Given that long-standing passion, and the access that working for Automobile Magazine provides, you'd think that at some point I'd get to drive a Bugatti -- certainly I thought so. But it's never happened. Oh, I got a ride in a Type 57, a twenty-first birthday present from John Bond, then editor of Road & Track. "This was the personal car of Ettore himself," said Bond's friend Vivian Corradini as he terrified me with tail slides around the quiet residential streets of San Marino, California. I didn't believe his tale then, and I don't believe it now, but his Bugatti was certainly a fast and highly impressive car in the 1950s.
I did believe Jay Leno when he told me that he definitely didn't have a Bugatti Veyron but did have Bugatti factory driver Pierre Veyron's Type 37A, along with half a dozen other Bugattis. A few years ago, I wrote a column on the Bugatti Type 35B racing car [By Design, September 2008]. Discussing that at Pebble Beach, Leno said, "I've got one." He went on to say that his Type 35 was one of the incredible Argentine replicas, absolutely identical to the originals, made by the same methods on the same kind of machines that existed in the 1920s in Europe. Because Leno and I live 6000 miles apart, it took us a while to put together a date for the drive.
Leno's Big Dog Garage is next to the historic Burbank airport, where a childhood flight in a Waco cabin biplane first infected me with the incurable aviation virus. Showing up on a bright, hot morning, we found the 35B replica's engine in pieces, waiting for spares from South America. Leno said it really didn't matter that much, as we could go out in Pierre Veyron's own supercharged Type 37A, which is physically almost identical to the 35A "Course Imitation" (imitation race) sports model: same body, chassis, wire wheels, wheelbase, and so on, but with a five-main-bearing, 1496-cc four-cylinder engine instead of the straight eight of the racing model. The characteristic light aluminum wheels first seen on the 1924 Type 35 grand prix cars were optional.