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The early eight-cylinder engine configuration was out of production by the 1950s, but It’s a key part of Bugatti’s heritage.

Bugatti Type 35 Bugatti Type 35

Bugatti will unleash the first production V-16 engine since the pre-war era, it claims, powering a hypercar set for imminent unveiling. Besides being an impressive number of cylinders, though, a V-16 is functionally just two straight-eights joined at the crank.

Of course, it’s much more complicated to execute such a simple concept, but the V-16 gives Bugatti an opportunity to reach back in time; it’ll not only build the first V-16 production car in nearly a hundred years, but also the first straight-eight in decades.

The pre-war Bugatti—not the company we know today—was known for its straight-eight engines. High-revving, small-displacement, and often supercharged, they formed some of the most potent powertrains of the era. It may be difficult to picture what these engines were like if near-exact replicas weren’t still built by a company called Pur Sang. Jay Leno’s shot a few videos wherein he flogs Pur Sang’s wares. 

Straight-eights make a unique sound, but there’s a good reason why they went out of production. The short answer is V-8s work better in most cases, for reasons of packaging, weight, and cost. Companies that stuck with the straight-eight, like Packard, were seen as old-fashioned even in the 1950s. 

The long answer is that the crankshaft and camshafts get too long and flimsy to be practical in comparison to a V-8. Companies solved this problem several ways in the past. They drove the camshafts from the center of the engine, for instance, which kept the forces along the length of the shafts more consistent. They also configured the engines to have small bores and long strokes in order to keep the crankshaft’s journals and counterweights as close to the crank’s centerline as possible.

A straight-eight-powered Bugatti Type 35.

There were still fundamental misunderstandings about engine construction back then, though, which is easy to say in hindsight. Some straight-eights didn’t have a bearing to support every throw of the crank, for instance, which every modern engine has. In a nutshell, the internal combustion engine hadn’t even fully matured by the time the straight-eight was abandoned. 

The modern Bugatti-Rimac has clearly solved many of these problems, as many of them likewise plagued the W-16. Making this new engine is obviously not as simple as doubling up Bugatti’s ancient design, or altering existing W-16 architecture. Sure, you may be able to use the pistons, and perhaps ancillary W-16 hardware, but it’s impossible to know what could carry over without intimate knowledge of the project.

Likewise, while a straight-eight may be possible and is a key part of Bugatti’s heritage, it’s unclear if an eight-cylinder car, even in an exotic configuration, would be appropriate for Bugatti anymore. Bear in mind the company’s modern incarnation has only ever produced sixteen-cylinder automobiles. Adding a lower-end straight-eight model below the V-16 car might increase sales volume for Bugatti, but ultimately damage the lofty prestige of the brand.

But still, nobody has ever been better equipped to harken back to the glory days of a company like Bugatti is now. Sure it may not make sense from a marketing perspective, but a new straight-eight for the first time in decades would remind everyone of the glory days of internal combustion, and give regular enthusiasts hope that there’s a future for nostalgic technology.

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