I was in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy on a sunny September day a few years ago. The Piazza is a large outdoor space in the heart of the city. There are 17 contrade or local neighborhoods in Siena, each with its own official colors and flag. Since medieval times, the Piazza has hosted the Palio, a horse race featuring riders from all 17 neighborhoods who compete for the honor of representing the local contrade until the next race.
On this particular day, I was enjoying a peach mango gelato when WHUMP! A cacophony of thundering explosions like an artillery barrage burst from one of Siena’s narrow streets, echoing off the facades of buildings constructed centuries ago when oxcarts were the principal means of transportation in this ancient city. A ripple of excitement ricocheted through the Piazza as the sound grew louder. Suddenly, an old racing car resplendent in bright blue paint entered the Piazza. From its iconic “horse collar” radiator shell, it was obvious it was a Bugatti.
Bits of flame erupted from its unmuffled exhaust pipe as it drove across the Piazza and stopped in front of the city hall. The passenger jumped out, handed some papers to an official, then jumped back in as the driver gunned the engine and drove out of the Piazza. We were able to follow its progress by the sound of its thunderous exhaust on its way out of the city. That Bugatti was the first car in the Tazio Nuvalari rally for that year.
I had promised a friend who couldn’t get time off from work that I would photograph every one of the rally cars. 4 hours later, I had pictures of 136 cars. My trusty Sony point-and-shoot camera was covered in chocolate from trying to eat a Snickers while pointing and shooting in the hot sun. There was no time to put it down to eat lunch.
Ettore Bugatti & The Baby
Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan, Italy in 1881. In 1909, he established an automobile factory in Molsheim, a town in the Alsace region that would be controlled by both Germany and France in the years to come. Bugatti was known worldwide as one of the most talented engineers of the early automotive age with a fierce commitment to exacting quality. His racing cars were the envy of the world. A Bugatti won the first Monaco Grand Prix in 1929.
In 1926, Ettore Bugatti built a car for his son Roland. Called the Baby, it was fully electric and an exact 50% scale replica of the company’s renowned Type 35 model. Bugatti only intended to make one, but word of the car circulated among his many wealthy clients who demanded one for their own children. Ultimately 500 of the diminutive cars were built.
Meet the Bugatti Baby II
Fast forward 94 years. Bugatti is now owned by the Volkswagen Group, which has created the Baby II, a 75% scale replica of the Type 35. (It also has created the Bugatti Veyron EB, one of the fastest cars in the world at 254 miles per hour, as well as the mighty Chiron.) Like the original, the Baby II is also an all-electric car intended as a toy for children with wealthy parents, at least in the base version which sells for €30,000. There are also two variants of the car — the Vitesse and Pur Sang, with the latter listing for €58,500.
According to Autoblog, the base model has a composite body, a 1.4 kWh battery, a 5.8-horsepower motor driving the rear wheels through a limited slip differential, and a top speed of 30 mph. Range is given as 14 miles. All that assumes the driver engages Expert mode. In Novice mode, horsepower is reduced to 1.3 horsepower and the top speed is considerably lower. No sense having the kiddies stuff their exotic toy into the wall as they circumnavigate the English Garden!
The Vitesse features a carbon fiber body while the Pur Sang has a hand-beaten aluminum body that takes 200 hours to produce. Both have a 2.8 kWh battery and a 13.4 horsepower motor (when the special Bugatti Speed Key is employed). Top speed climbs to 42 mph and range increases to 31 miles. If there is no time to recharge the battery, the old one can be swapped out and a fully charged replacement installed in minutes. This car cannot be accurately called a toy. Adults who are smaller than your average NFL linemen can actually fit in it and, as the video below shows, have a heck of a lot of fun behind the quick release steering wheel.
The Bugatti Baby II was created in collaboration with The Little Car Company. The suspension was crafted from a 3D scan of an actual Type 35 that was scaled down by 25%. The car handles quite well, Autoblog reports. When these cars were new, brakes were cable operated affairs that were more in the “wishful thinking” department than stopping devices. Drivers expected their cars to handle curves without slowing down and Ettore Bugatti was a master at creating suspensions that could do just that. The Bugatti Baby II features hydraulic brakes and dampers, a big improvement over the original.
Like the original, only 500 copies of the Baby II will be made. Last year they were all spoken for, but some customers have suffered a reversal of fortune due to the coronavirus pandemic and have cancelled their orders. That means a very few are available. If you need a scaled down electric car that costs as much as a Mercedes S Class, click on over to the Bugatti Baby II website and tell the factory to put your name on one.