22 June 2020

Miscellanous classics #5: Bugatti Type 38A

When I was in Seoul recently, I made it a point to visit any place that had cool cars, be it classic or modern. Previously, I was aware that South Korea had a very bland car scene, both in terms of colour and variety. Although this statement remains true to a large extent, it was nevertheless fascinating to see Korean cars that never made it to Singapore, nor even around the world. I was also fortunate to drop by the Samsung Transportation Museum at Yongin (near Everland theme park) and the collection there was a sight to behold, notwithstanding that it was the 1st car museum I ever went to. Along the way, I will feature some of the cars that I have seen in this museum. Let me start off with this exquisite 1927 Bugatti Type 38A!

Automobiles Ettore Bugatti was first established in 1909 by its eponymous founder, in the then-German city of Molsheim (located in the Alsace region of France). Mr Bugatti was born into an artistic family and demonstrated an instinctive understanding of motor vehicle construction. Even before the company was founded, Bugatti had already developed around 10 cars while working under the influential de Dietrich family. During World War 1, the company designed aircraft engines but it was never put to use. It experienced much success for developing some of the fastest, most luxurious and technologically advanced road cars back in the day, such as winning the first-ever Monaco Grand Prix in 1929.

In 1939, Ettore Bugatti's son Jean Bugatti died while testing a Type 57 tank-bodied race car near the Molsheim factory, and this marked a turning point in the company's fortunes. After World War 2, the factory was in ruins and Ettore passed away in 1947. The Bugatti company fell into decline and ceased all operations in 1952. Subsequent attempts were made to revive the brand but they failed. In 1987, Italian entrepreneur Romano Artoli acquired the brand and established Bugatti Automobili S.p.A: during this time it became famous for its EB110 sports car but due to the recessions in the late 90s, its operations stopped again. The Volkswagen group then acquired the Bugatti brand in 1998 and currently, it is well-known for its Veyron and Chiron hypercars, of which we have some right here in Singapore...

The Type 38, introduced in 1926, was the successor of the Type 30. Its wheelbase was extended by 27 cm and it had larger brake drums on all 4 wheels. It was available in either a 4-seater convertible or a 2-seater coupe version. As with cars of that era, the body was supplied by coach-builders: in this case it was the French coach-builder Lavocat et Marsaud. The convertible has a fixed roof made of interlaced wooden slats, giving the illusion of a soft top. Some cars like this unit had split windscreens which helped to ventilate the cabin, while the dashboard featured the characteristic 4-spoke steering wheel. All units were powered by a 1991 cc inline-8 engine, but a few had a supercharger fitted on it and were known as the Type 38A. It was 4320 mm long and weighed in rather substantially at 1200 kg.

Production of the Type 38 ended quickly in 1927, where it was replaced by the Type 43. Out of the 385 units made, only 39 were the Type 38A, making this car a remarkable rarity. Old Bugatti cars are often forgotten as they are overshadowed by their admittedly more impressive modern brothers. They are also more removed from what people are familiar with, as Bugatti never made a relatively 'mainstream' car. This unit still sports its French registration number plate from Paris (albeit a relatively newer one), although I am aware that it has been here for many years now.

Bugattis were never sold in Singapore to the best of my knowledge, so it was a treat to see this machine in Seoul of all places. I believe there are also no unregistered units here, but who knows? While it may be harder to appreciate these pre-war vehicles, especially when this is not in Singapore, I will still make it a point to try to educate all of you about what I have seen. Hopefully, this has been an eye-opening piece for you about this special Bugatti!

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