Almost 80 years after its introduction, the Bugatti Type 35 remains one of the most iconic and historically significant cars to have ever raced. Without doubt, the Type 35 was responsible for Bugatti's rise to the heights of 1920s Grand Prix racing and quickly became the most dominant participant of its era. The Type 35 is renowned for its featherweight chassis and low center of gravity. These factors combined made these relatively diminutive GP cars extremely manoeuvrable, especially on short tracks. The 35C was designed to take full advantage of the new 2-liter formula and over the following years proved nearly unbeatable. The small-displacement, 8-cylinder, roller-bearing engine allowed for a much higher redline, the blower provided power throughout the rev range, and the handling was simply phenomenal. Those intimately familiar with Bugattis would argue that the 35C was the ultimate "kit" for a Grand Prix Bugatti, a perfect balance of power, weight and character. Like the vast majority of surviving GP Bugattis, this 35C, listed in the American Bugatti Register as chassis "4935," was essentially dismantled-the components were separated and rebuilt during an era when even the most authentic and historically important examples were "restored" without regard to their known identity, history, or originality of chassis numbers. The circumstances that led to the reconstitution of noted collector Dr. Peter Williamson's first Bugatti, this beloved Type 35, follow along these lines and are quite typical for the era. Prior to its acquisition by legendary Bugatti restorer Bunny Phillips, chassis 4935 was a Type 35B with a long and fascinating race record. After moving from the East Coast to California, this car resided in Phillips's shop for some time. In the early 1960s, Eugene Kettering, scion of the famed AC Delco family and Peter Williamson's father-in-law, purchased the T35 on the condition that Phillips would be contracted to complete the restoration. In classic Phillips fashion, the car was disassembled and a frame was sourced-number 342-thought to be from another Type 35 he owned. With this genuine Bugatti chassis frame as the foundation, a Type 35C engine was installed, along with an appropriate driveline and suspension components. The engine is number 186, implying that it originally belonged to chassis 4940-a 35C that was first driven by Philippe Étancelin at the San Sebastián Grand Prix on July 25, 1929.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1928 Bugatti Type 35C Grand Prix
Number Produced:50 approx.
Original List Price:130,000 FF (about $75,000 today)
Chassis Number Location:Brass plate on firewall, normally left side; upper crankcase (rear left engine arm)
Engine Number Location:Same locations as above
Alternatives:1934 MG K3; 1933 Maserati 8CM; 1931 Bugatti Type 43
Investment Grade:B

This car sold for $900,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s inaugural Amelia Island Auction in Florida on March 12, 2010.

I was a little surprised. In my eyes, the result feels a little light for 4935 in spite of its description being handled with kid gloves by an ever-careful auction company wishing to avoid litigation at all costs.

The estimate given in the catalog was $1m to $1.4m. Bidding started fiercely but stopped abruptly at $775k (without commission) and did not buy the car. So, it should be noted that this Bugatti was not sold immediately when the hammer came down, but a few minutes later after a bit of negotiation.

So was it a good buy?

The few “unquestionable” Bugatti Type 35s are immensely valuable compared to the slightly questionable car we are discussing here. The absolutely unquestionable cars could be worth up to three times the money. A good example of a really nice car would be chassis 4889, which sold for $2.6m at Gooding’s Pebble Beach Auction on August 20, 2006. And usually the values of Grand Prix Bugattis have known only one way in the last 15 years-up! So who knows how much 4889 would fetch today?

So what makes a good GP car? An original body on a Bugatti is certainly very important, as is a matching frame to the chassis number, both adding significantly to the value. But how many GP Bugattis today really tick all the boxes? And before you answer, please remember all Grand Prix cars were driven hard, bent, straightened, bent again, and then put away wet. Very, very few examples still carry all their original components. I know of at least 60 Grand Prix Bugattis which had their frames changed in the factory before the war.

A bitsa, but a darn good one

For sure this car is no “all matching” Type 35C and does not have an original Molsheim GP body. But certainly all the mechanical parts are Bugatti Molsheim. When it was put together by Bunny Phillips in the 1960s, there were no replica parts. So on all the components we find the correct set of Molsheim stampings and numbers: engine, rear axle, supercharger, and so on. Where would you find a Grand Prix Bugatti today with all parts original at this price? Just try to find another one, and please, call me when you do.

Potential buyers were put off by the appearance of the car; it looked like a 1960s restoration. The new Bunny Phillips body was mounted on a frame that had been cadmium-plated to protect it from the salty California air, and the chrome on the springs and axles was jarring. Presented in the way it was, well out of fashion in today’s world, there was probably little hope for a big result.

Its price becomes all the more reasonable when one considers the following points: In Europe, Type 35A Bugattis (which are unblown and only have the simple three-bearing crank) are similar in price to the money paid for this car. (Even a 37A comes into this region now.) Just try to envisage the good, original components under the chrome and cadmium! Now get rid of all the plating, and replace the Bunny Phillips replica body with a real GP version. The result would likely be much more attractive and valuable.

And then there’s the money spent on the mechanics in the last two years. The engine and other mechanical parts were rebuilt for a six-figure sum by Malcolm Gentry, one of the leading Bugatti specialists in the U.K.

But the story does not end here. The history of the car and its major component parts needs to be researched at great length, and it will be interesting to see what we find. Even with what we know about the car today, I consider this Bugatti a good buy. But I would have to say that, as I bought it for a friend!

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