Junek (Eliška Junková)
1900 – 1994
Elisabeth Junek and her husband Vincenc were among Ettore Bugatti’s best customers. Elisabeth Junek was one of the most successful female racing drivers of all time. At the 1928 Targa Florio in Sicily, she came in first or second in four of the five laps in her Type 35B. Only a malfunction in the fifth lap set her back to finish the race in fifth place. She had already achieved success in 1927 at the Nürburgring and Montlhéry in various Bugattis in different categories. She retired from racing in 1928 after her husband suffered a fatal accident in a Type 35B at the Nürburgring.
Pierre de Vizcaya
1894 – 1933
Pierre de Vizcaya had two brothers who were also racing drivers: Fernando and Juan. The father of the three brothers helped Ettore Bugatti to finance the Bugatti factory in Molsheim in 1909. He even used to race in a Bugatti himself before the First World War. Pierre was a member of the factory team from 1920 to 1925. During this period, he drove the Type 13 Brescia, the eight-cylinder “Cigar” in 1922 and the “Tank” in 1923. The same year, he raced the eight-cylinder Monoposto at the Indianapolis 500. After 1924, needless to say, he raced in the Type 35 too. He won the Penya Rhin Grand Prix in 1921 and came second several times.
1903 – 1945
William Charles Frederick Grover was a Brit who lived in France and always raced under the pseudonym “Williams”. He won the first ever Monaco Grand Prix in 1929 in his green Bugatti Type 35B (green was the British racing colour). On and off, “Williams” was a member of the Bugatti factory team from 1928 to 1933, racing the types 35B, 35C, 51 and 54. Like his friend Robert Benoist, he was a member of the French Resistance during the war. He was captured, and died in a concentration camp.
1908 – 1949
Right from the start of his racing career, Jean-Pierre Wimille almost always drove in a Bugatti. Wimille attracted the attention of Ettore Bugatti, and he became an official factory driver in 1933. He came to Bugatti at a time when its major successes were starting to become a distant memory, which makes the long list of wins that Wimille racked up for Molsheim all the more astonishing. It was Wimille who achieved Bugatti’s two Le Mans victories. He also achieved Bugatti’s last ever victory in 1947, when he won the “Coupé des Prisonniers” in Bois de Boulogne. In 1949, Wimille suffered a fatal accident while training in a Simca Gordini in Buenos Aires.
1903 – 1971
Encouraged by his friend Albert Divo, Pierre Veyron first began racing in a Type 37A in 1930. From 1933 to 1937, Veyron raced for Bugatti as a factory driver, mainly in the 1.5-litre category. His wins included victories at the AVUS racetrack in Berlin and in Albi. His greatest victory came in 1939, when he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Jean-Pierre Wimille in the Bugatti Tank 57C. This was also Bugatti’s last major win.