Ettore Bugatti and his cars were internationally famous by the mid-1920s. Winners of numerous races and owned by royalty and aristocrats around the world, Buatti's cars were renowned for their speed and brilliant design. The Bugatti Type 35, with its trademark arch-shaped radiator, was perhaps the most famous racecar of the time. Among the car's 351 wins and 47 records, achieved just between 1925 and 1926, was the Grand Prix World Championship.
It is therefore no surprise that when Bugatti wanted to make a model car for his five-year old son Roland, Ettore based the design on the Type 35. The "toy," officially known as Type 52 but better known as the "Bugatti Baby," is almost exactly half the size of the 35 and was first displayed at the Milan auto show. It was made at Bugatti's Molsheim, France factory and approximately 500 examples were produced between 1927 and 1935. The original model was based on a 47-inch wheelbase. Later examples were extended to 53 inches to accommodate larger children.
The Baby 52 was manufactured with a remarkable attention to detail. Featuring a 12-volt electric motor that allowed the model to reach a speed of 12 mph, it could be driven in forward or reverse, had alloy wheels and pneumatic tires, an aluminum body and even a spare tire strapped to the side. Bugatti generally placed little emphasis on brakes for his full-sized cars, reportedly asserting "the car's brakes were merely symbolic." He was obviously more conscientious when it came to younger drivers as the 52 has four drum brakes with expanding wooden shoes.
The Baby was an immediate success despite its considerable price of 5,000 francs. Many were obtained by Bugatti's more important, and wealthier, clients, such as the Prince of Morocco and Baudouin, the future king of Belgium. Giovanni Agnelli, later president of Fiat, had his first driving experience behind the wheel of a Type 52. Even Baby Grand Prix races were held throughout France, with the winners receiving the traditional floral bouquet. The car's fame is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that it was featured in the Tintin comic book Tintin au Pays l'or noir. Although described as a toy, the Baby still represents Bugatti's overriding philosophy that "nothing is too beautiful, nothing too expensive."