1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix

Without doubt, Ettore Bugatti found his feet as an internationally recognized manufacturer of high-performance motor cars in 1926. The Type 39A was his first supercharged racer that really worked and gave little if any teething trouble. The 1926-27 Grand Prix Formula demanded cars of no more than 1,500 cc, with a minimum weight of 1,320 lbs, 110 lbs less than the limit for the 2-liter Grand Prix category of 1924-25. Riding mechanics were not required and a cover was permitted for the unoccupied second seat.

Bugatti modified his successful and highly reliable Type 35 straight-8 cylinder engine design to match this new capacity. To achieve maximum horsepower and torque, these 1.5-liter engines were now supercharged, the first time a Grand Prix Bugatti employed forced induction. This smaller-engined but now “blown” Type 35-derived model emerged from the Molsheim factory as the Type 39A.

The 1926 Bugatti Type 39A offered here-chassis serial 4802-began life as the first of three sequentially-numbered 1,493-cc supercharged two-seat cars built for the new 1.5-liter 1926 Grand Prix Formula. Bugatti’s own supercharger was based upon the Moglia prototype and fitted to his three entries for the French Grand Prix. The radiator was moved forward slightly to provide space for the blower drive, while a tell-tale feature was provision of a round hole in the right side of the engine hood adjacent to the manifold relief valve blow-off port. Driven by Mr. Bugatti’s friend and agent Bartolomeo “Meo” Costantini, 4802 finished second to Jules Goux’s similar Type 39A in the season’s inaugural event on the Miramas circuit near Marseilles. Unfortunately, only Bugatti reported for duty that day, sportingly running a walkover race for his drivers Costantini, Goux, and de Vizcaya. Goux won from Costantini, the only two finishers.

But the Type 39A worked and scored three Grand Prix wins to one for Delage and one for Miller (in the Indianapolis 500, which counted for the Championship.) The Meo Costantini Type 39A took two second places and one third in its four Grand Prix-class races during 1926, making an important contribution to the Bugatti World Championship for manufacturers, the first such championship to be organized.

Never one to miss a commercial opportunity, Bugatti frequently retired the team’s Grand Prix cars, replacing them with newer vehicles and selling them to buyers who could bask in their racing history. That seems to have been the case with the three 1926 works Bugatti Type 39As. The engines were modified to the latest Type 39 specification, then offered for sale in 1927 through the company’s fashionable showrooms in central Paris. This Type 39A Grand Prix may even have had its frame replaced as part of the post-season factory refurbishment.

Bugatti 4802 has been carefully maintained, and has participated in a number of North American events, including the Copperstate 1000, historic races at Laguna Seca, Loudon, and Lime Rock, and concours at Loudon, Castle Hill, and Pebble Beach.

Overall, 4802 retains all its main mechanical components, save for its larger radiator and supercharger, both of which are major enhancements. And as for the cachet of having been one of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis ever built, we commend 4802 as a very special example indeed of Le Pur Sang.