1912 Bugatti 5-Liter Race Car

In 1910, aged 28, Ettore Bugatti resigned his position at the Deutz works in Cologne and moved to Alsace, renting an old dye works in Molsheim where he began making his own automobiles. He took with him a prototype car of 1208 cc which he had built in his basement workshop in Cologne and which was to become the first Pur Sang Bugatti, the Type 10. He also brought with him another much more powerful car, a five-liter overhead valve design with three valves per cylinder (two inlet, one exhaust) and chain drive, which he later confirmed to Colonel Giles of the Bugatti Owners Club he had started building in 1908.

In 1912 Bugatti drove his five-litre chain-driven car, equipped with an aerodynamic cowled two-seater bodywork – distinguishable by its pointed tail – in a race at Le Mans and later at the Mont Ventoux Hill Climb where he won his class and finished fourth overall. The history of this important car, number 471, was largely confirmed when Nigel Arnold-Forster took over ownership from Peter Hampton in 1974.

The number 471 is stamped on the near-side rear engine mounting and it had always been believed that this was indeed the pointed-tail racing car driven by Ettore at Mont Ventoux in 1912. The Hugh Conway factory records make it clear that this is the first of the five-litre cars (and therefore three earlier than “Black Bess,” number 474) and the only one to have been made in 1912. Nigel Arnold-Forster painstakingly rebuilt the car and this is fully recorded in “Bugantics,” Summer 1977, Vol 40. No. 2.

The engine has a bore and stroke of 100 x 160 mm, giving a capacity of 5027cc and uses a five-bearing crankshaft and an overhead camshaft driven off the front of the engine by a vertical shaft operating two inlet and one exhaust valves per cylinder. Totally enclosed, the whole design is remarkable for its period and has more in common with the Grand Prix Bugattis of the ’20s than the contemporary Bugatti production car engines. The multi-plate clutch of typical Bugatti design had been perfected for Deutz and the Bugatti-designed four-speed gearbox is a work of art in itself.

The exacting rebuild included making a detailed copy of the original 1912 competition body but retaining the original radiator and bonnet. Once completed, it was actively campaigned in various events both in the U.K. and on Continental tours, including the Mont Ventoux Hill Climb. At the 1981 Vintage Sports-Car Club Speed Trial at Colerne it was timed at 108 mph whilst it still holds the Edwardian class record at The Vintage Prescott Hill meeting.

No. 471 is the oldest known racing Bugatti and indeed a magnificent example of an Edwardian racing car, having exceptional performance, significant in that it was the personal competition car of the great man himself, and is sold complete with Ettore’s leather travelling trunk.