1932 Bugatti Type 51 (A) Grand Prix 1932/198SOLD
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Estimate: ú200,000-250,000

Sold: ú203,000

If ever a car could accurately be described as 'epoch making' it is the Bugatti Type 35: it was the main-stay of Grand Prix racing in the late 1920s, and the period's essence. The great Bugatti authority, the late Hugh Conway, wrote in Bugatti - Le Pur-Sang des Automobiles: "If any single design is responsible for the interest in the Marque Bugatti which exists today, for the founding of the Bugatti Owners' Club in 1929 and others later, and indeed for the many books dealing with Bugatti matters, it is the Type 35."

The Type 35 first appeared at the 1924 Grand Prix de l'A.C.F. at Lyons where the six works cars showed considerable promise until encountering severe tyre problems. Second place in the Spanish GP later that year augured well for the future, however, and so it proved. In their hey-day, which is roughly 1925-30, Bugatti 35s won so many events that it is impossible to list even the most significant: in 1927 Bugatti claimed that his cars had won over 2,000 awards. They were raced by most of the leading drivers of the day including Nuvolari, Chiron, Dreyfus, Etancelin, Williams, Campbell and Mays. It helped that Bugatti would sell them to anyone but there would not have been so many sales unless the car had proven itself. It was undeniably handsome but, in motor racing, handsome is as handsome does, and a car which may be the ugliest looking brute in the paddock is transformed into Prince Charming if it wins races.

There is no point in pretending that they were utterly dominant at every moment during their active life; for one thing the Grand Prix formula changed four times between 1924 and 1929, and sometimes the reigning formula suited the cars better than another, although from 1928 most races were run as Formula Libre events. Then again, when the Works Delage team appeared in 1926 and 1927 it usually won, yet Conway lists twelve major Grand Prix victories which fell to the Type 35 in 1926 alone.

It is slightly misleading to refer to the Bugatti Type 35 as a single model because it was a series of cars and strictly speaking it includes the Type 39 as well. All had straight eight engines, with two blocks of four cylinders in tandem sharing a common crankshaft, with a single overhead camshaft operating two inlet valves per cylinder and one exhaust. Engine capacity varied from 1,100cc for a special model made specifically for the 1926 Alsace Grand Prix to 2,262cc. Some types had roller bearings, some had plain bearings; most had cast aluminium wheels, some had wires; some were supercharged and some were 'unblown'. On the Type 35C, for example, a supercharger was fitted for the first time, in this case to a 2.0 litre engine, and for the Type 35B, the ultimate rendition of the Type 35, capacity for the 'blown' motor was the larger 2,262cc.

Despite variations from model to model, and year to year, all shared the same channel section chassis with a 7 ft 10 in wheelbase, reverse quarter-elliptic rear suspension and semi-elliptical front springs which passed through the hollow front axle. This front suspension layout is typical of the Bugatti approach - the forged front axle was extremely difficult to make and by the time Bugatti flooded the field with cars it would have been easy to have substituted a more simple structure which was nearly as good, and much more profitable, but 'nearly as good' was a concept which Ettore Bugatti could not understand.

It is also typical of Bugatti that this axle should be highly polished when it would have been more profitable not to have done so, but with his artist's eye he insisted that a car should be aesthetically pleasing as well as being properly engineered. When one examines closely the detailing of a Type 35, pleasant surprise piles on pleasant surprise; it is hard to say whether everything is arranged for sheer efficiency or for aesthetic pleasure. The fact is that Ettore Bugatti never saw a distinction between the two.

It was this harmony which made, and still makes, the car so attractive not only in the paddock or at the kerbside (it was perfectly viable as a road car) but also to those drivers who were not quite Louis Chiron or Tazio Nuvolari. Since it was all 'of a piece' it was a car that was basically on the driver's side: it was predictable with no hidden vices. It handled, it braked, and it went and it looked great, and sounded marvellous.

Even more accomplished than the Type 35 model, however, would be its final evolution as the Type 51. This evolved after Bugatti designed a new twin overhead camshaft cylinder head, inspired by the design fitted to the American Miller cars, which had regularly been producing considerably more power, and which first appeared on the 4.9 litre Type 50 sports car. This was followed by a new cylinder block design which bolted directly onto the existing Type 35B crankcase and thus equipped, with new block and cylinder head mated together, the 35B was re-designated the Type 51. Producing 170bhp on normal petrol, 40bhp more than the 35B, this Grand Prix car would become even more successful than its sire and to many aficianados it is regarded as the most outstanding model ever to be produced by Bugatti.

