Let us not judge the 1955 Bugatti Type 251 for its failures. Instead, this car should be celebrated for the fact that it even existed in the first place. You see, long before the Veyron, Automobiles Ettore Bugatti produced world-famous race cars. After facing several huge obstacles leading up to the 1950s, however, the Type 251 was the strange and unsuccessful race car that would be their last.
Let’s start with a little history. The Bugatti Type 251 debuted in 1955, long before the company’s brief resurgence in the 90s. The French automaker had been nearly wiped out of existence during World War II: The company’s Molsheim factory was not only destroyed, but the French government seized the property from Mr. Bugatti due to his Italian nationality. Nevertheless, Ettore rebuilt his company in France, producing a series of post-war cars. As if having to endure bombs and government interference wasn’t enough, Ettore sadly passed away in 1947, leaving his 25-year old son, Roland, in charge of operations. Once again, the Bugatti brand miraculously persevered.
A Very Unusual Design
A new 2.5-litre engine restriction led Roland to reach out to Ferrari engineer Gioacchino Colombo, who created a 2.5-litre straight eight capable of producing 250 horsepower. Interestingly, this rather long engine was mounted transversely behind the driver in the Type 251. This meant the car was very wide compared to its competition, while possessing a short wheelbase. The suspension setup was a rather dated live-axle setup at both ends, with a De Dion tube suspension at the rear. By 1955, nearly every other race car was using an independent suspension. Two side-mounted petrol tanks gave the car a somewhat bloated appearance.
At the 1956 French Grand Prix, the Bugatti Type 251 managed to finish 18th in qualifying, although we must keep in mind that there were only 20 cars in the field. By race day, however, things only went South from there. The Bugatti’s, er … interesting suspension geometry and resultant poor handling meant driver Maurice Tritignant was forced to wrestle the car around the track for 18 laps before mercifully breaking down and resigning the race. This inglorious result was the end of the road for Automobiles Ettore Bugatti as well, with the company finally closing its doors after 47 years of business.
Images Copyright of: Bugatti History.