After the unmarketable Bugatti Type 41 'Royale', Bugatti made a successful comeback on the luxury market with the Type 46, first launched in 1929. The Type 46 design was quite similar to the 'Royale', but scaled down quite a bit to make it affordable to more than just the insanely rich. For example: although half the size of the 'Royale's', the Type 46 eight cylinder engine had the same stroke as its predecessor.
Ettore Bugatti had not completely given up on selling very expensive cars yet, which resulted in the Type 50 that debuted in 1931. This new Bugatti was directly derived from the Type 46 and shared many similarities. The reason for a 50% increase in retail price from the Type 46 could be found under the bonnet. The trademark single overhead camshaft, 24 valve eight cylinder engine, was replaced with a dual overhead camshaft engine.
The Type 50 was the first road-going Bugatti to be powered by the DOHC engine, with the honour of the very first ever going to the 1930 Type 51 Grand Prix racer. The engine was based on the Type 46 unit, but slightly decreased in size with a different bore and stroke. The design of the cylinder-head was directly inspired by the Miller engines Ettore Bugatti had acquired to study at the end of the 1920s. With 225 bhp available, the Type 50 engine was the most powerful production engine Ettore ever designed.
The chassis design was along the lines of the traditional Bugatti models. The steel ladder frame chassis was available with two wheelbases, the short 3.1 meter version and the longer 3.5 meter version. The long wheelbase version was dubbed Type 50T for 'Touring' and was fitted with a 200 bhp version of the DOHC engine. It was suspended all round by live axles and the drum brakes were still operated by cables. A three speed gearbox was bolted onto the transaxle. The aluminum disc-wheels fitted are one of the most characteristic Bugatti features of the day.
Although the Type 50 was intended solely for road use, Jean Bugatti convinced his father to prepare three examples for the 1931 24 Hours of Le Mans race. For the first time Bugatti had a car with a large enough engine to take on the Bentleys or 'British lorries' as Ettore referred to them. Painted in all-black to show Bugatti's discontent with the French government's refusal to sponsor the racing effort, the Type 50 racers were all withdrawn after a tire-failure on one of the team cars. One of those 24 Hour racers returned to Le Mans three more times, and even led the race for a while in the 1935 running.
The road-going Type 50s were delivered as a running chassis ready to be bodied by the coach builder of the customer's choice. Taking in account the high price of the chassis, it came as no surprise that only the finest of coach builders were commissioned to body the Type 50s. Most chassis' received coupe bodies. One of the most famous versions was the Jean Bugatti designed Profilee body style, which became inspiration for the later Ventoux body type found on the Type 57 chassis.
Production of the Type 50 lasted just three years in which 65 examples were constructed, including the three Le Mans racers. It was outsold by the Types 46 and 57 many times, which might explain why the Type 50 is one of the lesser known and written about Bugatti models. The chassis' pedigree alone should give it a more prominent position in the marque's history. Combining that with the lavish and beautiful bodies fitted, the Type 50 could be considered the finest car ever produced by Bugatti.