Visually, the differences between the Types 35 and 51 were minimal: the hole in the right-hand bonnet was lower, dictated by the position of the 51's supercharger pressure relief valve, the aluminium wheels now had non-detachable rims, there were twin petrol tank filler caps and under the bonnets there was a Scintilla as opposed to Bosch magneto which was driven by the left rather than right-hand camshaft.

After its announcement in 1930, a works team was readied by spring the following year for drivers Chiron, Varzi, Divo, Bouriat and Conelli. It was Varzi who gave the Type 51 a win on its debut in the Tunis Grand Prix, and Chiron followed this with victory in April's Monaco GP, the car's first major event, leading home Fagioli's Maserati and the works Mercedes, with Varzi following in third. The ball was well and truly rolling and after a third place in the Targa Florio came victory in the French GP - against formidable opposition from Alfa Romeo and Maserati, with Chiron/Varzi averaging 78mph over 760 miles in ten hours - third places in the Italian and Monza GPs, first in the Belgian GP (another 10 hour/two driver race), second and third in the German GP, second in the Dieppe GP, first and third in the Tunis GP, first in the Monaco GP and first and third places in the Czechoslovakian GP.

By the end of the year the Type 51 had well and truly established itself as the most sought after and desirable of Bugatti Grand Prix cars, and also in numerous other lesser events as the finest racing car then available to the privateer. And despite tougher opposition, particularly with Alfa Romeo fielding its 2.6 litre monopostos, the following season's results continued the trend with third places in the Rome GP and Targa Florio, first, second and third in the Dieppe GP and victory in the Tunis, Oran and Czechoslovakian GPs; that year also saw 1,500cc Voiturette versions of the 51, known as the Type 51A, prove unbeatable. 1933 began as in 1931 with first and third places in Monaco, a win in France, second and third places in the Belgian GP, a third in Spain and another first-second-third in the Dieppe GP. There had also been almost countless other podium positions courtesy of a variety of well-heeled and able privateers.

After the 1933 French Grand Prix, however, Bugatti would run its 2.8 litre Type 59, and it would be left to these able privateers to race the amazing Type 51. In total just 40 of these superb racing cars were produced, of which just 15 were known to still exist by 1960. It is little surprise then that for those desiring such a prized Bugatti there is little choice but to replicate the model, a feat that can only be achieved using authentic and original parts assembled by the finest of engineering specialists.

This superb Type 51 is just such a machine. Commissioned by the vendor's father, it was built between 1980 and 1985 using a combination of new and original components. Many of these were sourced from Brineton Engineering, still a highly respected Bugatti specialist today, while the attention to detail on the car has been attributed to both its instigator's perfectionist tendencies and the ability of project overseer and well known Maserati specialist, Peter Shaw, to realise them. In recent year's this Bugatti has been maintained by Ivan Dutton Ltd., widely regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on and restoration specialists of Bugattis.

Although extensively driven on the road and present at various VSCC events, the car has not yet taken part in any competitive events, despite its eligibility to do so and several invitations, for example, to enter the Williams Trophy race at Donington Park. Notably, chassis BC 96 has been very well received by the Bugatti Owners Club - indeed, its chassis number is one allocated by the club - and it is, of course, eligible for many events of which the BOC is the organiser. Given the car's correct specification in every respect - so much so that the BOC Register refers to it as 'a late delivery'! - and the speed and handling it has amply demonstrated on the road, the vendor firmly believes it would be a competitive machine all manner of speed competitions.

Finished in striking dark blue with black leather trim, this most authentically built Type 51, one of the most handsome and greatest of all pre-war Grand Prix cars, represents a fantastic opportunity, priced at considerably less than the seven figure sum a Molsheim built examplel is likely to command and yet, being accurate in every detail, it remains eligible for use in serious historic racing events. In truly excellent condition throughout, such an appealing proposition as this superb Bugatti is unlikely to reoccur for some considerable time.

Reference Number 15754

as of 11/21/2007

Overview
Car 1932 Bugatti Type 51 (A) Grand Prix 1932/198
VIN BC96