These two blokes are aboard a Bugatti Brescia Type 23 out front of The George Hotel in Lydiard Street, Ballarat, Victoria between 1945 and 1950…

The shot is from the State Library of Victoria archive, it was taken by George Thomas, a prolific ‘snapper at motorsport events throughout Victoria at the time. Ballarat, 120 kilometres west of Melbourne is a Gold Rush town. Over 600,000 people came to Australia from all over the globe in the 1850s to chase their fortune. Ballarat was one of the main destinations of the optimistic, it’s a beautiful place with many of the stately buildings of the period still standing, including the George Hotel.

The interesting thing is of course, which particular chassis it is and who the fellows are. My recently acquired copy of Bugattis In Australasia (details in the credits below) personally delivered by the very knowledgeable, youthful, spritely 81 year old author, Bob King suggests it’s either Bill Fleming or Neil Barter, assuming the photo date range is accurate.

The car is a long-chassis Modifie. Without going into all of King’s detail, the chassis number of the car can’t be confirmed, but it came from New South Wales to Victoria in 1938 when owned by Fred Betts. He never registered it, but raced it at Phillip Island pre-war.

After the conflict it was raced by John ‘Bill’ Fleming at the Hurstbridge and Rob Roy Hillclimbs in Victoria in 1948, before being sold to Barter that October. At this stage, as shown in the opening photograph, the car was registered in Victoria JT441 and was fitted with engine number 2566.

Fleming on the startline at Hurstbridge Hillclimb in Melbourne’s outer north-east (King)

The Fleming Brescia at Rob Roy Hillclimb in Melbourne’s Christmas Hills, ‘eighteen litres of Semmering Mercedes in the background’ (King)

Barter recounts in King’s book ‘By January we were driving it around as much as petrol rationing would allow. After correcting a dismally retarded camshaft timing, we found the performance astonishing – 40 mph first gear, 60 in second, 4,300 rpm etc – we were never short of superlatives. Alas youthful exuberance led to disaster and injury when… in April 1939…the car overturned at the corner of Dendy Street and The Esplanade, Brighton’, a bayside Melbourne suburb not too far from Albert Park Lake, a place all you global GP fans will be familiar with.

‘A regular trick was to drive it as quickly as you could along Beach Road at Brighton Beach and, instead of taking the right hand corner…we would hurl it into the gravel car park opposite the monument, put it into a 180-degree slide and then drive straight out again, heading back towards Hampton. The prize for the night went to the driver who travelled the quickest and made the cleanest slide!’ What a great thing to do after a few bevvies on a Friday or Saturday night?!

‘This all came to a halt when, one night, with four up, I rolled it when turning from the beach road into Dendy Street…a very sobering experience for all and particularly me’, Neil Barter wrote. Looking at the young blokes in the car at Ballarat my guess is that it’s Barter and one of his Brighton Grand Prix accomplices!

Bob King records a bewildering nineteen owners of this car. The last was Wolf Zeuner in the United Kingdom albeit this was way back 1992. The name Brescia was applied to these cars (T13 2.0 metre chassis, T22 2.4 metre, T23 2.55 metre) after the cars placed first to fourth in the 1921 Italian Voiturette Grand Prix.

Piero Marco, Brescia T22, Brescia before the off Gran Premio delle Vetturette, 1921 (Bugatti)

de Vizcaya, Brescia T13, GP Penya Rhin 1921- is the descriptor for this Barcelona event but my race results don’t accord with this car/driver combo that year (unattributed)

This event, the ‘1 Gran Premio delle Vetturette’, held on 8 September 1921 on the Circuito di Brescia comprise 20 laps of a 17 km course, a total of 346 km. Thirteen cars contested the race, the winning Bugatti T22 of Ernest Friderich completed the race in two hours 59 minutes 18.6 seconds. He was followed home by teammates Pierre de Vizcaya, Michele Baccoli and Piero Marco all aboard Bugatti 22s, they were chased home by a group of four OM465’s.

2,000 Brescias were built from 1919-1926 more than any other type of Bugatti. ‘Being the first Bugatti made in any numbers, it was the Brescia that established Bugatti’s reputation as a builder of sports and racing cars. They were imported into Australia and New Zealand in considerable numbers…’ King wrote.

Original period sales brochure with Brescia at centre stage, the rest of the document is below

Bob continues ‘The Brescia, of 1496cc capacity, has a cylinder block with non-detachable head and four valves per cylinder operated from a single overhead camshaft via ‘banana’ tappets. In Europe the standard touring model had a four sparking plug cylinder block with ignition from a magneto mounted transversely at the front the engine. These cars had a cast aluminium firewall and were known at the factory as the ‘Modifie’. Racing versions had eight plug cylinder blocks with two magnetos mounted in the dashboard driven (noisily) by spur gears. These latter were known as ‘Full Brescias’. Surprisingly, regardless of chassis length and whether fitted with racing, sports, or touring bodywork, the majority of new imports to Australia were ‘Full Brescias’. Perhaps it was thought to have the security of two magnetos in our relatively primitive motoring environment.’

