Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE 1931 TYPE 56 wasn’t Bugatti’s first electric car, but it’s likely his rarest. Following the popularity of his Baby Bugatti half-scale electric car for kids, le Patron had a Phaeton Biplace EV built for his personal transportation around the Molsheim works.


1931 Bugatti Type 56. This and other images from Beautiful Bugattis, the Christie’s Monaco Auction catalog, May 22, 1990.

Patterned after an open horse-drawn carriage, the Type 56 Phaeton Biplace has a frame of steel and wood. Its suspension, front and rear, relies on elliptic springing of unorthodox configurations. A centrally mounted tiller provides the steering. Tires are 26-in. x 3.50s; to put these in perspective, a Model T Ford had 30-in. x 3.50s. The Bugatti EV’s hand and foot brakes operate only on the rear wheels.

Version 2

Six six-volt batteries provide 36 volts for operating a 1-hp electric motor residing on the rear axle and driving both wheels through a central differential. A maximum speed of 18 mph was claimed.

In 1934, the factory produced a Data Sheet on the Type 56. Bugatti authority Hugh Conway and others conclude from this Christie’s car’s number plate, 56106, that at least six examples were produced.


Serial number 56106 of the Christie’s car. Image from Bugatti Magnum, by H.G. Conway, G.T. Foulis, 1990.

The Christie Auction car is finished in Bugatti Blue with beige Bedford Cord upholstery. A photo from the era shows le Patron’s son Jean at the tiller of an example with dark upholstery and carriage fenders including tiny headlamps. A second photo shows a light-color Type 56, with Jean’s girlfriend Riva Reyes at the tiller.


Above, Jean Bugatti and a Type 56. Below, Jean’s girlfriend Riva Reyes feeding Molsheim’s white doves in apparently another Type 56.

Version 3

A third photo, in Bugatti Magnum, identifies Bugatti’s Chief Electrician Mr. Fraering in the original Type 56, licensed 4385 JA2. Today, this car is said to reside in the Cité de l’Automobile in Mulhouse, France.


Ettore Bugatti’s original Type 56. The factory’s Chief Electrician Mr. Fraering is at the tiller. Image from Bugatti Magnum.

This photo of the original Type 56 shows the front suspension’s transverse spring in good detail. The rear three-quarter view of the Christie’s car shows the Type 56’s other variation of elliptic springing.


Type 56. Note rear springing detail.

The Russian website VC-Tuning has a short video of the car taken during the Bugatti Centennial Rally in Paris.


A Type 56, likely Ettore Bugatti’s original one. Video at VC-Tuning.

There may eventually be latter-day Bugattis of the EV sort, though none quite so evocative of le Patron’s personality. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: