Test Drive Tuesday review #30: 1931 Bugatti Type 51 GP
The Bugatti Type 51 is the direct evolution of what is probably the most legendary pre-war race car: the Type 35. The 35 was known not only for its French elegance, but also because it was a real killer on track. Taking into account all the various motorsport events that were held these years, the Bugatti Type 35 won more than 2,000 races, including five wins in a row at the grueling Targa Florio.
It made sense then for Bugatti to gently evolve this champion into another iteration without breaking anything that made the Type 35 so successful. And so the Type 51 was strikingly similar to its bigger sister, only sporting a bigger radiator and a new engine that now produced 160 bhp as major modifications. But by the time the Bugatti Type 51 went racing, the small French manufacturer was facing Alfa Romeo, Auto-Union and Mercedes, now largely funded by their governments who believed in motorsport as a way of demonstrating political superiority. As is too often the case in motorsport, money prevailed and Ettore Bugatti couldn’t get his cars to follow the ever faster pace of the Italians and Germans who went on to crush auto racing until the war.
That doesn’t take away from the piece of automotive art that the Type 51 is. And it certainly doesn’t make it any worse to drive.
To truly enjoy the Type 51, you need to forget everything you now about driving modern cars. It is very slow, has no grip and of course pathetic brakes.
But that’s what makes it a truly brilliant driving experience. You need to be extra careful about each of your inputs, because if you as much as look at the throttle while turning, you’re in for a long, long slide. But the thing is, if you don’t, you’ll never get it up to speed, and as not losing speed is so important with a car this slow, you’ll probably lose the race as well.
But be reassured: sliding this car, other than being necessary, is also massively enjoyable. And anyway, because it is so slow, it’ll give you plenty of time to adjust your steering angle and your throttle. Soon you’ll be able to play (gently) with it, and dance around the (very) low limit of its (very) thin tires. If you don’t get it right though, you won’t be going anywhere. The Type 51 is a car that requires the long lost art of driving well outside of the realm of grip. And that will make you into a better driver. I don’t think there are much better cars to learn car control out there. And because it’s really not fast, you’ll see every track you run it on in a very new light.
More than being a racing icon, a museum masterpiece, the Bugatti Type 51 is a very refreshing driving experience. It’s not the car you’ll want to race every day, because it requires so much concentration and attention. But it’s a car that will always leave you with a brand new love for driving.
To find out how it did against all the other TDT cars, follow this link to the updated TDT Leaderboards: https://goo.gl/ATr6mF