Doing their thing in separate generations, Ettore Bugatti and Denis Hulme had very little in common except for their love of speed. There was one common thread, however, and that was the famous 24 hours of LeMans.
Bugatti’s cars would win nearly 4,000 races, with the very first coming in 1911 in a 1.4-liter production car at LeMans. The car was driven by his business associate and friend Ernst Friderich. More than half a century later, in 1967, Hulme would run the fastest lap ever recorded at LeMans, 147.894 miles per hour in a Ford GT.
Bugatti-built racing machines dominated the sport in Europe like no other from 1911 to 1947, winning nearly 4,000 races during that period. Born in Milan in 1881, the Italian designer and builder began his career as a designer for other companies, but opened his own company in 1909 and began building his own cars.
Among Bugatti’s most famous cars were the Type 35 Bugatti, produced in four different engines in the mid-1920’s, the Type 59 that won three Grands Prix in 1934, and the 4.7 liter supercharged GP cars that were so successful in the late 1930’s.
Earlier, in World War I, Bugatti designed an aircraft engine for the French. The war ended before it could actually be produced, but a variant of it was built by Dusenberg that led to the Miller and Offenhauser engines that dominated American racing.
Bugatti conceived, designed and built a high-speed train that set a world record of 122 miles per hour in 1934. He also designed and built a plane designed to attempt a world speed record, although World War II forced the project to be scrapped. His plans to build automobiles and airplanes to aid France in post-WWII recovery died when he did in 1947.
Hulme was one of the most versatile drivers of his time, proving time and again his ability to drive anything with a high degree of success. He raced and won in Formula 1, Can-Am, Indy Cars, sports cars and off-road vehicles.
May and June of 1967 provided a prime example of Hulme’s versatility behind the wheel. After winning the Monaco Grand Prix on May 1st, Hulme raced Indianapolis for the first time, finishing fourth and winning Rookie Of the Year. In June, he raced LeMans in a Ford GT, turning the fastest lap ever run at the storied 24-hour event. He also went on to win the World Championship that year.
During his career, Hulme teamed with some of the biggest names in racing, Jack Brabham in F 1, Bruce McLaren in both F1 and Can-Am, Peter Revson in Can-Am. He posted eight Grand Prix wins from 1967 thru 1973, and won 22 Can-Am races, earning the championship in both 1968 and 1970. At Brands Hatch in 1961, a year after he left New Zealand for England, Hulme won a Formula Junior race in a Brabham car, the first-ever victory for Brabham.
Bugatti and Hulme are members of the Class of 2002 that will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame on April 18th. Also honored that evening will be 2001 Driver of the Year Jeff Gordon. Tickets are on sale now for the black-tie gala that will be held in the Speed Channel Dome. For more information, please call (256) 362-5002.