Bugatti, renowned worldwide for its visionary engineering and ingenious designs, is commemorating the official centenary of one of its most groundbreaking cars: the Type 32 ‘Tank’.
This pioneering racing car not only revolutionized aerodynamic motorsport innovations but also left an indelible mark on the automotive industry with its distinctive shape, visible rivets, and bolts.
French Grand Prix Unveiling in 1923
On 2nd July 1923, during the French Grand Prix, held in the scenic Loire Valley city of Tours, approximately 300,000 spectators eagerly gathered to witness an extraordinary display of high-octane excitement, featuring cutting-edge race cars. However, it was the audacious creation by Ettore Bugatti that stole the limelight, showcasing his genius and unwavering commitment to defying conventional norms in pursuit of improvement.
Aerodynamic Excellence: The Type 32’s Unique Design
At first glance, the slipstreamed Type 32 caught everyone’s attention with its aeroplane-inspired wing-shaped body. Ettore Bugatti firmly believed that advanced aerodynamics would play a pivotal role in enhancing racing car performance. Although its foundation was based on the Type 30, with a powerful 2.0-litre eight-cylinder engine generating approximately 90 PS, the Type 32’s distinctive fairing, compact wheelbase, and narrow track set it apart from other cars on the grid, causing a stir among fans.
Innovative Engineering Solutions and Unconventional Features
The Type 32 boasted numerous innovative engineering solutions, techniques, and designs. Its underslung chassis and front hydraulic brakes ensured exceptional handling, while the three-speed and reverse transaxle transmission added to the thrilling experience. As expected, this unorthodox car with its dramatic and idiosyncratic looks became the centre of attention, effortlessly standing out among its contemporaries, which adhered to widely recognized design norms prevalent in motorsport at the time.
The Grand Prix: Type 32’s Triumphs and Future Focus
A total of five Type 32s were produced, including a prototype and four cars that participated in the Grand Prix. The event demanded a gruelling 35 laps on a 22.83-kilometre circuit encompassing public roads, totalling just under 800 kilometres. Among these four cars, the most successful was driven by French racer Ernest Friderich, who finished an impressive third, completing the race in seven hours and 22.4 seconds at an average speed of over 112 km/h.
Although the Type 32 showcased its capabilities, the Grand Prix in Tours marked its sole appearance, as Bugatti shifted its focus towards developing the iconic Type 35. This legendary Bugatti model incorporated various new concepts, including the introduction of alloy wheels, and went on to achieve unparalleled success, clinching the Grand Prix World Championship in 1926.
Type 32’s Enduring Legacy and Influence
Despite its relatively short-lived career in Grand Prix racing, the Type 32 proved to be an invaluable venture for Bugatti, yielding significant lessons that would pay dividends in the future. Most notably, the resounding success of the streamlined, enclosed-bodied 57G, known as the ‘Tank,’ in endurance racing during the 1930s, validated Ettore Bugatti’s vision that aerodynamic efficiency played a pivotal role. The 57G secured victories in the 1936 French Grand Prix and the iconic Le Mans race in 1937, further confirming the correctness of Bugatti’s initial realization embodied in the Type 32 ‘Tank’ of 1923.
Even today, the Type 32 remains instantly recognizable to motorsport enthusiasts worldwide, representing an iconic and innovative creation by Bugatti. This automotive masterpiece currently resides at the Musée National de l’Automobile in Mulhouse, France, and continues to captivate audiences with its occasional participation in historic races, ensuring its legacy lives on through the passage of time.