Superb Brescia 16-valve engine cutaway, technical details as below (Griggs)

In the early twenties, Bugatti didn’t build the bodies of their cars, with the exception of minimalist T13 racing coachwork, so all of the new cars imported to Australia via the London agent, Sorel, were shipped in most cases in bare chassis form. A tax or tariff was imposed on imported coachwork to help stimulate the local industry with ‘Many of the local bodies fitted to Brescias appear to have been of poor quality. This, coupled with the harsh ride of the Brescia, and the poor roads on which they were driven, ensured that the coachwork had a short life. With the need for light bodies for competition work, the discarded original bodywork was usually followed by a succession of amateur built bodies.’ King wrote.

Bugatti played a very important part in the formative years of Australian motor racing as the weapon of choice for many sportsmen on road circuits, hillclimbs, the concrete saucer at Maroubra, gravel speedways and the beaches at places like Gerringong.

A straight-eight Bugatti T30 driven by Geoff Meredith won the first Australian Grand Prix at Goulburn, New South Wales in 1927. Goulburn, 200 km south of Sydney, was also a Gold Rush town. In fact Bugatti won five of the first six AGPs creating huge brand awareness by the standards of the time.

Four cylinder Bugatti T37As – the supercharged variant of the T37 – were victorious in the Phillip Island AGPs of 1929 with Arthur Terdich at the wheel, and in 1930 and 1932 when driven by the period’s ace, Bill Thompson. Carl Junker won in 1931 aboard a straight-eight 1.5-litre T39.

Drake-Richmond’s T37 goes thru Heaven Corner ahead of the Mert Wreford Riley Brooklands during the 1 January 1935 Centenary 300 at Phillip Island. This is the cover photo of Bob King’s book (King)

The Phillip Island AGPs were handicap events, so there is no reason a Brescia couldn’t have won a race with the right mix of speed, reliability and luck, but such never the case. The best Brescia results in our premier event were Merton Wreford’s fourth in 1932 and John Bernadou’s fifth in 1929.

Mert raced chassis 2133, ex-Arthur Terdich, and ‘In practice Wreford’s straight line speed was bettered by very few cars and he was actually faster than Drake-Richmond’s Type 37. In the race Mert was given a 15 minute start by the blown Type 37A’s of Terdich and Thompson and he finished a creditable fourth place on handicap, averaging almost 65 mph for the 200 miles with his old two-wheel-brake Brescia in spite of losing four valuable minutes with clutch trouble’ Bob King wrote.

John Bernadou raced his father Albert’s 2536 in the 1929 AGP – both father and son competed extensively in Victoria in the mid-twenties – despite being delayed by a hole in the fuel tank John was third in the Under 1500 cc class and fifth overall.

Bill McLachlan at Quarry Bend, Bathurst 1952. Bug T37A Ford V8 37358 aka the  MacKellar Spl (B Gunther)

Some (not a huge number mind you) quite exotic racing cars came to Australia pre-War including several Vittorio Jano designed Alfa’s, but the faster Bugatti racing straight-eight T35 and T51’s didn’t make the trip until post-War, when they were of course beyond the first flush of youth.

In our racing, which comprised many events run to handicaps, the cars were competitive but none won a post-War AGP. All played an important role in bolstering grid sizes throughout the long Australian Special Era which in the main were MG based or Ford side-valve V8 powered. In many cases once the original Bugatti (or Alfa or Ferrari or Bristol) motor blew Ford V8s, or a bit later a small block Chev or Holden Grey-six-cylinder engine was inserted under said car’s shapely aluminium bonnets.

To reframe my shallow comment a moment ago about Australian Specials, the wonderful breed included tool-room-quality machines such as the Charlie Dean/Repco Research built Maybachs, the Lou Abrahams/Ted Gray Tornados and Chamberlain brothers Chamberlain 8. Also in the mix are outrageous in brilliant original conception cars like two of Eldred Norman’s masterpieces, the Double 8 and Eclipse/Zephyr Spl, while the rest includes anything and everything from mild-to-wild MGs and Ford V8 engined specials. Not to forget the Hudson straight-eight engined machines pre-War, the high point of those is the extant (Frank) Kleinig Spl: MG chassis, monoposto, Hudson-8 and much, much more. There was no lack of creativity among this country’s mechanics and engineers however basic the underpinnings of the machines they started with!

