From the very first day of the car manufacturer from Molsheim, the Bugatti myth was created mainly by motorsports. In this respect, 1928 was a special year for Bugatti. The rules had changed and the highly successful era of the Bugatti Type 35 had begun. This car strengthened the reputation of Bugatti over the decades and still does so today.
The open Bugatti Type 35B with eight-cylinder engine, Roots supercharger and 140 PS was already considerably faster than 200 km/h 90 years ago. With more than 2,000 victories in Bugatti’s “golden decade”, this was probably the most successful racing car ever.
For 1928, the governing body of motorsports had planned seven international races, of which only two had actually taken place by the end of the season. For this reason, there was no official world champion in 1928. However, even without a championship to fight for, Bugatti racing cars won race after race. Of 26 races held in 1928, Bugatti drivers took first place in 23, including 11 Grands Prix and the Targa Florio, the world’s toughest road race, which was already famous 90 years ago.
Bugatti’s success in 1928 started with Tazio Nuvolari. The Italian, known as the “flying Mantuan”, had begun his career as a motorcycle racer, before switching to cars in 1924. He won the Tripoli Grand Prix in March 1928 driving a Type 35C. On the same day, 11 March, Louis Chiron of Monaco, whose nickname was “old fox”, took first place on the Circuit d’Esterel Plage in France driving the same model. He had been a private entrant with Bugatti since 1925 and had joined the works team in 1927.
Two weeks later, Nuvolari outclassed the competition in Verona. In the following weeks, Chiron took several first places, for example at the Circuit de la Riviera and the Antibes Grand Prix with a Type 35C. Its 2.0-litre eight-cylinder equipped with a Roots supercharger developed about 125 PS and accelerated the racing car, which only weighed 750 kilograms, to a top speed of over 200 km/h.
Especially on winding circuits, the Type 35 left its competitors standing thanks to its consistent lightweight design. At a very early stage, Ettore Bugatti already knew that power is important but light weight is all-important. 90 years ago, he had major components of his racing cars including engine and transmission housings, bodywork and wheels, made from lightweight aluminium. The rules of the sport at that time only stated that racing cars must weigh between 550 and 750 kilograms; there were no rules on power output. Bugatti opted for a sturdy, powerful and reliable straight-eight and saved weight on other parts of the vehicle.
Louis Chiron became a new star with his outstanding Bugatti T35C. He drove from victory to victory, winning the Grands Prix of Rome, Marne, San Sebastian in Spain and Europe, held in Monza.
Alberto Divo was equally successful with the Bugatti Type 35B. In May 1928, he took first place in the Targa Florio, followed by Giuseppe Campari with an Alfa Romeo. However, the secret star of the race was Elisabeth Junek (Eliška Junková). In 1928, she entered this race against the best drivers of the time with a Bugatti Type 35B, attacking from the start and winning a number of exciting duels. For a long time, she was in first place in but lost the lead on the last lap as a result of a leaking water pump. Despite her fifth place, she was celebrated like a winner.
The Type 35B is powered by a straight-eight with a displacement of 2.3 litres and about 140 PS. The Roots blower rotates at the same speed as the crankshaft, forcing sufficient air into the combustion chambers without over-revving at high engine speeds. Alberto Divo raced round the circuits at up to 215 km/h with his Type 35 – 90 years ago.
Marcel Lehoux of France, who won the Algerian Grand Prix in May and the Tunisian Grand Prix in June, also with a Type 35C, was just as fast. Like Chiron, Lehoux chose a Bugatti as its first racing car. At the French Grand Prix in July, William Grover-Williams driving a Type 35C left the competition standing. Grover-Williams, an Englishman living in France, had joined the Bugatti works team in 1928 and took first place ahead of André Rousseau on the temporary circuit on public roads in the district of Comminges near Saint-Gaudens. The circuit was 27 kilometres long. At the end of the sports car race, after two hours and 27 minutes, Grover-Williams’ lead over the driver in second place was two minutes and 23 seconds.
Louis Chiron rounded off a successful season with the Italian Grand Prix in Monza in September. After three hours and 45 minutes, he crossed the finishing line in first place, with an average speed of almost 160 km/h. This was the last win in the season but not the last in international races. In 1929, Bugatti was able to continue its success and to forge even closer ties between the brand and motorsport.