|1926 Bugatti Type 37
|Chassis Number Location:
|Firewall identification plate
|Engine Number Location:
|Stamped on left rear crankcase leg
|American Bugatti Club
|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.
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.)