The world’s first supercar, now made to order

The Type 35 Bugatti debuted in 1924 and originals now sell for millions, but you can buy a replica for €236,000, says Hannah Elliot.

But, instead, you can buy an exact replica, down to the very last bolt.

Pur Sang, the French for “pure blood”, is an old horseracing term to describe a thoroughbred.

The phrase also refers to the Argentina-based company that hand-builds Type 35 Bugattis as exact replicas. Pur Sang Argentina produces 20 Bugatti Type 35s a year, among other models. The replicas contain the same components as their now multimillion-euro predecessors.

The €236,000 Pur Sang Bugattis are a bargain compared to the originals, which are considered to be the world’s first supercars.

At a time when the bumbling Model T Ford was the most prevalent car on the road, Ettore Bugatti’s sculptural Type 35 could hit 120mph on a racetrack and 60mph in less than 10 seconds.

The fact that it came in a chic French blue, with revolutionary alloy wheels and an undefeated racing record from 1925 to 1929, only added to the allure.

I recently visited Pur Sang’s North American headquarters, in Costa Mesa, California, which is the next best thing to visiting the factory in Paraná, Entre Rios, Argentina.

Sales manager John Bothwell, met me there, so I could drive one of the open-top Type 35s up and down Highway 1, near a sun-drenched Newport Beach.

The drive was incredible: The four-speed, manual gearbox is the same as the one from the 1920s, though a fan has been added to prevent overheating.

When you push through turns, you feel the car gather itself under you; the lack of windows, seat belts, and hinged doors makes the car a singular thrill.

But it’s the details that make the Type 35 among the most attention-getting (and respect-earning) cars you can buy.

If you want to stand out in Monaco or at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, forget the Ferraris, Bentleys, and Lamborghinis. Drive this, instead.

The honeycomb-shaped front radiator, which Ettore Bugatti refined for his beloved Type 35, became an integral part of Bugatti styling. Following the Type 35, the Type 37, and Type 39 continued the distinctive front look, with dual round headlights, and tires far apart from the main engine cavity.

On the Pur Sang Bugattis, the wheels are modern, rather than period, so they can run reliably on today’s city streets.

Along with the aforementioned cooling fan, the wheels are the only current-era components on the Type 35s.

“Most of the time, the people who buy these are the people who can also afford the original,” Bothwell said.

“It’s the kind of guy who already has a supercar, and this is the gateway drug to him realising he also likes older cars. It doesn’t take a lot to push a guy like that over the edge.”

Indeed, the Type 35 is a supercar, with the winningest racing record of any Bugatti model in history and the kind of handling that, for the time — and for most drivers now — is considered challenging. It’s loud, thick, rough, and smelly inside the cabin of the Type 35.

It doesn’t come with power steering or power brakes. But it is rewarding: Cruising speeds hover easily around 80mph, and, thanks to a then-advanced handbrake system, Bothwell has even drifted it in the sands of Dubai.

The Type 35 Bugatti sits nestled between the bare-bones, much-smaller Type 13 Bugatti and the grand coach, Type 41 Royale Bugatti, which was a handsome touring car. (Others, such as the Type 30 and Type 32, also figured in the mid-1920s and early 1930s as key Bugatti models.) But the Type 35 is the most notable and most collectable.

Gooding & Co. is offering a 1925 Type 35 Grand Prix for $2.6m at its Scottsdale auction, in January. RM Sotheby’s sold a 1930 Type 35B (the final iteration of the Type 35) for far less — $638,000 — in 2014; the Telegraph reported a 1928 Type 35B that sold for £2.5m in a private sale several years earlier.

“The first supercar ever conceived was the Type 35 Bugatti,” Bothwell said. “Ettore Bugatti was Elon Musk times 10.”

Bothwell means that the famous, Italian-born designer earned many patents in his life, from those for torpedo boats to lightweight airplanes. For the Type 35, Bugatti used a supercharged, 2.0-litre, straight-eight cylinder engine.

Early examples had 90 horsepower, but later ones reached 130hp and more. Bothwell declined to say how fast his Pur Sang Bugattis go, but a quick test on the road says they’ll hit 60mph in 10 seconds or so.

Ettore Bugatti, whose father was a well-known jewellery and furniture designer, founded his company in Molsheim, Alsace (then part of Germany) in 1909. The company made elite cars in the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s, especially the iconic Type 35, Type 41 Royale, Type 55, and Type 57 ‘Atlantic’ models.

The company went out of business in the 1960s, but was revived as a brand in the 1990s and is now owned by Volkswagen AG.

Today, its famous models, such as the Bugatti Veyron and the Bugatti Chiron, sell for more than $2m each.

Founded more than 20 years ago by Jorge Anadon, Pur Sang creates the details of its Type 35 exactly to the specifications of the original car, from the leather straps holding the spare tire to the brushed metal on the interior and the intricate knobs on the dashboard. The brilliant, round headlights are custom-made.

All the parts are handmade, using traditional methods, by craftsmen in Argentina. The Pur Sang factory employs 100 workers, who can produce a built-to-order car in two months; grounds include a design studio, an engineering shop, a body shop, a spare-part division, and a paint shop. Each year, from 20 cars to 30 cars are completed.

The original Bugatti Type 53 was the fastest, most powerful car of its day. It debuted in 1924 and fewer than 100 were made, and they’re exceedingly rare and expensive to buy.

Pur Sang also makes many other models, from a Bugatti Type 55 and Bugatti Type 51 to Alfa Romeo’s 8C Monza.

There is even talk that Pur Sang could make a Type 57SC Atlantic, the car Ralph Lauren long used as the centrepiece of his extensive car collection. Since each car is made to order, an interested buyer would have to commission the build.

Bugatti’s Type 35 has a right-hand-side drive, with a four-speed, manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. The interior is minimal, with very thin metal walls, and three-foot pedals to shift, brake, and accelerate.

You’ll want goggles when you drive the Type 35; there’s no windscreen, let alone doors and windows.

The car is extremely fast on straightaways, and goggles will help protect your eyes from wind, sun glare, and the occasional stray insect.

The seats are flat, with little cushioning, but they’re firm and resilient.

The beds on which you place your feet are narrow; driving shoes (or small feet) are a must. And the shifter at the centre of the car sits close to both driver and passenger, who must tolerate close proximity.

Pur Sang makes each Bugatti Type 35 to a client’s specifications, even if that means adjusting to what that owner believes best follows the spirit of the machine.

For instance, the original Type 35 B had a roller bearing crank, but some customers choose a plain bearing crank, because it reduces maintenance and the weight of the engine. It’s a minute difference, but it matters to aficionados.

If you buy a Pur Sang Bugatti, you’ll be in good company. Jay Leno reportedly owns two.


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