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Type 18 Grand Prix
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Country of origin:France
Produced in:1912
Numbers built:7 (Five-litre Bugattis)
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:July 30, 2009
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Click here to download printer friendly versionDuring the first decade of the 20th century Ettore Bugatti was very busy designing engines and chassis for various manufacturers. Among his customers were Mathis, Deutz and Peugeot. In addition the Italian born engineer worked on the first complete car to bear his name. Much in contrast with his earlier work, the first 'Bugattis' were modest in size. They did incorporate the beautiful engineering and blistering performance that would make Bugatti one of the leading manufacturers.

Even though series production at the Molsheim had begun, Ettore Bugatti continued to work for third parties. One of the most ambitious projects was the development of a Grand Prix engine/car for Peugeot. Based on a design he did for Deutz, Bugatti constructed a 5 or 5.2 litre four cylinder engine. In a straight line the Bugatti 'four' was pitched against a much larger 7.6 litre engine designed in-house at Peugeot by Ernest Henry. Not surprising the larger engined Peugeot easily beat the Bugatti (185 km/h versus 160 km/h).

Bugatti did not get the contract but still found a use for his new design. He decided to market the machine under his own name. The resulting Bugatti Grand Prix car was a strange mix of common Bugatti design elements and features that are unique to this model. This has led many to believe that at least some of the key structures were sourced from one of Ettore Bugatti's earlier projects for Deutz. There is no question about the engine, which is pure Bugatti and laid the foundation for many of the company's future models.

The earliest Bugatti badged engine was a four cylinder with a single overhead camshaft and a displacement of 1327cc. In many ways the five-litre Grand Prix unit was similar in its design. The big difference was the cylinder head, which sported three valves; two inlet and one exhaust. Mounted vertically, the twelve valves were actuated by a single overhead camshaft that was driven by a shaft. The three valve head would later be used for some of Bugatti's most famous cars/engines including the legendary Type 35.

Developing 100 bhp at a relatively high 2800 rpm, the new engine was installed in a simple ladder frame chassis. Similar in design to Bugatti's Deutz chassis, it used twin semi-elliptic leaf springs at the front and Buagtti's trademark reversed quarter-elliptic springs at the rear. The rear wheels were driven by chains. This was common practice for large engined cars at the time. However the five litre Grand Prix car would go into history as the only chain driven Bugatti. It is believed that the engine was dubbed the Bugatti Type 16 while the completed cars were labeled Type 18.

The first example was completed in 1912 and used extensively by Ettore Bugatti in various races and hillclimbs. With the official type name still a subject of much debate the five litre cars are often referred to as the 'Garros' model. This is in honour of the owner of the fourth example; legendary French fighter pilot Roland Garros. Some time in 1913 he took delivery of his new Bugatti complete with an elegant Labourdette body. Unfortunately he could not enjoy his car for very long as he was shot down and killed in 1915. Ettore named his youngest son Roland in memory of his friend.

Originally conceived as a Grand Prix car, the new five litre Bugatti was only rarely seen in international events. In 1914 one example was entered in the Indy 500. Interestingly it sported a shaft driven rear axle. It lasted just 20 laps. A second car was entered the next year but again with little success. This car was later used extensively in races in California. After a mere seven cars were completed, production of the five litre Bugatti ceased. Only three examples of this unusual yet instrumental model are known to have survived.

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  Article Image gallery (14) 471 Specifications