I love going to Cars & Coffee events. It’s a chance to admire IRL what I’ve usually only seen on a computer screen or in a book. Reading about a Caterham Seven isn’t the same as squeezing into one. Seeing the grinning face of an Austin-Healey Sprite in person puts an effervescent smile on your face in a way a photo somehow doesn’t.
But the cars themselves are only half the fun. The owners and fellow enthusiasts are the other (though the coffee helps, too). Stories of
break-downs adventures, an explanation for every curve and rock chip, and a way of making every little bit of numerical data seem freshly minted.
The modern auto industry may be preoccupied with numbers, but just quoting a 0-60 time or the horsepower rating is boring. It’s the enthusiasm behind the numbers, the passion for the metal and the sensations it brings, that keeps people hooked.
With that, I present the pinnacle of car geek-dom: the oldest running 1913 Bugatti Type 22, owned by Alan Travis, featured on Jay Leno’s Garage.
Beyond being a stunning piece of design (Ettore had his freakin’ signature incorporated into the engine!), there’s a treasure trove of information that Alan Travis shares with Jay and the viewer. He digs into the minutiae that goes hand-in-hand with owning one of the most historic vehicles on the planet.
For example, the carburetor. The original one is a Harry Miller ‘Master’ carburetor, and it was an accessory that was originally available for Type 22's in the 1920's. The dang thing has 64 settings. My smart TV remote doesn’t have that many buttons. The one Alan’s mounted is a bit larger than the original—38 mm vs 30 mm—but this is literally the only modification made to this car.
If you look up ‘engineering porn’ in the dictionary, you’ll find stills from this video. The 1 3/8" valves that are 2/3rd the size of the pistons, marking this two-valved engine as the ‘big-valved’ option. The braking system has three sub-systems working in concert. 1913 was the first year for electric lamps, and the last year to have brass lamps.
I’ll go on. One of the literally coolest facts is that, although Alan daily-drives this car in Arizona, and it never had a radiator fan (there’s no room), it never overheats. The cast-nickel headers ensure that only the first 1/2" or so of the engine block next to the cylinder sees any heat.
I’ll stop info-dumping, because Jay and Alan basically turn into a car-centric version of an Encyclopedia Britannica. They mention Peugeot, metallurgy, Le Mans, Ford Model A’s; they go into detail about the crankcase, the design of the oil, fuel, and water systems (including the gorgeous water pump), and so much more. Mr. Travis put 1800 hours of restoration work into this Bugatti, and it shows, in both his level of knowledge and his dedication to driving. The only way this video could be any more geeky is if James May joined in to help rebuild the carb.
And when Jay and Alan get on the road, despite this car having no windscreen, they’re able to have a conversation at 45-55 mph. It’s a jewel of a car.
Thank you Road & Track for posting this. I know technical detail like this may bore some people, but as a car geek and engineer, I find this all fascinating. I hope that, in the future, I can bring this kind of quiet excitement to someone else.