What did kings and the doyens of high society buy for their children in the 1920s? A Baby 52 by legendary car-maker Bugatti, of course. Flavien Gaillard reports
Originally designed by Ettore Bugatti, the founder of the legendary automobile company, for his five-year-old son Roland, the Bugatti Baby 52 is an exact half-size replica of the Bugatti type 35 Grand Prix, the legendary sports car that won close to all the major car races between 1925 and 1927.
The first model of this luxury toy was equipped with a thermic motor before being modified to fit an electric motor, and lengthened to accommodate children between six and eight years of age. Ettore presented this car during the Milan Salon in 1927, where it was received with great enthusiasm, generating the production of a small-scale series.
The car is made of aluminium and sheet metal. It has a gear lever, a Bugatti dashboard, a Paris-Rhône engine and a leather seat. It can reach a speed of up to 20 kph depending on the charge of the 12-volt battery. The car was presented in the factory catalogue and each was stamped with a serial number on a metal plate between the back of the seat and the engine compartment.
The price of this luxury toy was 5,000 francs — an amount which made the car accessible only to the children of the brand’s rich clients. Ettore was even known to have gifted the car to thank important clients who had placed big orders.
Many members of royal families succumbed to the Baby 52 craze; the Prince of Morocco got behind the wheel of his in 1929, while Baudouin, the future king of Belgium, received his in 1932. This car is also famous for its appearance in Hergé’s comic book Tintin au Pays de l’or noir, in which Abadallah receives a Baby Bugatti from his father, the emir.
During the 1930s, several races were organised for children with Baby 52 cars, and it was possible to rent them in high-society haunts such as ‘Les Planches’ in Deauville or at ‘La Promenade’ in Nice.
We estimate that around 500 copies were produced between 1927 and 1937. About 100 copies of the Bugatti Baby 52 remain in the hands of private owners and in museums. Two are exhibited permanently at the Cité de l'Automobile — Musée National — Collection Schlumpf in Mulhouse, France.