Angus Dykman, courtesy of Gooding & Company
The fascinating history of this example is chronicled in a report on file by renowned Bugatti historian Pierre-Yves Laugier. On December 1, 1926, chassis 37227 was invoiced for the amount of 46,400 French francs to Mr. René Bacon in the city of Luxey in southwest France. The Bugatti was delivered by a Mr. Deprat, who drove it from Molsheim to Luxey. Mr. Bacon was a World War I hero who owned large forests in the region and made his money by manufacturing turpentine from pine trees. The Bugatti was then sold on June 18, 1929, to the famous driver Count Stanislaw Czaykowski, a well-known Bugatti privateer driver who was born in The Hague in 1899. On December 9, 1930, the Type 37 was sold to Count Czaykowski’s friend and mechanic Ernest Friderich in Nice. Friderich, an engineer and racer for Bugatti from its earliest days, had been in charge of the maintenance of Count Czaykowski’s cars since 1929. The Bugatti remained in France and passed among a handful of other owners, including Jean Vuira, a noted automobile and motorcycle racer, and, from 1946 to 1950, Mr. Claudius Alazard. The Bugatti was discovered in 1958 by famed Bugatti hunter Antoine Raffaelli, who was a young 24-year-old enthusiast at the time. In 1960, the Bugatti was sold by Leonard Potter and the Halfway Garages in the U.K. and purchased, for $2,100, by its fascinating long-term owner, Peter Larkin of New York City; it has remained in his family ever since. Mr. Larkin was an influential four-time Tony Award-winning set designer. A 1962 New Yorker article entitled “The Bugatti Upstairs” chronicles an early moment in Mr. Larkin’s ownership. The article states, “He used to keep the vehicle, which was built in 1926 or 1927, parked in the street. Last fall he had to send some parts to New Jersey for repairs, so he had to find a winter-storage place. He decided to put the car on his terrace.” The article reports that Mr. Larkin and a friend took the Bugatti apart, carried it piece by piece upstairs, and reassembled it on the terrace of his 18th Street apartment in New York, which was located above Pete’s Tavern, a legendary drinking establishment dating back to the mid-1800s. The car was eventually taken back down and reassembled. In addition to his important work on Broadway, Mr. Larkin, along with lighting designer Jules Fisher, designed the Mothership in the 1970s for the seminal music collective Parliament-Funkadelic. This was a fire-spitting flying saucer that would descend from the rafters at packed arena shows, and it has since become one of the most iconic stage props of all time. A replica of it now resides in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. It should also be noted that Mr. Larkin was a direct descendant of Deacon Larkin who, in 1775, lent his horse to Paul Revere for that famous “British are coming” night ride. Mr. Larkin was enthusiastic in his ownership of the Bugatti, stating in 2016 that he still drove it every Sunday, weather permitting. He drove the Type 37 until he was about 90 years old, although, according to his stepson Wesley Strick, “Peter knew that not everyone shared his love of automotive excitement. For years, he kept a photo album of dazed-looking acquaintances whom he’d just driven around Bridgehampton’s backroads at top speed. Then he’d screech to a stop in our driveway and my mom would snap their photos as they stumbled from his car — the album was titled ‘Frightened Bugatti Guests.’” Now offered for sale for the first time in over 60 years, 37227 is well respected within the Bugatti community.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1926 Bugatti Type 37
Years Produced:1925–32
Number Produced:290
Chassis Number Location:Firewall identification plate
Engine Number Location:Stamped on left rear crankcase leg
Club Info:American Bugatti Club
Alternatives:1930 Alfa Romeo 1500SS, 1926 Amilcar C6, 1928 Riley Brooklands

This car, Lot 21, sold for $935,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Geared Online Scottsdale Edition sale on January 22, 2021.

The 4-cylinder Bugatti Type 37 is the “little sister” of the 8-cylinder Type 35, arguably the most recognizable pre-war racing car. Despite a definite lack of creature comforts, Bugatti also made a road version, the T35A. During the second half of the 1920s, at a time when technology was advancing at a rapid pace, these cars were dominant.

Outwardly indistinguishable from its sibling, the T37 was produced as a more-affordable version. Its inline 4-cylinder engine displaced 1500 cc, allowing it to participate in the popular races for “Voiturettes.” It also existed in road and race versions. With wonderful French logic, the T37A was the race car, with T37 designating the road car. As with its bigger sister, the race car was outwardly recognizable by the iconic Bugatti aluminum wheels. Under its hood, a massive supercharger made it nearly as fast as the 8-cylinder car.

Highly desirable

All T37 models have become increasingly desirable in recent years. The reasons are many: They are more affordable than the T35, more nimble due to the lighter weight of the engine, and even in road-car guise are fast enough to enjoy on the numerous events for which they are eligible.

Our subject car was erroneously described as a Grand Prix, but is in fact a road car, well documented from new. Its first owner did race the car at Pau in southwest France, and came home 3rd in class, helped by foul weather and the twisting street circuit. The trophy is still with the car.

Chassis 37227 changed hands a number of times during the ensuing decades, as was the fate of many used cars, though few can claim among the list of previous owners such an interesting cast of characters. Notable among them was Peter Larkin, a set designer for Broadway and Hollywood, who purchased the Bugatti in 1960 and would keep the car until his death in 2019. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Larkin had a huge amount of work carried out on the car, and subsequently enjoyed it on a number of events.

Provenance and originality

As our subject car sits today, its body appears to be mostly genuine but showing some fairly serious corrosion, which is probably not repairable. For a growing number of enthusiasts, however, this is preferable to new metal. During restoration, the firewall, dashboard and rear bulkhead were replaced. They may have looked scrappy, but original is better than new.

At the same time, everything north of the lower crankcase was replaced. The lower case carries the all-important chassis and engine numbers, so thankfully, it was repaired and retained. In today’s world, where originality is so important, more effort would be made to retain the maximum of original components. Even if an engine block needs to be replaced, the old one would be kept with the car.

There are more of these cars running today than were ever built by Bugatti, so the focus is on originality and traceability. Prime events will not accept replicas or cars of dubious origins. In Europe, these tours generally last between four and seven days, and the aim is not to get to your destination as fast as possible but to enjoy the car, the comradeship, and the scenery. Some of these are regularity competitions such as the hugely oversubscribed Mille Miglia. Not only is the Bugatti T37 a delightful car to use on such events, but it would also be a guaranteed ticket to entry.

Back to the future

Bugattis are one of the few pre-war makes that have retained their desirability in recent years. Indeed, the smaller versions and competition cars are even attracting a new generation of enthusiasts.

America is not the foremost market, and under normal circumstances the T37 would probably have done better in a European sale. But over the past year, international auction houses have ramped up their game with more-detailed descriptions and history, together with copious amounts of photos. The result is that worldwide buyers are more willing to act from a distance.

The pre-auction estimate of $650k–$850k was fair, and European buyers ensured that the car hammered above it. At a healthy $935,000 before the new owner pays for shipping and import duty, the car will now be headed to the Netherlands, where it will join an important collection of other Bugattis. For a decent example with fully documented history, the price was right on the money. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.)

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