Bugatti Baby II Plays with the Past
The sight of a scaled-down Bugatti Type 35 being driven by an obviously 1:1 scale adult male is likely to set you thinking of an oversized toy. But this would be wrong, at least according to the European Union. “According to the EU, it’s too fast to be classified as a toy,” said Ben Hedley, CEO of the Little Car Company that has created this three-quarter-scale electric Bugatti and will soon be launching other shrunken classics. Having experienced the breezy charms of the Baby II’s open cockpit and 43-mph top speed, I can attest that it’s anything but childish.
As its numerical suffix suggests, the Baby II isn’t the first time that Bugatti has created a miniature. Back in 1926, Bugatti founder’s Ettore and his oldest son, Jean, created a half-scale Type 35 for Ettore’s son Roland’s fourth birthday. Powered by an electric motor, it had a top speed of around 12 mph, and the sight of Roland driving it around the Molsheim factory was compelling enough to persuade many of the brand’s affluent clientele to demand it for their own offspring.
In total, around 500 of the Bugatti Bebe were produced, despite a 5000-franc price that made it as expensive as many cars of the period. The Bebe was popular enough for Bugatti to organize races for them at fashionable French holiday resorts like Deauville and St. Tropez. Around 100 of the originals are known to still exist, alongside many unofficial replicas, and Bugatti collectors fight hard to land them. The record auction price for an original was $110,000 at Pebble Beach in 2008.
At last year’s Geneva auto show, Bugatti showed off a new version intended to celebrate the brand’s 110th anniversary. Reaction was positive enough for a limited run to be commissioned, with these being engineered and constructed by the Little Car Company in England. Bugatti previously announced that the whole allocation had been sold, but some COVID-19 cancellations have opened up some slots. So, if you have a gap in your life that only a scaled-down, battery-powered Edwardian racer can fill, you are in luck.
Prices range from $40,106 for the base version with composite bodywork, a 1.4-kWh battery pack, 1.3 horsepower in Novice mode and 5.4 horses of electrified thr
ust in Expert mode with a 28-mph top speed. The fancier carbon-fiber-bodied Vitesse and Pur Sang versions get a 2.8-kWh battery and as much as 13.4 horsepower when you use a Chiron-like “speed key” that unlocks a top speed of 43 mph. They also cost considerably more, with the Pur Sang’s hand-beaten aluminum bodywork bringing a $78,207 price tag.
The big difference between the Baby II and the original Bebe is one of scale. The first car was a half-scale copy of a Bugatti Type 35 and was therefore effectively limited to use by smaller children. The new one is scaled 75 percent and, although primarily designed for kids, can also accommodate adults prepared to sacrifice the dignity and knee skin necessary to squeeze into the beautifully finished cockpit. The wooden-rimmed Nardi steering wheel detaches to make access slightly easier, but the rim’s prototypical right-hand positioning dictates a slouched driving position to maximize space.
Beyond physical discomfort, the Baby II is a lovely place to be. Like the original, it has a milled metal dashboard with period-looking dials, although subtly repurposed. Behind the steering wheel, where the original Type 35 had a tachometer, is a speedometer calibrated to (an only slightly optimistic) 50 mph. Smaller gauges are a clock, a battery-charge meter and a power-flow display to show how hard the EV powertrain is working. My test car came with the optional Touring pack that adds working turn signals and even a European-spec rear fog lamp. Although Hedley said the car is sold for off-road use only, he concedes it will be possible to register it under “quadricycle” rules in some places.
The 48-volt lithium-ion battery pack is positioned under the hood—held down with the appropriate leather strap—and, equipped with the larger battery pack, has up to 31 miles of range under gentle use. The smaller pack has an estimated 16 miles of range. A recharge takes about four hours from the on-board charger. Harder use will eat the range much more quickly, so there is also the option of swapping the 48-pound battery pack for another one by simply unplugging it and removing it from the car. Power comes from a single motor that drives the rear axle through a reduction gear and a limited-slip differential. Lifting off the accelerator at speed provides regenerative braking, which returns electrons to the battery.
The rest of the mechanical package sticks as closely as possible to that of the original Type 35, with the similar components and even suspension geometry. There are leaf springs and a solid axle at the front, and a live axle located by trailing arms at the back. Rotary-type shock absorbers are period appropriate, although now adjustable, and the eight-spoke alloy wheels’ wear Michelin motorcycle tires. The biggest change from the prototype is the use of hydraulically operated drum brakes. Hedley’s team tried to create cable brakes as with the original 35 but gave up because, as he put it, “They were lethal.”
My drive takes place on the former RAF Bicester, a World War II airfield, which has become a hotbed for historic race-car and classic-car restoration and which is where the Little Car Company is based. Now called Bicester Heritage, the facility includes a 0.6-mile test track that’s short and tight in full-sized cars but is ideally suited to the Baby II’s scaled-down dimensions. Andy Wallace is also on hand, the one-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and Bugatti test driver who has acted as a dynamic consultant on the Baby II project. We don’t think that happens when Power Wheels introduces a new product.
Having experienced the Baby II’s default mode on the gentle trip from workshop to test track, we turn the speed key for the track, unlocking the full 43 mph. Bugatti claims a six-second zero-to-60 time, but that’s in kilometers, so 37 mph in six seconds. Even on Bicester’s short back straight, the Baby II has reached its gearing-limited top speed early enough to have me playing the bored race hero hunching down in the cockpit to try and reduce wind resistance. Regenerative braking is forceful, which is fortunate given the ankle dexterity required to switch pedals, but the hydraulic brakes work well. The steering is slow but accurate—apparently it uses a reconditioned steering box from an original Volkswagen Beetle—and the sight of the narrow front tires and their tip-toed, positively cambered stance is a compelling one.
Grip levels are high considering how little rubber is in contact with the track, but the front axle does surrender gracefully in slower turns. Traction was never an issue; the car’s rear end stuck to an almost frustrating degree thanks in large part to the mass my own rear end was exerting on the rear axle. “It’s a shame it’s not raining,” says Wallace when I stop after my first brief stint. “It was wet earlier, and we were sliding it around nicely.” Wallace is also considerably lighter than I am. He promises that the Baby II really does drive like a scaled-down Type 35.
But would you put Baby in a corner yourself? Those of us without the wealth necessary to indulge any material whim find it a little hard to imagine a requirement for such an automotive indulgence. But there really are people out there with Bugatti collections extensive enough to make a Baby II the perfect way of touring them. It is not a gaudy trinket, and while it makes no rational sense—you could buy a Tesla Model 3 Performance for less than a Baby II Pur Sang—we are amused by its existence.
It will have rivals, too. The Little Car Company is already working on other miniaturized inspired-by EVs, with the next set to be an officially approved version of the Aston Martin DB5. It is even planning to offer a “balance of performance” mode to allow its various models to compete against each other on track. That promises to be the cutest race series of all time.
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