Simanaitis Says

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IN THE EARLY 1920s, the French were well into racecar streamlining when perpendicularity still ruled on the British side of La Manche. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits about a French Bugatti, Voisin, and Chenard-Walcker, together with contrasting British perpendicular competitors.

British perpendicularity, Le Mans 1925. A Bentley, left, and a Sunbeam. It’s early in the race when the event’s first Le Mans start involved erecting the hood, er… top, and proving it could withstand lapping. Image from Bentley The Story , Redwood, 2003.

British perpendicularity bested French streamlining, but then the conventional often beats the innovative—at first.

Bugatti Type 32. A team of four Bugatti Type 32 cars competed in the 1923 French Grand Prix at Tours. These used the inline-eight Type 30 powerplant, with three valves per cylinder and 1991-cc displacement, mounted in a short chassis, 2000-mm. (78.7-in.), the same as the Type 13’s. Highly innovative aerodynamic bodywork was another feature of the Type 32.

Ernest Friderich corners the Type 32 in the 1923 French Grand Prix. This and the following image from Bugatti Magnum.

As Hugh Conway describes in Bugatti Magnum, “Bugatti had at last decided that aerodynamic drag at the speeds his cars could reach was important and had taken a leap forward based on visual observation of what an aircraft wing was like.”

Conway noted, though, “He made mistakes arising from his lack of knowledge… the airflow would create lift on the car which would not improve handling already suffering from a short wheelbase.” Indeed, “not improve” was a kind way to describe this; at speed, the car’s aerodynamics actually lifted it on its suspension. 

The 1923 French Grand Prix, 14.19 miles of public roads near Tours. Perhaps the Type 32 reached a speed of 110 mph on the straights. Image from Grand Prix l’A.C.F. 1923. 

Conway reported, “In the event, Sunbeam were first and second but Friderich managed a respectable third, although Press comments on the body shape were not favourable.” 

Wikipedia notes that “the bodywork blocked the drivers’ view of their tires, and the cars were also hampered by a short wheelbase and narrow track width on the winding and bumpy circuit.”

The Bugatti Type 32 Tank wasn’t the only racecar assaying streamlining at the 1923 French Grand Prix. Tomorrow in Part 2 we examine the innovative though no more successful Voisin Laboratoire and a streamlined variant of the Chenard-Walcker later run at Le Mans. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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