The polished wooden steering wheel writhes and wriggles in my hands as the front tires, leaning outwards with the negative camber common among Twenties’ race cars, crash over the uneven surface of a former military airbase. The rain that began 20 minutes ago is now making itself known, hampering corner entry with understeer and the occasional front wheel lock-up, followed by a slide across the apex and oversteer when the throttle is applied on corner exit.
I feel every bit the pre-war Grand Prix racer as I wrestle the Bugatti left and right, but something else is going on here. The pedal under my right foot, while beautifully crafted from billet aluminum, is not connected to a throttle. It is instead summoning power from a battery pack to drive an electric motor. And while every single detail of this car, right down to the suspension geometry and those leaning front wheels, faithfully mimics the Bugatti Type 35 of 1924, this is the work of The Little Car Company.
Called the Bugatti Baby II, the car is 25 percent smaller than an original Type 35 and replaces its petrol engine with an electric drivetrain. A 110th birthday present to itself, the Baby II is Bugatti’s reimagining of the original Baby, which was a half-scale Type 35 built between 1927 and 1936. But where that car was designed only for small children, the Baby II can be driven by young and old alike.
Priced from €30,000 ($35,600) the Baby II is built in a workshop at Bicester Heritage in Oxfordshire, a 90-minute drive from London. The Little Car Company has just started delivering the first of the 500 examples it plans to sell.
Somewhat more than a child’s plaything – indeed, the 24V system means it can’t be marketed as a toy – the Baby II carries a hugely impressive specification. Rear-wheel-drive with a limited-slip differential, drum brakes on every corner (plus regenerative braking), Michelin all-weather tires, a turned aluminum dashboard, leather seating, and a set of dials that look just like the original but have been repurposed for the electric drivetrain.
Details include a solid silver Bugatti badge on the front, a charge port hidden beneath what would have been the fuel cap, and a hand fuel pump repurposed as the drive mode selector. The handling has been configured by 1988 Le Mans winner and current Bugatti chief test driver Andy Walace, and the body panels can be had in composite, carbon fiber or aluminum, the latter taking over 200 hours to complete by hand.
There is also a speed key, just like that of a Bugatti Veyron, which unlocks the Baby II’s full potential. Available on the midrange Vitesse (€43,500 / $51,700) and flagship Pur Sang (€58,500 / $69,500) variants, the speed key increases power from 4kW to 10kW for a top speed of 45mph. This might not sound like much, but feels properly quick when hustling the Baby II around Bicester Heritage’s small and bumpy test track. A 1kW mode is also available, allowing younger drivers to get to grips with the car before going any quicker.
Just like a full-size Bugatti, there are plenty of options for customization. As well as the three variants of Baby II, the paintwork can be finished in one of 20 colors and there are eight colors to choose from for the leather interior too, plus the option for upgraded leather from Bridge of Weir.
Before heading out onto the Bicester Heritage test track I’m shown around The Little Car Company’s workshop by founder and CEO Ben Hedley. A trio of blue Baby IIs are lined up, ready to be shipped to their new owners. In another corner, a test mule for the company’s upcoming Aston Martin DB5 – also electric and 75 percent scale – is being inspected by an engineer whose previous job saw him work on Gordon Murray’s T50 supercar.
It is clear that TLCC takes an approach to its product that is as fun as it is smart. Hedley tells me the Baby II is fitted with a limited-slip differential “for fun”, and how he’s managed to eke a slightly higher top speed out of the quickest model. A balance-of-performance mode shared by all Little Car Company vehicles enables them to race fairly against each other.
It doesn’t take too much imagination to see these cars fighting it out as part of the Goodwood Revival weekend, just as the current Settrington Cup sees children race in vintage pedal cars today.
My ride for the morning is XP4, the fourth experimental prototype and a Baby II Vitesse with a carbon fiber body finished in gleaming white over a red leather interior. Like any pre-production prototype of a full-size car company, XP4 had covered a great many test miles before I climbed aboard. Built in Bicester, XP4’s passport features stamps from a visit to Bugatti’s French HQ in Molsheim, a trip to Germany where it lapped the Hockenheimring, and a stint in Los Angeles.
I drive out of the workshop and follow Hedley in a blue prototype for a tour of Bicester Village. We pass units belonging to classic car specialists, a motoring YouTube channel and The Road Rat magazine before reaching the circuit. I put on my helmet and the Baby II is fitted with metal stabilizers to prevent it leaning onto two wheels if optimism outstrips talent.
Setting off, the Baby II feels like a go-kart. Yes, I know it’s a tired cliche in motoring journalism, because no road car really feels like a kart, but that’s the closest frame of reference I can muster as I head to the first corner.
It’s a bumpy ride, there is no escaping that. But then the original Type 35 was no luxury cruiser, so the harshness of the ride – magnified by the broken surface of Bicester – adds to the authenticity of the experience. I carve through a chicane, build up speed then brake before turning right onto the back straight. Accelerating away from the apex causes the rear of the Bugatti to break free, demanding a quarter-turn of opposite lock to spare my blushes before I head down the straight in search of the 45mph top speed.
Braking firmly into a double-apex right-hander, I snatch a front wheel, the tire momentarily locking and pushing the Baby II wide from the line I had aimed for. I ease off, gather things up and head into lap two with the biggest smile on my face. Not just because the Baby II is entertaining, but because it feels like a car; complete with oversteer, understeer and the delivery of a constant stream of messages its driver must interpret and act upon to get the most out of it.
A 14-year-old can drive the Baby II, pottering around at walking pace if they like. But that shouldn’t define what this car is all about. As a 31-year-old who gets to drive all manner of six-figure machinery, hustling the Baby II around a simple, bumpy circuit in the rain is one of the most fun things I’ve done all year. And if for some reason the Bugatti and Aston aren’t for you, just you wait and see what The Little Car Company is working on next…