BUGATTI Model 100 Racer – Italian/Belgian Design
Say the name Bugatti and racecars should come to mind. Beautiful, fast and sleek the Bugatti racers dominated the European racing scene during the 1940s. Say the name Bugatti with regards to aircraft and it’s hard to make the connection. But there is a connection and a unique one at that. At the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, WI resides the only example of a race plane designed by Ettore Bugatti.
Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan, Italy on 15 Sep 1881 to Carlo and Therese Bugatti. The family was highly artistic with the father trained as a painter, sculptor and fine furniture maker and the brother Rembrandt as an animal sculptor. Ettore’s interests took another direction; he was more interested in the mechanical. As a teenager in 1899, he built a powered tricycle and competed in a cross-country race. By age 18, he had built his first racecar. Bugatti’s work was marked by uncompromising design integrity allied to a simple and logical use of materials. He described his work as “thoroughbred.” His engine designs were at the core of his success.
Bugatti started his own factory in Molseim, Germany which became French in 1918 after WW I. During the 1920s, Bugatti emigrated from Italy to France and became a loyal French citizen. When World War I stormed across Europe, Bugatti designed a 250 hp straight eight and a double straight eight (U-16), 450 hp aircraft engine for the French government. The engine was so impressive that US Bolling Commission bought the license for $100,000, which were to be produced at the Dusenberg Motor Co. Production was planned for two to five thousand of the design, but the end of the war intervened and only about 40 were built.. Charles B. King was hired to redesign the oil system and the engine became known as the King Bugatti.
Bugatti’s interest in aircraft increased as well as his dislike for the Germans. After World War I and his great successes in automobile racing, he decided to take the Germans head on in the Deutsche de La Muerthe Cup Race, known as the Coupe Deutsch. This was an aircraft race equivalent to the Thompson Trophy Race held in the United States. With this desire to beat the Germans, he hired Louis D. de Monge to design an airframe. The original concept was for a single-engine aircraft, but later was changed to accommodate two modified Bugatti model 50B engines in an effort to break the world airplane speed record.
Construction of the aircraft was undertaken on the second floor of a furniture factory in Paris. The French government was aware of the advanced design and Bugatti received a contract for a light pursuit plane designated as the Model 110P based on the Model 100P racer. In 1938-1939, while the Model 100 was under construction, the threat of war increased. The aircraft had to be completed by September of 1939 to enter the race. The deadline was not met and the beautiful blue bird never took to the air.
When the Germans neared the French capital in June of 1940, it was decided to move the aircraft from its Paris location. As the plane was not complete, it was lowered from the second story factory and taken into the French countryside. There, hidden in a barn, the never-flown plane resided for almost 30 years.
Ettore Bugatti died at age 66 on 21 August 1947. After his death, the aircraft was acquired by a Mr. Pazzoli who sold it to Mr. Salis who in turn sold it to the American car aficionado Ray Jones in 1970. Jones sole purpose was to acquire the two Bugatti engines still in the aircraft. He brought the plane to the US, removed the powerplants and sold the airframe to Dr. Peter Williamson. Williamson moved the aircraft to Connecticut in February 1971 to begin a lengthy restoration. Les and Don Lefferts worked on the project from 1975 to 1979. Les Lefferts documented this work in the July 1991 issue of SKYWAYS magazine. The restoration ceased in 1979 and the aircraft was donated to the Air Force Museum Foundation with hopes of completing the work and placing the aircraft on permanent loan to another museum. As time slipped away, the aircraft remained in storage for at least another 15 years before being donated to the EAA AirVenture Museum.
In 1996, the Bugatti Model 100 racer became part of the EAA AirVenture museum’s extensive collection. Efforts were immediately begun to get the aircraft ready for display. Once static exhibit standards were met, the aircraft was hung in the highly visible Fergus Plaza directly across from the main entrance of the museum. This extraordinary example of the same kind of unconventional, forward thinking used by homebuilt designers through the ages, remains as a symbol of what can be created with the human imagination.