I can personally attest that it's possible to sit for hours contemplating the Type 35 like a piece of sculpture

There were 23 automobiles on the starting grid for the 1930 Monaco Grand Prix. Fourteen of them-60% of the field-were Bugattis. Bugattis were essentially graceful machines that emphasized light weight and great road holding over power. Their attributes made mediocre drivers feel good and turned great drivers into giants.

The Type 35 Bugatti that debuted in the 1924 Paris Motor Show embodied all of Ettore Bugatti's experience, skill, talent, and aesthetic sense. The bodywork was narrow, smooth, and streamlined. The frame was fully enclosed within the body, including full undertrays with only the engine's sump exposed to the air stream for cooling. The Type 35's engine was an object with balance, integrity, and inherent beauty that still never fails to attract the eye and invite close inspection.

This Bugatti Type 35C was built in April 1927. The entry for it and chassis 4890 was marked "San Sebastian" in the factory records, indicating that these two Type 35s were to be the factory's entry into the 1927 San Sebastian Grand Prix.

SCM Analysis


Number Produced:50
Original List Price:40,000 French francs bought a 35B in 1930
Tune Up Cost:$1,000
Distributor Caps:$500
Chassis Number Location:Brass tag on left firewall, also on engine
Engine Number Location:Left rear mounting flange on block
Club Info:American Bugatti Club, 600 Lakeview Terrace, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
Investment Grade:A

This Type 35C sold for $2,585,000 at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach auction August 20, 2006.

I’m going to open this discussion with a full disclosure. My company bought this car (for a client), and both the client and we are very pleased with the purchase. Whether this makes me more or less qualified to write about it is for the reader to judge. I certainly have “insider” knowledge about the car and a pair of ruined khakis to prove it.

One of the basic tenets of the collector car business is that the history of development of the automobile can be seen as a series of distinct stages. For each of these stages there are a relatively small number of truly great cars, the icons that stand clearly above their competition and define the era. These are the true collectibles-the Rembrandts, the Rodins, the Fabergé eggs of their genre. As collectors have become more sophisticated over the years, there has been a movement away from single-era collections (Ferraris, for example) and toward a historically balanced approach, with examples of the true greats of each era.

This has broadened the appeal and strengthened the market for the earlier cars, which tend to be less user-friendly than the newer stuff and until recently, have been mostly pursued by the true believers. If you’re looking for truly great racing cars from the ’20s, I will argue that the list is pretty short and the supply of good cars very small. The big three are Mercedes, Bentley, and Bugatti, with the first two building dual-purpose road car/racers and Bugatti building pur sang race cars.

Though Bugatti was not averse to large road cars, when it came to racing, he believed in small, light, and nimble. His cars were a combination of innovative metalworking, true artistry in design, and a cabinetmaker’s attention to detail. I can personally attest that it’s possible to sit for hours contemplating the Type 35 like a piece of sculpture. It is an absolutely stunning, beautiful, tiny little thing.

Though Bugatti had tasted both racing and commercial success through the early ’20s, the Type 35 was the car that cemented his place in the pantheon of automotive greats. Designed in 1924, the original Type 35 mechanical package centered around a 2-liter straight eight that utilized a five-bearing crankshaft with roller bearings on both mains and rods. Its redline was a then-amazing 6,000 rpm. It’s interesting to note that the very complicated and expensive roller bearing arrangement was primarily because of Bugatti’s distrust of pressure oiling systems, rather than the need for rpm.

Very conservative by nature, he also resisted supercharging in the beginning, but competition soon forced his hand and the Type 35C was born. The Roots-type compressor upped the power to 128 hp from the aspirated engine’s 90 hp, and the Type 35 became the dominant Grand Prix race car of the late 1920s. Over 1,800 victories in the era are attributed to the Type 35 and its variants.

There were plenty of those Type 35 variants, and it’s probably worth a few words sorting them out, as confusion about which is which could be lead to a very expensive mistake. The original Type 35 used the aspirated 2-liter, 8-cylinder engine with five-bearing roller crankshaft.

Type 35A was the same car, but with a far simpler 3-plain bearing engine, much less power, and a lower price tag. It gained the nickname “Tecla,” after a maker of imitation jewelry, and was not widely loved then (or now).

Type 35T was a 2.3-liter aspirated version specifically for the Targa Florio race.

Type 35B was a supercharged version of the 2.3-liter T that raced when the 2-liter displacement cap didn’t apply.

Type 37 was the same chassis and body, but with a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 60 hp. Many of these (290) were built, including 67 Type 37A, which were supercharged.

Type 39 was identical to a 35C but the (8-cylinder) engine was de-stroked to 1.5 liters for class racing.

Been taking notes? Good, there will be a quiz in ten minutes.

The point of all this is that by the time they were done, the factory had produced roughly 645 cars that looked like Type 35s, ranging from the great to the very ordinary. Over the intervening 75-plus years, most of them were lost to the ravages of obsolescence, neglect, and war. The few that survived almost universally have unknown, tortuous, or highly compromised histories.

Add to this the existence of a cottage industry that builds reproduction parts and complete cars so good they are virtually indistinguishable from the original, and you can see that the serious collector has a real problem obtaining a great car. The few unquestioned ones are immensely valuable and are likely to stay that way.

This 1927 Bugatti Type 35C is one of those few. It was raced by the factory in Spain in 1927, then sold to a jeweler in Barcelona. It remained in Barcelona (mostly hidden to avoid the ravages of war) until it was discovered and sold (by the Barcelona jeweler) to the U.S. in 1961. It basically had one owner, Dick Upshur, from then to the present, when it was sold by his estate. Though bits have been repaired, it has been an intact and complete car all its life.

$2.6 million may seem like a lot of money, but it’s the price of admission these days if you want an important ’20s racer. You’d be lucky to find an S Mercedes with history for that much, much less an SS or an SSK (try two to three times that), while a Bentley with race history would easily be that much-if you could find one. There are plenty of lesser cars out there for less, but the crown jewels aren’t available often.

This is the point where I would normally sit back and pass judgment on whether the poor schmuck who raised his hand was a master or a fool, but that’s a bit tough in this situation. All I can say is that there was a smile on my face as I listened to it run this morning. We think it was well bought.

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