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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Russian website VC-Tuning has a short video of the car taken during the Bugatti Centennial Rally in Paris.
There may eventually be latter-day Bugattis of the EV sort, though none quite so evocative of le Patron’s personality. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017