Fun and Funner: We Drive the Bugatti Baby II “Toy” on the Track!
This is as close as you’re going to get to the real deal for less than six-figures.
ROSAMOND, California—Chances are, if I threw you the keys to a cold 1927 Bugatti Type 35 and told you it's all yours under the condition that you must fire it up and drive it away under its own power, you wouldn't have a tire's chance on a Hellcat. I bet you didn't even blink when I mentioned keys. But up to the 1940s, it was almost unheard of to have actual security measures—including keys—on race cars, the idea being these machines were so complex and draconian to prod to life that you'd be better off shoving it onto a flatbed than to even try to hotwire it. No free pre-war Bugatti for you, I'm afraid. In contrast, the outlandishly adorable Bugatti Baby II does have a traditional key, and as far as ignition keys go, the bespoke round aluminum key-cap that comes with each of the three-quarter-scale Type 35 is one of the more primo ones I've twisted.
Order your Bugatti Baby II toy in either the dramatically-named Pur Sang or Vitesse trim, and you'll get an additional aluminum folding key that slots just to the left of your corresponding calf muscle. Stick this on the keyhole just above where it's stored, and you unlock the "full-power mode" a-la Veyron and Chiron, the latter of which shares the same speed-key design with the pipsqueak Baby II.
Bugatti Baby II Test: Origins
It's these modernist touches that make the Bugatti Baby II such a fascinating objet d'art de garage. In essentia, the Baby II is the modern interpretation of the original Bugatti Baby, itself a half-scale Type 35 initially created as a one-off for Ettore Bugatti's son Roland that garnered considerable public interest after its public showing at the 1927 Milan Salon; so much interest, in fact, it inspired Bugatti to launch a line of the so-called Type 52 "Bugatti Baby" that resulted in roughly 500 examples between 1927 and 1937.
Eighty-three years after the final Baby left Molsheim, the Bugatti Baby II is here to entertain children and adults alike. Unlike the half-scale Type 52, in which even some taller children had issues with legroom, the new Bugatti Baby II toy car is a three-quarter-scale Type 35, allowing even my filled-out (ahem) 5-foot, 11-inch frame to enjoy the Baby II with only minor knee constriction. The project is an official collaboration between Bugatti and the charmingly named Little Car Company based out of the U.K. This outfit made waves for its similarly scaled-down Aston Martin DB5, so the Type 35 was a logical next step.
Bugatti Baby II Test: As if Size, Specs Matter
It might be a smidge bigger, but the Baby II still shares the O.G. Type 52's electric drivetrain. Well, it's not exactly the same archaic system found on the older car, but the Baby II comes with a choice of two powertrains depending on trim. Stick with the aptly named "Base," and a 1.4-kWh battery returns 15 miles of range, 5.4 horesepower, and a top speed of 30 mph for adults in the selectable "Expert" mode; kiddos can be restricted to a geo-fenced 12-mph limit by turning the key from the rabbit/hare setting (Expert) to the small symbol of a tortoise.
The tester Bugatti Baby II I somehow folded myself was in Vitesse specification, which adds a larger 2.8-kWh battery and the aforementioned speed-key functionality for the full 13.4-hp experience that allows the small grand prix car to reach a terrifying 42 mph. Picking the Vitesse also unlocks standard carbon-fiber bodywork and a full range of available colors; springing for the big baller Pur Sang model does away with both the Base's "composite" bodywork and the Vitesse's carbon fiber for hand-formed aluminum panels, very much in line with the original Type 52 and the full-size car.
Bugatti Baby II Test: Ancestors
Prior to my arrival at the Streets of Willow Springs for a handful of laps in the Baby II, the Bugatti staff on-hand prepared quite the evocative sight. Bugatti staged the pretty-in-white Baby II next to the Mullin Museum's full-size and very real 1925 Type 35C for our viewing pleasure. It only takes a moment of pacing around the old warhorse to realize just how breathtakingly complex and intricate the real Type 35 is, beginning with the aluminum-framed interior and its incredibly intimidating array of levers and switches whose operation would exhaust you like Freder in Metropolis' famous clock scene. There's fine wire braided between pegs down the length of the body to keep panels in place, while every single exposed suspension point or chassis-mounting area is a piece of road-worn precision sculpture, pitted and dull from almost a century of hard work.
Like sled-dogs or a Clydesdale, the Bugatti Type 35 seemed straining to fulfill its purpose even as it sat chocked on Willow Spring's drift pad. The bandy-legged Bugatti grand prix car is one of history's all-time great race cars, possessing a level of competitive longevity matched only by a handful of Porsche race cars, with the Bugatti claiming world championships in the 1920s and 1930s, and scoring small-scale regional victories at hill climbs well into the 1950s. Even if you don't know it by name, the silhouette of the Type 35 is what comes to mind when you think, "antique race car."
Empty racetracks are preternaturally calm and eerie to behold as they ride on the threshold of being liminal spaces, and that spooky silence is only amplified by the presence of slumbering race cars. The 2.0-liter, inline-eight in the Mullin's Type 35 sat dormant and cold, and even if Peter Mullin himself dropped by for a surprise blast around the track, waking the old Bugatti takes a matter of multiple minutes and is indeed much like assembling clockworks. Even for the most mechanically complete cars, it's a 10-step process that involves opening multiple oil and air taps, fussing with the magneto, and cutting a path between engine bay and the aluminum dash, where the driver must manually pump air into the gas tank to pressurize the system before priming the ignition.
Prepping the Bugatti Baby II for this test is a much more 21st-century affair. For larger folk like myself, ingress is made relatively trouble free with a fantastic quick-release, four-spoked metal-and-wood steering wheel crafted by Nardi in Italy—and yes, it's also to scale. Once inside, stick that aforementioned aluminum key into the ignition slot on the right side of the dash, turn it to whichever drive mode, and … well, that's it. You're ready to go. The only thing indicating the Baby II is primed and ready for laps are a few momentarily blinking lights and the needle on a gauge or two lifting off the base peg.
Bugatti Baby II Test: Down to the Details
Before I set off, I drank in the details. As this is an officially licensed Bugatti product, craftsmanship and finishing is of the very highest caliber for something that pulls double duty as a child's toy. There's so much to touch and absorb; the pedals are milled aluminum and similar to the set found on the Chiron, as is the three-quarter-scale Bugatti "Macaron" badge up front, also formed from the same sterling silver used on today's Bugatti production cars. The phenomenal turned-aluminum dash is a callout to the Veyron, and most of the switchgear is the repurposed design of the real Type 35. Even the bulbous T-handle knob that is the fuel pressure plunger on the real thing serves as the drive mode selector on the Baby II.
When I'd finished futzing over all the minutiae, I made my way to Streets of Willow's front straight. Remember how quiet I said empty racetracks are? It didn't get any louder with the Bugatti Baby II, even pegged at its 42-mph top speed. There was no straight-eight shriek to raise goosebumps; aside from a gentle golf-karty hum and the scrub of the bicycle-thin tires, all I heard was the howl of the chilly wind slicing against my face.
Acceleration won't quite snap your neck back, but it possesses that awesome low-down electric shove, regardless of those skinny rears. Zero-to-37 mph takes a quick-feeling 6.0 seconds; a bit down from the Type 35's estimated 7.0-second 0-60-mph hustle, but as exposed as you must feel in the actual Type 35, the Baby II's Lilliputian footprint makes the high-speed approach of every corner an exercise in countersteer. Regardless if I intended to or not, I slipped and slid through Streets as though the track's staff had buttered the corners, doing my best stoic impression of Type 35 heroes Louis Chiron or Albert Divo as the rear squiggled at a deadly 35-or-so mph.
Bugatti Baby II Test: Pre-War Footwork
This might sound pretentious, but even the Bugatti Baby II's low-speed antics prove that driving an open-wheeled car of any shape, size, or provenance should be close to the top of the list for any devout gearhead. Even more so than whipping around in something small like a track-prepped Mazda Miata or Lotus Elan, having an unobstructed view of the tires and front suspension componentry is exhilarating, and allows you picometer-precise placement even in the trickier corners.
What hardware was visible from the cockpit is mostly a copy of the stuff on the real Type 35, though the Baby II makes modern concessions with adjustable dampers and aggressive, notably effective regenerative braking that almost—almost—allows for one-pedal driving. According to Bugatti, chief test driver extraordinaire Andy Palmer assisted in the development of the car, producing a chassis setup that reacts as the real thing does.
Somewhere toward the end of lap five, the power waned, and I hummed back toward the quiet, original Type 35 and the paddock. For a moment, sitting next to the old blue car, a pang of melancholy struck; in stark contrast to the battle-hardened race car, the overwhelming majority of the 500 examples of new Baby IIs produced will serve as either functional garage art or as an extremely posh pit buggy while your mechanics grease the joints on your real Bugatti.
For once, the entire run of Bugatti Baby IIs isn't sold out (yet), but the order book is almost closed. Bugatti says a handful of depositors backed out of their build due to the pandemic, so this just might be your chance to own a Bugatti. Of course, being a Bugatti, it still won't come cheap, but it could also be a whole lot worse, to be frank. Prices for the Bugatti Baby II Base model start at $36,600 and climb to $53,000 for the carbon Vitesse and $71,400 for the aluminum Pur Sang.