A legend is turning 100. In 1921, the Bugatti Type 13 “Brescia“ heralded a new trend in motorsport. The open-top sports car brought the era of large, heavy racing cars to an end. The lightweight body, superior chassis and powerful engine made the Type 13 a racecar that was way ahead of its time.
The open-top two-seater weighed just 490 kilograms and was powered by a water-cooled, four-cylinder engine with a capacity of just under 1.5 liters and a power output initially of 40 PS, and later of 50 PS. The racecar had a top speed of 150 km/h – a speed that 100 years ago only considerably heavier and more powerful cars could achieve. However, even these cars rarely stood a chance against the light and agile Type 13 before the first bend. Their bodies were heavier, their chassis less precise, and their tires could rarely withstand the ordeal of racing for long.
Ettore Bugatti, on the other hand, discovered over 100 years ago that weight was the real enemy in motorsport, and started to systematically turn his focus to lightweight design. Weight optimization was already a priority in the first car to be built in his name, the Type 10. Work began on the Type 13 in 1910, and the car was continuously developed and optimized over the coming years. Bugatti took the Type 13 to the next level in 1921 with the Type 13 “Brescia”. The former had been equipped with a 1.35-liter engine since 1914. Due to the outbreak of the First World War, production was suspended shortly after, with the result that it was only after the war in 1919 when Bugatti developed a slightly modified model: now with 1,368-cc of displacement, modern four-valve technology, a vertical shaft and 30 PS of power. This made the Type 13 one of the first automobiles with four-valve technology. The use of white alloy for the crankshaft bearings and pistons was just as original 100 years ago, as was a fuel pump and a pump that sprayed oil onto specifically targeted components. A lightweight and easy-to-shift four-speed gearbox enabled the driver to change gears more easily.
Two years later, Ettore Bugatti increased the cylinder bore to 68 millimeters, which expanded the engine volume to 1,453-cc. In addition to the series production car, he also designed a vehicle for competitions. For this vehicle, he continued to fine-tune the details, used ball bearings, among other things, to make the crankshaft run more smoothly, increased the compression ratio of the engine and the carburetor flow rate, and used a magnetic dual ignition for two spark plugs per combustion chamber. Thus, the racing engine compensated for the inertia of the sparks at high engine speeds, initially of 2,700 rpm, and subsequently rising to 4,500 rpm, and ensured reliable and powerful combustion. The Type 13 reacted quickly to throttle inputs, and was easy to maneuver through corners thanks to extremely precise steering. Lightweight wire-spoked wheels instead of heavy wooden wheels reduced the unsprung masses and increased agility.