42 MPH Has Never Felt So Fast

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Racking up more than a thousand victories during its time in motorsport, the Bugatti Type 35 is probably the most successful racing car in history. Introduced in 1924 with a revised version of the 2.0-liter straight-eight engine that motivated the Type 29, the Type 35 was a masterpiece that soon became a formidable presence in endurance racing, winning the Targa Florio in 1925 and taking home the Grand Prix championship the following season.

Understandably proud of its creation, company founder Ettore Bugatti and his son Jean Bugatti decided to build a scaled-down Type 35 for Ettore’s youngest son, Roland, for his fourth birthday. Although originally intended as a one-off creation, feedback from customers who visited the automaker’s headquarters in Molsheim, France, was so positive the Bugatti “Baby” went into production.

2021 Bugatti Baby II
2021 Bugatti Baby II

The production version of the Baby (also known as the Type 52) was larger and a bit more fleshed-out than the kart Bugatti created for Roland. Roughly half-scale versus the Type 35, the Baby used a single 12-volt electric motor and boasted mechanical brakes and a semi-elliptical spring suspension. Bugatti built 500 examples of the original Baby between 1927 and 1936.

Over the years the original Baby has become a sought-after commodity for well-heeled Bugatti enthusiasts, but with roughly 150 examples still around today, only a select few can get their hands on one. In celebration of the company’s 110th birthday, Bugatti decided to put another 500 into production with a modernized spin. Dubbed the Baby II, the new car embodies the look and feel of the original Type 52, but in a larger and faster package. How much faster, you ask? Fast enough to briefly get it up on two wheels while hustling around the Streets of Willow road course in Rosamond, California, as it turns out.

2021 Bugatti Baby II
2021 Bugatti Baby II

Remastering The Baby

At 75 percent scale versus the Type 35, the Baby II is large enough that most adult-sized enthusiasts can take part in the fun now. Even your author shoehorned his 6-foot-3 frame into the cockpit, albeit with the quick-release steering wheel removed for ingress and egress and the adjustable pedal box (which has pedals machined from billet aluminum, naturally) extended out as far as it would go.

While the technology underpinning the Baby II has grown up, significant engineering effort went into maintaining some of the vibe of Type 35. To provide an authentic representation of the original race car’s handling characteristics, Bugatti 3D-scanned an original Lyon GP car in order to replicate its suspension geometry. The inclusion of adjustable dampers here, which Bugatti says is its only concession to modernity in the suspension system, provides a level of tunability that Ettore could only have dreamed of back in 1924.

Available in three different iterations – Base, Vitesse, and Pur Sang – the open-wheel throwback has a limited slip differential, hydraulic brakes, and selectable drive modes.

The cockpit of the Baby II follows the overall theme of blending vintage aesthetic with a dose of contemporary tech. The aforementioned quick-release steering wheel follows the Type 35’s four-spoke design, as does the turned aluminum dashboard, but a battery gauge now resides where the fuel pressure gauge would be on the Type 35, and in an homage to the Veyron, a power gauge takes the place of the oil gauge. In a similar strategy, Bugatti meticulously reproduced the Type 35’s fuel pump handle for the Baby II – here it serves as the forward, neutral, and reverse selector.

Available in three different iterations – Base, Vitesse, and Pur Sang – the open-wheel throwback has a limited slip differential, hydraulic brakes, and selectable drive modes. The Base model ($36,600) comes strictly in French Racing Blue with black leather interior. It’s outfitted with a composite body and a 1.4-kWh battery pack, with a maximum speed of about 30 mph in Expert mode (Novice mode is for the youngsters and limits speed to 12 mph) and a range of about 15 miles.

2021 Bugatti Baby II
2021 Bugatti Baby II

We spent our seat time in a Vitesse example ($53,000), which scores lighter carbon fiber bodywork, a range of color options, and a 2.8 kWh battery pack that doubles the Baby II’s range while also allowing for performance beyond the Base car’s Expert mode. Like Bugatti’s modern hypercars, Vitesse and Pur Sang-spec Baby II models also have a second “speed key” which unlocks the system’s full 10-kW potential, raising the maximum velocity to about 42 mph.

Targeted at collectors, the Baby II Pur Sang sits at the top of the range, at $71,400. While it shares its mechanical setup with the Vitesse, Bugatti ditched the modern carbon fiber in favor of handmade aluminum bodywork. Formed using traditional coach-building techniques, the process of creating each body takes more than 200 hours to complete, according to Bugatti.

2021 Bugatti Baby II
2021 Bugatti Baby II
2021 Bugatti Baby II
2021 Bugatti Baby II

Behind The Wheel

After a walk-around of the car, we settle in at the helm. It’s a tight squeeze, but manageable. A tilt steering column would do wonders here, but it wouldn’t fit with the mission of the Baby II. From the no-nonsense simplicity of the cockpit to the notably positive camber of the front wheels at rest, it’s clear that the primary mission here is to offer enthusiasts a chance to better understand what life was like for those racers piloting Type 35s nearly a century ago.

We started off in Expert mode for a sighting lap to re-acclimate with Streets of Willow. It’s a tight, technical road course that favors nimble handling over horsepower – a favorite for fans of cars like the Mazda Miata and Subaru BRZ. At this pace we have ample time to consider our lines, but the Baby II also is so small that we can more or less point it straight down the middle in Turns 5 and 6 as well as 11 and 12.

You can simply look down and see exactly which direction the tires are pointed and what the suspension is doing.

It also reminds us of the virtues of open wheel cars – you can simply look down and see exactly which direction the tires are pointed and what the suspension is doing, placing the car within inches of your intended target every single time. It also provided us with the opportunity to yell at some birds that seemed unconcerned about the EV barreling down on them as we approached Turn 1. You can do that kind of thing when most of your body is outside of the car.

There’s certainly fun to be had at thirty miles per hour, but we were quickly wishing for more, so we came back to the pits and kindly asked for the second key. “Let me know if you notice the change,” the rep said as she disabled the limiter. A 12-mph increase didn’t sound like much to us, so we tempered our expectations before laying into the accelerator, which promptly threw us back into the seat. Trust us, it makes a difference.

The Baby II has regenerative braking that, when in Expert mode, can slow the car down enough to make it a one-pedal operation around the entire course. It’s definitely not enough with the limiter disabled, though, and that alone makes it a far more involving experience. This pace requires you to actively manage the humble amount of grip offered by the tires and pay attention to weight balance when diving into a corner – get a little over-zealous and you may start to see daylight under the inside wheels as you hunt for an apex. Did we mention that there are no seat belts?

The car afforded us about half a dozen more hot laps before we started to notice the power trailing off and headed into the pits. Owners can replace the Baby II’s lithium-ion battery in a matter of seconds so the party can continue, but that’s assuming that you have a second battery that’s charged up and ready to go. We were anxious for more laps but the car’s handlers gently reminded us that other people also needed to drive the Baby II.

Suddenly we’re a little annoyed that we have to share. Talk about feeling like a kid again.

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