A game-changer was the move in AGP regulations from handicap to outright events from the 1949, Leyburn Queensland AGP won by John Crouch’s Delahaye 135S. Mind you that didn’t stop the organisers of the 1950 Lobethal, South Australia, and 1951 Narrogin, West Australia AGPs having an each way bet by placing as much emphasis on the handicap winner as the outright victor, which comes through strongly in the contemporary newspaper accounts.

1951 was the last handicap-AGP (in part) and the last won by an Australian built car (the Warwick Pratley driven, George Reed built, Ford V8 engined George Reed Special) until Frank Matich won the 1971 AGP at Warwick Farm a couple of decades later in brand new F5000 Matich A50 Repco Holden.

From 1951 those who wanted to win the AGP needed the readies to acquire a car with the speed, endurance on our rough road circuits and reliability. The balance of the fifties was the Factory Car Era. A Talbot Lago T26C won in 1952/3 (Doug Whiteford), HWM Jaguar in 1954 (Lex Davison), Ferrari 500/625 won in 1957/8 (Davison), a mid-engined Cooper T40 Bristol in 1955 (Brabham) and Maserati 250Fs in 1956/9 (Moss/Stan Jones).

John Cummins raced his T37A Holden ‘37332’ complete with Bellamy IFS until very late in the piece- here the eternal racer/raconteur is at Bathurst in 1961 (unattributed)

Among all this the pre-War Bugatti’s, whether Bugatti or black-iron-powered still played an important role. The last AGP grid of substantial Bugatti numbers was the 1952 Mount Panorama contest in which three entered. Bill McLachlan’s T37A Ford V8 finished 13th, while the T35B/51 shared by Phil Catlin and Peter Menere was 15th, but the P Lowe T37 Holden failed to finish. In fact the placings by McLachlan and Catlin/Menere were the last in an AGP for Bugattis, one was Ford V8 powered, the other still had its Molsheim motor.

For the record, the very last Bugatti AGP start was the David Van Dal/John Cummins T57 which failed to finish the very hot 1957 Caversham race outside Perth. There ended a rich contribution by the marque to Australian motor racing which commenced with substantial numbers of Brescias, and Geoff Meredith’s first AGP win aboard a T30 at Goulburn in 1927. Thirty years from start to finish, not a bad record at all!

Duncan Ord in the ex-Howe/Levegh T57 ‘57264’ 3.3 s-8 in the Patriotic GP at Applecross, Perth, WA on 11 November 1940. He is turning out of Tweedale Road (Terry McGrath))


‘Bugattis in Australasia’ Bob King- Bob still has a couple of copies of this book and plenty of ‘The Brescia Bugatti’- contact rking4450@gmail.com

‘A History of Australian Grand Prix 1928-1939’ John Blanden, MotorSport July 1942, The Bugatti Trust

Photo Credits…

George Thomas, Bob King Collection, Byron Gunther, Bob Shepherd, Terry McGrath, Griggs, automobiles.narod.ru

Etcetera: Brescia/Brescia Modifie Technical Specifications…

Chassis: period typical girder, H-section front axle, weight circa 610 kg

Engine: Four-cylinder, SOHC by front bevel drive, four valve with bore/stroke of 66, 68, 69 x 100 mm for capacities of 1368/1453/1496 cc. Carburettor(s) one or two Zenith. Ignition one or two magnetos, usually SEV. Plugs one or two per cylimder. 30 plus bhp with an RPM limit of (‘prudent’) 4000 ‘or even 4500 on a good Brescia’

Gearbox: located centrally, four-speed and reverse with right-hand location, clutch wet multi plate

Brakes: Location and type – foot, transmission and right-hand for the rear. Four wheel brakes fitted from 1926

Wire wheels with original size 710 x 90

Dimensions: T13, wheelbase 2.0 metres or 1967 mm, T22 2.4 metres or 2417 mm and T23 2.55 metres all with a track of 1.15 metres

Drawing of Brescia ‘2566’ engine showing the oil drain tubes from cam-box to crankcase (B Shepherd)

Notes on The Brescia Bugatti: MotorSport July 1942…

Brescia T13 drawing (automobiles.narod.ru)

Related Articles…

1927 Australian Grand Prix, Goulburn


Tailpiece: O’Rourke Brescia, Cooper Ballot and Bartlett Sunbeam, Maroubra, Sydney, late twenties?…



  1. McCarthy, Andrew says:

    Good article mark !

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. […] I can find little written about this driver- am keen to know more if any of you have particular insights. Click here for an article on the Bugatti Brescia; https://primotipo.com/2018/07/27/country-spin/ […]

  3. […] See here for a feature on Brescias, more detail on the Hine car to come; https://primotipo.com/2018/07/27/country-spin/ […]

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