La Turbie hillclimb overlooking Monaco demands complete concentration with its sharp corners, steep inclines and punishing drop-offs.
One small mistake behind the wheel and you could be history.
A century ago Jean Mabille was a picture of concentration as he piloted his Bugatti Type 13 over the 6.3km course to claim victory in the eighth edition of the hill climb — with a time of 6 minutes and 24 seconds.
Watching on, Ettore Bugatti was thrilled, as were all those who looked on that day.
To celebrate Mabille’s historic achievement in the Type 13, Bugatti returned to the scene of the race recently in the very latest Bugatti — the Chiron Sport.
The village of La Turbie lies about 450 meters above Monaco on the Tête de Chien cape.
During the first Speed Week held in Nice in 1897, cars lined up in various competitions for the first time, including a hill climb from Nice to La Turbie – the first-ever recorded hill climb for automobiles.
It became the first race in the European hill climbing season.
The hillclimb became a magnet for racing drivers and marques who gathered tto demonstrate the speed and reliability of their vehicles.
Back then it was all about making it to the finishing line, rather than shaving tenths of a second off times.
Finished in a striking silver and green livery, the most agile member of the Chiron family took to the hill climb route through La Turbie to drive in the century-old tracks of the Type 13.
Bugatti’s Christophe Piochon said victory in the hill climb 100 years ago demonstrated that its vehicles offered incomparable performance.
“We have maintained this tradition to this day and are also taking it into the future,” he said.
With no race being held at La Turbie between 1904 and 1908, nor during the First World War, many racing drivers and marques returned in 1922 in pursuit of glory for the eighth edition of the event.
Among them was Bugatti with a Type 13, an extremely well-engineered, fast, and reliable sports car for its time.
Ettore Bugatti introduced the combination of lightweight bodywork and a powerful and reliable engine in 1911, clinching second place in the French Grand Prix with the new Type 13.
Production of the Type 13 began again in 1919 after the First World War with significant improvements in technology, giving the 1.3-litre four cylinder engine a four-valve cylinder head for the first time, thus making the Type 13 one of the first automobiles to feature four-valve technology.
Other innovations included white metal for the crankshaft bearings and a pump that sprayed oil onto specific parts.
From 1920, Bugatti incorporated dual ignition with two magnets into the four-cylinder racing version, while ball bearings made the crankshaft run more smoothly.
During its first major appearance, racing in the voiturette (lightweight race car) category in the French Grand Prix in Le Mans, the Type 13 was dominant, finishing a whole 20 minutes ahead of the runner-up.
In 1920, Bugatti increased the vehicle’s displacement to 1.5 litres boosting its power to up to 50 hp.
With the vehicle weighing a mere 490kg, this resulted in even sportier performance, a top speed of up to 150km/h and improved reliability – flat tyres and broken axles were rare with this lightweight race car.
In the years that followed, various drivers scored more dominant victories with the Type 13.
In Brescia in 1921, Bugatti took the top four spots in the Grand Prix for Voiturettes with a Type 13, cementing its supremacy.
All successors featured a four-valve engine, bearing the Brescia moniker.
What’s more, Bugatti heralded a golden decade with the Type 13 and flourished as a marque.
Bugatti also successfully applied the Type 13 concept to other vehicle lengths with models such as the Type 15, Type 17, Type 22, and Type 23.
Race cars like the Type 13 and the Type 35 now represent an important part of Bugatti’s history, and are a source of enduring inspiration for the brand’s hyper sports cars of the modern age