Racing Driver

WE EXPECTED A lot, and I'm afraid the car just didn't measure up to our expectations."

Rene Dreyfus, Bugatti team driver, former champion driver of France, one of the very few drivers ever to beat the all conquering Germans in a full scale Grand Prix during the mid and late Thirties, recently gazed across a glass of Mouton Cadet in the comparative quiet of his Le Chanteclair restaurant in New York and remembered the beautiful but frustrating Type 59 Bugatti G P car.

"When the car first came out we were very excited over it and had a lot of hope but, as we soon discovered, the power just wasn't there. It was introduced first with a smaller engine, 2.8 liters I think, but almost at once the displacement was raised to the more familiar 3.3 liters. It still wasn't enough.

'Though that alone would have been serious enough, the car had one flaw that was never cured and caused us a lot of concern whenever we raced it - it tended to jump out of gear at the worst possible times. You can imagine how it must have felt when negotiating a high-speed bend, depending on the power to hold the car in balance and suddenly having it snatched away without warning. We never got used to that."

Bugatti engineers were good engineers no doubt, but not in the same league with the formidable genius of Vittorio Jano who, unfortunately for Bugatti, was designing race cars for Alfa Romeo at the time. The famous P3 Tipo B Alfa was the principal competition the Type 59 was up against in 1934 and it was pretty much one-sided contest.

Problems continued to plague the Type 59 during its first season. Sharing them with Dreyfus were the other members of the Bugatti team: Tazio Nuvolari, Jean-Pierre Wimille, Marquis Antonio Brivio and Robert Benoist.

"All of us had difficulties with the carburation. Faulty mounting caused air leaks into the engine with a resultant loss of mixture control and in some instances the carburetor came loose altogether. Then there were the famous, or infamous, de Ram shock absorbers. They worked very well when they worked, but they frequently gave trouble too. Unfortunately no one could fix them but the de Ram representative, who would come with a little case of what looked like jeweler's instruments and get them to work properly again. However, he wasnot always around when we needed

Rene hastens to add that the Type 59 was not all bad. "The 59 was lower, longer and in some ways more stable at very high speed than the cars we had raced up to that time. The handling was very good and the brakes were typically Bugatti-very powerful and fade resistant. The sound of the car was typical of other supercharged 8-cyl cars of the period: fairly loud but not unusual. It was nothing at all like the previous 8-cyl Bugattis, the 35 and 51, with their strange firing order. Those earlier cars were very distinctive and quite noisy.

"The 59 was a beautiful car to look at which I'm sure was to the credit of Jean Bugatti, who I think developed the car with Meo Costantini. I don't recall M. Bugatti (Ettore) being involved with it at all."

Then of course there are those famous piano-wire wheels, probably the most noticeable feature of the car. The idea, and it was a devilishly clever one, was to minimize the weight of the wheel by using very light spokes which served only to locate the hub at the center. All the load, driving and braking forces were transmitted through the meshing of the huge brake drums with the inner surface of the wheel rims.

It worked remarkably well but did have one characteristic remembered by anyone who has ever driven a Type 59. "When first applying power to the rear wheels, or when releasing the accelerator," Rene recalls, "the car would feel a bit loose for a moment-thats the only word I can find for it-and this would be accompanied by a thunk, sometimes loud, sometimes not, and then the car would feel normal again." It was merely the slack being taken up in those enormous ring gears inside each wheel.

Occasionally, for no apparent reason, the 59 would overheat. "I recall that in the Swiss Grand Prix in 1934 the car was running extremely well and I was beginning to put some pressure on Hans Stuck, who was leading the race. But in the heat of this battle my car began to run very hot, started to lose water and I had to make many pit stops after that to stay in the race at all. I think I placed 3rd."

With all the maladies that seemed to afflict it, Rene did manage to win the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa with a 59, even though he had to stop three times during the race for fresh plugs. But after that season he begged Costantini to release him from his contract. Professional racing drivers, then as now, cannot afford to be sentimental. As much as Rene valued his association with Bugatti, the Type 59 finally convinced him that for the sake of his career he'd be better off elsewhere. In fact he had won more races, and consequently more money, when he was campaigning his privately owned Type 35s than after he. had joined the factory team and raced the 51s and 59s.

So Rene and Bugatti amicably parted company and during the 1935 season he drove the Scuderia Ferrari G P Alfas against the beautiful blue cars he had once idolized. It must have been a profound relief, after so many breakdowns and letdowns, to start 13 races for Ferrari, finish 13 times and win two more GPs along the way.

It's manifestly evident that the Type 59 Bug didn't measure up to anyone's expectations of it. The technology of the racing car was developing so rapidly during its active years that the precepts upon which it had been designed and built were out of date before the first car had ever turned a wheel. But one of the 59's qualities still speaks as strongly to Rene Oreyfus today as it did 40-odd years ago. Wine glass still in hand, light brown eyes looking out on the mural of the Place de la Concorde on the restaurant's south wall, he says more to himself than anyone else present, "But it was such a beautiful car.

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