Considered by many people to be the most beautiful racing car of its period, and an enduring classic design of all time, the Type 35 Bugatti is also one of the most successful racing cars ever built, with a string of major victories in the hands of famous
In the late 1920s it was also the best car that could be purchased by an amateur racing driver and at the same time was capable of winning a Grand Prix. A good Type 35 is also one of the most exciting and satisfying cars to drive, both in competition and on the open road. It is this fact, just as much as its universal appeal as an automotive art form, which is no doubt responsible for the strong demand and high prices which this car commands on the rare occasions when a good example is offered for sale.
According to the transcriptions of the original Bugatti factory records obtained by Hugh Conway in the mid-sixties, Chassis 4863, fitted with Engine No 111, was invoiced on either 12 January 1927 or 2 July 1927 for delivery to either Andrieissi or Helle Nice, both names and dates being quoted and it being unclear which were correct. However the original delivery records which surfaced in 1991 indicate that this car was delivered by road from Molsheim to Paris on factory trade plates numbered 1763 WW5 which were valid on this car between the dates 2-12 July 1927.
However the same records indicate that the car was purchased by a customer named Andrieissi of Amsterdam and so was presumably to be collected by him from the Paris showrooms. The name Marco also appears, this no doubt being one-time works driver and long time Bugatti employee Pierre Marco who must therefore have been in some way involved in the sale. It may be that the earlier intended sale of the car on 12 January 1927 either did not take place at all or was aborted for some reason and instead the car was retained by the factory for a further six months, possibly for their own competition purposes.
The famous and eponymous “Mme. Helle Nice” was a Parisien actress, dancer, and acrobat, who had taken up motor racing in the late twenties. She led a colorful life, dancing at the Casino de Paris, performing on the trapeze, and racing Bugattis. Helle Nice’s fascinating exploits have been meticulously documented in two wonderful scrap books compiled by her and accompanying her Bugatti. The files are extensive, and amazingly include the original factory invoice from Bugatti, dated March 29, 1930, for chassis 4863 totaling 40,000 French francs.
Prior to her ownership of 4863, Helle Nice utilized it for a record attempt at distances up to ten miles on the banked Montlhery circuit near Paris on 18 December 1929, evidently with factory support, which again is confirmed in the scrapbook. Despite failing in her attempt she nevertheless achieved most creditable speeds, covering the flying ten miles in excess of 194 kmh with a best and last lap at almost 198 kmh.
This was not her only Bugatti, for she also owned an unblown Type 35 in which she competed in various other events around that time. In addition it’s known that a third Bugatti, a Type 35C owned by Baron Phillippe de Rothschild, was also made available for her to race in many events. Interestingly Mme. Nice was a close friend of Jean Bugatti so perhaps she was allowed to try the car at Montlhery prior to purchasing it. Recent research has revealed that her real name was Helene Delangle. Born in 1900, she remained a regular competitor in motor racing, latterly at international level, until 1936. Following her record attempt she continued to race Bugattis regularly over the next four seasons. She undoubtedly would have shared the spotlight with another notable Bugatti Type 35C owner and race driver, Elisabeth Junek.
In 1930 she caused quite a sensation in America by traveling to the USA and competing/demonstrating at a number of East Coast dirt track meetings. The press announced her as “the lady champion driver of the world, merited through her records made under the sanction of the Automobile Club of France when she made a straight away record of 133 mph and a circular track record averaging 122 mph for forty miles, which included one stop at the pits for a tire change.”
She continued to race Bugattis until changing to a more modern 8C-2300 Alfa Romeo for the Monza Grand Prix in September 1933. The scrapbooks once again record her further exploits in the Alfa Romeo.
Nothing further is known about 4863 until it was imported to England from Holland by Bugatti specialist dealer Jack Lemon Burton and sold by him on 12 August 1937 to C.L. Clark. It must have soon been traded back to Lemon Burton because he sold it again, in February 1938, to T.S. Grimshaw who competed with it in various minor events and then sold it to R.S. Shapley in early 1939.
It was bought back by Jack Lawrence in 1941 and owned for a period immediately after the war by E.V. Buck who in turn sold it to Jack Perkins. The car, which was then light green in color, was registered for road use with the registration number HUE 939 on 7 March 1949 but was nevertheless only rarely used. In 1974 it was acquired by well-known Bugatti personality and Midland Motor Museum proprietor T.A. (Bob) Roberts and underwent a thorough four-year overhaul by the leading English Bugatti experts, Messrs. Crosthwaite and Gardiner. During the rebuilt the original 88 mm stroke crankshaft was replaced with a 100 mm stroke crankshaft and thus effectively became a Type 35B. The car was purchased in the early ’80s by Mr. Rose who had been looking for a good Bugatti for some time. On the advice of the late Hugh Conway, Ben was able to quickly negotiate the purchase before it became known the car was available.
Mr. Rose raced the car in the occasional vintage race meeting and was impressed with its high performance and flawless running. In 1985, Mr. Rose had the pleasure of meeting the late Rene Dreyfus, the former Bugatti works driver. Dreyfus fondly recalled Helle Nice and commented on her talent as a driver. Mr. Rose was fortunate enough to get some racing tips from the great Dreyfus, who enthused that the 35B was “perfect” and one of the best he had ever seen. A video tape interview between Mr. Rose and Rene Dreyfus is included.
During last year, no expense was spared on a thorough mechanical overhaul. It was discovered an exhaust valve was cracked and two new replacement blocks were sourced (the original blocks and 35C crankshaft are still with this lot among quite a number of spares) and fitted along with new pistons and work to the valves. At the same time the water pump, magneto, tachometer, ignition wiring, fuel tank and fuel pressurizing system were rebuilt. There are bills totaling over $100,000 that accompany the lot. This superb Bugatti has hardly been used since the rebuild by Cooper Technica. In addition to the period photos of 4863 that are included in the scrapbooks, it can also be seen on page 142 of Hugh Conway’s “Bugatti Magnum.” With a fascinating and highly-documented history this was one of the most important Grand Prix Bugattis to come to auction in recent years.