Bon voyage to rare Bugatti

A 1935 Bugatti Type 57T, owned and raced by some of the world’s most famous drivers, has just been sold for more than $1 million in Paris after spending 79 of its 83 years in Perth, Western Australia.

The Type 57 series with its straight-8, twin-camshaft 3.3-litre engine was perhaps not the prettiest of the famed French marque, but this particular car, with chassis #57264, was probably the most illustrious in the Southern Hemisphere.

It began life as a Ventoux coupe and was converted by the Bugatti works for the 1935 Ulster TT, where it was driven by the fabled Earl Howe, president of the British Racing Drivers Club from 1929 until his death in 1964.

One of the true gentleman drivers of his time, he debuted the car at the Ulster TT race in 1935, where he finished third, behind Freddie Dixon’s Riley TT Sprite and Eddie Hall’s Bentley.

There were 13 finishers, and 22 non-finishers, with ‘Bira,’ officially His Royal Highness Prince Birabongse of Siam, among the latter in an Aston Martin Ulster.

UK magazine Motor Sport reported the car was of light construction with a duralumin shell body, and weighed only 26cwt — with driver, fuel and water.

‘De Rham shock absorbers were used and the engine was said to develop over 160hp at 5500rpm, which sounds rather fantastic.

‘Lord Howe’s car did close on 120mph.’

The Bugatti stayed in the UK for a little while before being sent back to Paris where it was used by Yves Giraud-Cabantous and co-driver Roger Labric for the 24-Hour race at Spa-Francorchamps.

But the car ran off the road at the notorious Stavelot Hairpin and burst its radiator. It was repaired and then put on sale at Bugatti’s Avenue Montaigne showroom, where it was quickly bought by young French racing driver, Pierre Bouillin — better known as Pierre Levegh.

He made his first appearance with it at the 1937 Grand Prix des Frontières at Chimay, Belgium and two months later he ran it again at the Marseille 3-hours race.

Levegh was to become one of the leading competitors on the world circuit before his career was cut short at Le Mans in 1955 in the world’s deadliest motorsport accident while driving for Mercedes.

He advertised the car for sale in the daily newspaper L’Auto in March, 1938, describing it as: ‘Type 57, unique car, capable of 190 km/h.’

Legend has it that Boullin sold the car to Jean-Pierre Wimille, by then already on his way to become France’s greatest racing driver.

He made his Grand Prix debut, driving a Bugatti 37A at the 1930 French Grand Prix in Pau at age 22 and won the 1932 Grand Prix de Lorraine and the Grand Prix d’Oran.

In 1934 he won the Algerian Grand Prix in Algiers at the wheel of a Bugatti T59 and in January 1936 he finished second in the South African Grand Prix and won the French Grand Prix.

Also in 1936, Wimille travelled to New York to compete in the Vanderbilt Cup where he finished second, behind Tazio Nuvolari and competed in the 24 hours of Le Mans, winning in 1937 and again in 1939.

After WWII he became the No.1 driver for the Alfa Romeo, winning several Grands Prix, including his second French Grand Prix.

Jean-Pierre Wimille died at the wheel of Simca-Gordini during practice for the 1949 Buenos Aires Grand Prix.

He is believed to have used the ’35 Type 57 as personal transport in Europe before it went to an unknown buyer who shipped it to the UK.

Here it was put on sale at sports car specialist J H Bartlett who advertised it in the May 1938 issue of Speed, as: “Bugatti special 3.3 litre 120 m.p.h. competition 2 seater, fitted late series 57S engine, special electron body, special streamlined wings, spare tanks, etc … £450.”

That attracted visiting Perth motor enthusiast Duncan Ord who shipped it to Western Australia and made his Australian racing debut in it at Pingelly on January 29, 1939, finishing fifth.

He then fitted hydraulic brakes and moved the radiator forward to lower the bodywork and improve cooling and went on to good performances at Albany, Dowerin, Pingelly, and in 1946 it reappeared at Caversham, where it was driven by Durrie Turner.

At the Patriotic Grand Prix, run for the first (and last) time on the streets of the affluent riverside Applecross suburb, Ord posted the fastest lap.

The car was next acquired by Jeff Phillips and in 1952 by Phil Hind.

During this time it was modified with the chassis being shortened, the original body discarded and replaced by a slender racing version and coil springs fitted at the rear.

In 1954 the car was bought by David van Dal who ran it in the 1957 Australian Grand Prix and in 1958 it was sold it to Jim Krajancich, in whose care it has survived ever since.

From 1973 he undertook a lengthy and ongoing restoration at his Hazelmere property, to the extent that leading Bugatti expert Pierre Yves Laugier now regards it as one of the finest Bugattis of its period.

The work included re-lengthening the chassis using works drawings of the Type 57 and painstakingly re-making the body and road equipment from many archive photos.

The brakes were put back to mechanical operation, the original radiator was acquired from Van Dal while the car’s original starter motor, dynamo and radiator shutters were reacquired from Ord.

The radiator shell acquired from the UK, had come from Australia, and is believed to be the original from the car.

Original Type 57 rear springs and crankshaft were sourced from Malaysia and myriad other bits and pieces, down to original pedal pads, cast aluminium dashboard brackets and bonnet catches came from various parts of the world after years of searching.

The car has in the past decade occasionally appeared at functions such as the Perth French Festival and the Celebration of the Motor Car.

The Earl Howe history, the known perfect provenance and ownership-succession from at least 1937 – and matching numbers – made Bugatti 57264 the star of the recent Bonham’s auction at Les Grandes Marques du Monde au Grand Palais.

It fetched 713,000 Euros, or $A1.117 million.

It’s not known who the buyer was, but it seems right that the grand old car with its incredible history should be back in its home country.

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