The brand now uses the W16, but the eight-cylinder was instrumental in its success.
The modern Bugatti Chiron is powered by an 8.0-liter W16 powertrain: the largest production engine currently available. The Dodge Viper eclipsed this with its 8.4-liter displacement before it was discontinued. One hundred years ago, however, things were a bit different for the French manufacturer as it had to find a way to squeeze eight cylinders into a 2.0-liter configuration so that it could adhere to the Grand Prix regulations of the time.
Ettore Bugatti wanted to fit a 3.0-liter unit into his Type 28 in 1921 but was forced to change his plans in order to compete on the race track. Thus, the 2.0-liter V8 was born. This revolutionary powertrain soured inspiration from an airplane engine that he had previously developed. What made it special at the time was its vertical shaft fitted to the front of the engine which delivered crank rotations to the camshaft.
This manages two overhead intake valves with an upsized outlet valve with the idea of speeding up the exchange of gas. Spark is created by a set of plugs that source firing from a battery-powered magneto dual ignition while the air and fuel was mixed by a pair of Zenith carburetors. Carbon exits the engine through two sets of four-exhaust manifolds located on the left.
With all of these parts working at maximum, the engine was able to produce a whopping 99 horsepower output enabling a top speed of 90 mph, making it one of the fastest cars of its time. Power was sent to the rear wheel using a four-speed manual gearbox.
The first car to adopt this was the Bugatti Type 29, which benefited from a short wheelbase. This car was massively competitive as it offered impressive performance and stability when put to the task of racing. The engine was then put into production for the Type 30 that utilized a front forged axle derived from the Type 22. This enabled Bugatti to fit the front with cast brake shoes with helical notches.
This was a revolutionary move considering that cars at the time only featured brakes on the rear axle. Initial models made use of hydraulic controls for the front brakes but in 1924, the decision was made to use a cable instead. Being a production car, Bugatti also subjected the chassis to a multilayered leather package which proved effective for reducing the impact sustained while traveling over bumpy roads.
The look of the Type 30 altered during its production run that spanned from 1922 to 1926. This included everything from four-seater touring cars to two-seater coupes and convertibles. When the chassis was handed to coachbuilders, special creations such as the Type 32 tank race car were put together. Using a streamlined design, this model was able to reach a top speed of 100 mph.
Bugatti sold 600 examples of the Type 30, which is not a bad run when you consider almost everything had to be put together by hand. The car was such a success that customers from around the world took the time to write positive reviews addressed directly to Ettore Bugatti himself.