One of the most important Bugatti sports cars of the marque’s golden era, to be offered as a highlight in the 2020 Bonhams Grand Palais Sale in Paris, was unveiled today to the world’s media at a preview of the Bonhams Goodwood Revival sale.
The 1932 Bugatti Type 55– chassis no. 55221 – which started life as a works entry in that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, co-driven by two of France’s finest and most charismatic racing drivers of the 1930s, Louis Chiron and Count Guy Bouriat-Quintart, is being offered for the first time at auction following an incredible 56 years in the ownership of one discerning British family.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire an extremely historic and important motor car owned by the same family for 56 years,” said Sholto Gilbertson, Director, Bonhams UK Motor Cars. “Over the years, the family have resisted many offers and we are very much looking forward to presenting the Bugatti for sale in Paris next February. Everyone will now have an equal opportunity to secure one of the most important motor cars to come to market in recent years.”
Just as the modern-day Bugatti Veyron, Chiron and EB110 models are a contemporary car collector’s dream, so the Bugatti Type 55 in its day was a much-coveted automotive jewel. Even with the backdrop of The Great Depression, the most style-conscious glitterati all aspired to the Bugatti – which was aimed squarely at the most well-heeled clientele. With a chassis price tag of 110,000 FF ($7,500), only 38 examples of the Type 55 Super Sports model were produced between 1932 and 1935, 29 of which are known to survive.
This high-performance machine, considered by many as the pinnacle of Bugatti’s sports cars, was regarded in period as very much a Grand Prix car in sports car clothing, powered by a 2.3-litre supercharged twin-cam 8-cylinder engine – only slightly detuned compared to its source, the multiple Grand Prix-winning Bugatti Type 51. Even in 1932 its blistering performance boasted 0-60mph acceleration in 13 seconds and the hitherto unheard-of top speed – for a road car – of 115mph.
This particular Bugatti has a great racing pedigree, having contested the 1932 Le Mans 24-Hour race, with France’s Louis Chiron and Count Guy Bouriat-Quintart at the wheel. To meet the event’s regulations, the car was fitted with a temporary 4-seat body, but sadly its fuel tank split after three hours’ racing, forcing its retirement.
Immediately after Le Mans, the car was sold by Count Bouriat to wealthy French magazine publisher Jacques Dupuy. Most Bugatti Type 55s featured bodywork to a much-praised, high-fashion, door less design by Jean Bugatti, son of company founder Ettore Bugatti.
However, Dupuy, a great motoring enthusiast, commissioned noted automotive designer Giuseppe Figoni of Boulogne-sur-Seine, Paris, to create unique coachwork in a striking two-seat Type 55 style, but crucially with two highline doors, providing practicality for both ease of access and protection from the elements with its wind up windows, whilst retaining a fluent line uniting bonnet, sweeping wings and graceful tail – which many considered improved upon Jean Bugatti’s work.
Fresh from being rebodied by Figoni, the Type 55 promptly entered the 1933 Paris-Nice Rally, driven by new owner Dupuy. He also entered it successfully for La Journée de l’Elégance et de l’Automobile au Bois de Boulogne concours d’élégance event, in which it also – predictably – excelled.
The Bugatti subsequently survived the Second World War in France and was brought to England in 1962 by A.A. Morse, being acquired by fellow Bugatti connoisseur – and leading Vintage racer – Geoffrey St John in 1963.
It was first restored in 1966, and some thirty years later was restored once more following road accident damage sustained in France. Most significantly, its chassis was not restored following that incicent, but painstakingly repaired by respected specialist Gino Hoskins, following that incident.
Despite this experience, the Bugatti and its owner continued to re-cross La Manche repeatedly but now the time has come to entrust this very special motor car to a new custodian.
The Grand Palais sale takes place on February 6, 2020. Learn more here.