1933 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix

The late Fitzroy John Somerset, 5th Baron Raglan, is remembered with tremendous affection within the vintage racing world. Following a successful Chairmanship, Lord Raglan was only the third person to become Patron of the U.K.’s Bugatti Owners’ Club, in succession to Ettore Bugatti himself and the illustrious motor racing peer, Earl Howe. Indeed, here we offer the much-loved Bugatti Type 51 that Fitzroy Raglan raced “around the world” for almost 30 years, during which he and his chosen driver, Sir John Venables-Llewelyn, enjoyed immense success.

Today it is listed by the British BOC as chassis number 51153, fitted with engine number 32. Factory records confirm that this combination of chassis identity and engine was originally assembled at Bugatti’s Molsheim works in April 1933 as the first of a batch of five Type 51s.

Today two cars exist under this chassis identity—one in the U.S. and the other, “The Raglan Type 51,” in the United Kingdom. Each entity is very well known and well recognized within the international Bugatti fraternity. Each is listed as being Bugatti Type 51 51153 within the relevant national Bugatti Registries. While each car features a genuine Bugatti chassis frame of Molsheim manufacture, neither is believed to use the frame with which 51153 started life in 1933.

The Raglan Type 51’s frame as offered here bears the contemporary number 738, which is consistent with it being a late-series Bugatti Type 51 chassis, circa 1934. The American car’s frame bears the early-series Type 35 number 256, which dates from circa 1926.

It should be appreciated that Bugatti Type 35, 37, 39, and 51 chassis frames are essentially identical. Lord Raglan’s Type 51—as confirmed by the respected British Bugatti specialist David Sewell—incorporates the period-numbered, period-manufactured lower crankcase casting, gearbox and back axle that were built into the original 1933 works team car 51153 at the Molsheim factory.

Its genuine Molsheim-made mechanical components are also mounted in the period replacement chassis 738. Such a late-series frame number is consistent with 1934, at a time when 51153 is known to have required extensive repair and reassembly following severe crash damage sustained in that year’s Targa Florio road race in Sicily.

Original period body panels covering the body today include the scuttle and its cowl, which are understood to be from chassis 4950—the scuttle having been widened to suit—while the aero screen is also an original. The tail cowl is also considered original, as it is thought to have been sourced from Bob Robert’s Type 35C, number 4863.

So here we offer “Lord Raglan’s Bugatti Type 51” as brought back to life for him post-1979—and as campaigned so energetically and with such consistent and universal success throughout the many competition seasons since. Lord Raglan’s car has been recognized as representing 51153 within the British Bugatti Register for the past quarter century, embodying as it does at least three of five defining components—the basis of the engine, the gearbox and the back axle from the original car—and all installed in a genuine, period chassis frame.

Thor Thorson

Thor Thorson - SCM Contributing Editor

Thor grew up in northern Iowa. His father bought a red Jag XK 150 in the late 1950s, and that was all it took; he has been in love with sports cars , racing cars and the associated adrenaline rush ever since. He has vintage raced for more than 20 years, the bulk of them spent behind the wheel of a blue Elva 7. When he’s not racing, he is president of Vintage Racing Motors Inc., a collector-car dealer and vintage-racing support company based in Redmond, WA. His knowledge runs the full spectrum of vintage racing, and he has put that expertise to good use for SCM since 2003.

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