Bugatti: from carriage to car

7w ago


Karl Benz might be credited with the first gas powered automobile and creating the car. You can't really disagree with that. But Ettore Bugatti was the person who changed the car from the horseless carriage into what we really see as a car. Bugatti's idea of how to build a car transformed the industry, and their techniques on making a car faster in order to dominate motorsport revolutionized car design. From suspension to engine construction, weight management to chassis construction, brake performance to wheel construction. Bugatti changed everything in the game. There is before Bugatti, and after Bugatti.

Before Bugatti most cars were closer to tractors or carriages than cars. Lots of things were carried over from carriages or the the tractors of the time. Suspension would be mono-leaf without dampers. Control layouts would be completely convoluted and ridiculous. Wheels would be made out of wood. Engines would be placed where they would fit. I can keep on going.

Lets start off with suspension. Suspension design was usually completely modular before Bugatti. Now what do I mean by that? Two leaf springs would be stacked on top of each other. The top one would attach to the chassis and the bottom to the axle. So basically the car would just bounce down the road and would be pretty terrible for cornering. Bugatti created what we see as the modern leaf spring suspension. Two leaf springs per axle, one for each wheel, and each spring got a damper. Not only did this mean the car would stay relatively flat at speed, it also wouldn't bounce down the road. Another upside that Bugatti figured out was that the axles could now be moved closer to the chassis, so the center of gravity would be lower. Further improving cornering ability.

Bugatti also decided it would be a good idea to make the engine a structural member in the chassis. Before Bugatti did this, manufacturers would simply put the engine on top of the chassis and not use it as a way to hold the car together. Bugatti figured out that if the engine was used as part of the cars structure eight could be saved from getting rid of the chassis braces it replaced. On top of the weight reduction, the engine was also lowered between the frame rails. So the center of gravity was also lowered to aide cornering.

Bugatti also decided to move the front axle ahead of the engine. This allowed for the front axle to be further raised to lower the center of gravity. But this also helped keep the majority of the car's mass between the front and rear axles. This further increase the cornering ability of Bugatti's cars. Also they can claim to be the first manufacturer of front mid-engine car.

Bugatti also was the first company to use alloy wheels. When everyone else was building wheels out of wood, which would fly apart at high speeds, Bugatti decided to build wheels out of aluminum alloy. As a result Bugatti had light wheels on their race cars as well as having the benefit of the wheels not wanting to fly apart. They were also much stronger and durable than wire wheels. But one of the bigger benefits of the alloy wheels was Bugatti forged the brake drums into the backs of the wheels. This made the entire wheel a massive heat sink, as the wheel would absorb all the heat under breaking and was able to dissipate it into the air with all its surface area. As a result, Bugatti's cars stopped far faster than the competition despite Ettore once saying "I build cars that go not stop."

Bugatti also paid attention to aerodynamics when everyone else was focused on just making a body that would cover everything. Bugatti focused on making the body as slippery as he could with the technology they had. As a result Bugatti designed the body work of their race cars to look as much like a raindrop as he could. The rear of the car slowly tapering off to a point and the front end smoothly getting narrower until it is the width of the radiator. Bugatti was the only manufacturers to focus on aero at first, as most cars had the aerodynamics of a brick.

Bugatti also decided that bigger was not better when it came to engines. Everyone else was putting bigger and bigger engines in cars to get more power. But the issue with doing this was it added a lot of weight, terrible for handling. Bugatti knew that if he built a small, high compression engine he could achieve the same power figures and keep weight at a minimum. So he decided to think outside of the box again. It was well known that if you kept increasing compression the head gasket will eventually blow and your race will be over. The first thing Bugatti did was decide to make the engines out of an aluminum alloy to reduce weight. Then Bugatti figured out the best way to keep the head gasket from blowing was to just get rid of it and the separation between the block and head. So their engines separated in the middle of the crankcase. As a result they only had to worry about crankcase pressure, which could be easily solved with a PCV system.

There are many, many more things that Bugatti has done to further advance the car. They are one of the most influential manufacturers to ever exist because of how they pushed new design and dominated racing. Bugatti advanced everything about the car, and the vast majority of what Bugatti did can be seen in modern vehicles. Ettore Bugatti is someone who could be easily seen as the pre-war Colin Chapman. Making cars that were far lighter than the competition, with a big focus weight distribution, center of gravity, chassis rigidity, and aerodynamics. Bugatti is easily the most important company of the Pre-War Era.