Egg or horseshoe: Which inspired Ettore Bugatti?

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Bugatti Type 13 with its egg-shaped grille | Bugatti Automobiles photos and illustrations
Evolution of the Bugatti grille

Bugattis are known for their “horseshoe” grille design, but according to Bugatti Automobiles, the shape was based not on a horse’s shoe but on an egg.

“It is a fact that even as a young man Ettore Bugatti was more than just a horse enthusiast, but also a horse breeder and a collector of carriages,” the company that bears Bugatti’s name said in its news release. “He designed harnesses and possessed astoundingly beautiful horses, some of which were considered the biggest thoroughbreds of his time. 

“Ettore used to ride on horseback on the Bugatti premises in the Alsatian village of Molsheim, at times even welcoming guests on one of his horses,” the company’s statement continued. 

“He constructed the factory gates in a way that he could ride through the (factory) halls on horseback. 

“In order not to have to get off of his horse, he developed door openers that the horses could push them with their mouth. This required a special closing mechanism as well as big brass lock plates that always had to be thoroughly polished. 

“It is evident that Ettore Bugatti loved his horses – both the ones with four legs as well as those under the hood of his luxury automobiles.”

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Chicken or egg? Nope. Egg before horseshoe

However… the shape of the radiator grille was not based on the horseshoe.

Ettore Bugatti’s father, Carlo Bugatti, was famous for his furniture design and construction, and Ettore’s brother, Rembrandt, was an acclaimed sculptor who specialized in animal figures (including the dancing elephant that served as the radiator mascot on the Bugatti Type 41 Royale).

“Carlo Bugatti had a predilection for flowing shapes, ellipses, curvatures, circles and other rounded shapes – and for the oval (from the Latin word ovum for ‘egg’),” according to Bugatti research. 

“In his furniture like chairs, tables, but also goblets or interior designs this shape can be found quite often. Carlo considered the oval to be the perfect geometrical shape, superior to all others. His son Ettore, who had always been in active exchange with his father, drew inspiration from his father’s vision and translated some of the ideas into his automobiles. The egg-shaped radiator grille was one of them.” 

The company notes that in the first two years of Bugatti automobile production, customers could choose between angular and oval radiator grilles, but that from 1912 onward, the oval became the standard design. And especially after World War I, with advances in materials, the grille “looked like a flat egg.”

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Bugatti Royale roadster grille

The flat bottom of the egg was done for reasons of aerodynamics and for better positioning of the front axle,” the company said, explaining that it was this change that made the egg look like a horseshoe, especially as the grilles became wider for enhanced engine cooling.

The egg may have come first, but the horseshoe became the popular choice, and today, even the head of Bugatti design, Achim Anscheidt, refers to the front of the car as “the horseshoe grille.” 

“The horseshoe grille became a prominent design element and a distinctive trademark of Bugatti,” Anscheidt is quoted in the news release. A Bugatti can be identified from far away thanks to the iconic front end.”

Bugatti Divo grille
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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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