Werrangourt Archives 2: Holden Engined Bugattis by Bob King…

Posted: October 7, 2018 in Fotos, Obscurities
Tags: , , , , , , ,

(B King)

Many European and American engines were used to replace the tired original in racing Bugattis in Australia – notably Ford’s V8 and Hudson’s side valve straight eight – ‘there’s no substitute for litres’…

However, it was Australia’s own cast iron, pushrod-OHV ‘grey’ Holden six that was as effective as any.

We will take a look at two important examples where a ‘grey’ successfully replaced the sophisticated mid-nineteen twenties single overhead cam, three valves per cylinder, 1500cc, Bugatti unit.

Bob Baker of coachbuilding fame, powers through Tin Shed corner at Rob Roy. This body would not have been the best example of his art (B King)

Type 37 Bugatti, chassis no. 37209…

This is the Bugatti that multiple Australian Grand Prix winner Bill Thompson made his Phillip Island debut with in 1929.

His race lasted but two laps before he exited with a blown-up motor – youthful over-enthusiasm perhaps? This was far from the end of the cars participation in the AGP, with the next owner Ernie Nichols contesting the 1934 and 1935 GPs at the same venue.

After a succession of well known drivers, it returned to Sydney where it was prominent in the early post war racing scene, first with Roy Murray and then Irwin ‘Bud’ Luke. The latter finished a splendid seventh in the 1949 AGP at Leyburn the ageing car winning the handicap and averaging 73 mph for the 150 miles. At Easter Bathurst, 1951, it was a victim of the well named Conrod Straight after having achieved almost 98 mph.

Fishermans Bend did not provide the most exciting background for photographers to display their wares. This is John Hall at the wheel, possibly on the way to a podium in the B Grade Scratch Race (B King-Spencer Wills)


Paddock shot at Phillip Island (B King)

It was back at Bathurst for the AGP in 1952, but now Holden engined. It was said to be the first Holden engined racing car – do our readers know of an earlier Holden powered special? The car today is little changed from when it was last raced seriously in the nineteen sixties and is still in regular use.

In terms of the articles opening photograph.

The Holden Bugatti was still an effective racing car into the sixties in the hands of a number of drivers – the 3 inlet trumpets are a give-away that this is no ordinary Bugatti. Who is the driver entering Repco Corner at Phillip Island, probably in the late nineteen-fifties though folks? We can confidently rule out Valery Gerrard. John Hall was rotund, as was John Marston. Therefore it is likely to be Barry Elkins or John Pyers?

(B King)

The old girl (above), still with unsupercharged Bugatti engine, was  still able to hold a bevy of stripped TC’s up the mountain at Bathurst.

(P Coleby)

‘37209’ again, and still in action at Calder circa 1962 when owned by the Watson brothers, driver unknown.


John Cummins in ‘37332’ keeps Bill Sherwill honest on the dirt at Tarrawingee, near Wangaratta, Northern Victoria. This is a good illustration of Cummo’s flamboyant style (B King)

Type 37(A) Bugatti, chassis no. 37332…

John (Cummo) Cummins, grand prix driver, raconteur, racing commentator and all round good fellow will be familiar to many readers as the driver of this Holden engined Bugatti special.

And it was a very special car. New in 1928, it gained fame as the feature car of TP Cholmondeley Tapper’s “Amateur Racing Driver” (Foulis). The car was owned by New Zealander Tapper’s partner, Eileen Ellison, and they campaigned it extensively in England, Europe and South Africa.

TP Cholmondeley-Tapper frightens a sapling in the unmodified Type 37 at a Bugatti Owners Club hillclimb at Chalfont-St Peter 25 May 1935. Presumably when the car was owned by Eileen Ellison (Bill Brunell Collection-MPL)

In the early thirties they had it supercharged at Bugatti’s Molsheim factory. In the mid-thirties it was modified by Leslie Bellamy; he fitted his eponymous independent front end which was detrimental to the cars appearance, and probably also to its handling, as it shortened the wheelbase.

(B King)

Cummo found the engineless car in Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1952 and brought it to Australia where Len Sydney fitted a hot Holden engine.

Here above is the down-at-heel Bellamy. No engine, no problem- fit a ‘grey’. This was possibly the third racing car so fitted with Lou Molina and Silvio Massola splitting the two Bugattis in the precedence stakes with their ‘MM Special’.

John’s position as an engineer at Chamberlain’s gave him access to a veritable Who’s Who of tuning experts – this resulted in a standing ¼ mile time of 14.4 seconds and 135mph on Conrod Straight. In recent times the car has been returned to the standard configuration of a supercharged Type 37A Bugatti.

Bibliography and Photo Credits…

‘Bugattis in Australia and New Zealand, 1920 – 2012’. Bob King & Peter McGann. (Self published 2012), ‘Amateur Racing Driver’ TP Cholmondeley-Tapper (Foulis, undated), Bill Brunell Collection in the Motoring Picture Library

Bob King Collection, Kees Jansen, Spencer Wills, Peter Coleby Collection

Tailpiece: John Cummins, ‘The Wall’, Templestowe Hillclimb, in Melbourne’s then outer, now inner east…

(B King)



  1. Nathan Tasca says:

    I might need to rack your brain further on this one Bob. Just in case I ever find a T37 chassis and body that are laying around without much use! 😉

  2. John Macmillan says:

    Great to see you late last year What a day .
    Where can I purchase the second edition of your book please?
    Also appropos of Holden engined Bugattis, was it John Cummins who was killed at Albert Park on the southern curve close to St Kilda Cricket Ground?

    Hope you are keeping well. Do you still go down to Blairgowrie ?
    Best wishes,

  3. Rob says:

    John & Mark,

    The Bugatti driver who died after an accident at Melford Corner, near the St. Kilda cricket ground, was Philip “Puss” Catlin. The accident happened during the Argus Cup which was run in support of the 1956 Australian Tourist Trophy. The car was entered as a 1489cc Bugatti s/c, so seemingly it was not Holden-engined.


  4. Michael John Lane says:

    My name is Michael John Lane my cousin Sq. Ldr Brian John Edward Lane DFC married Eileen Ellison ladies racing driver in 1938. I am looking for a replica diecast model 1/18th that would be the closest to her Bugatti T37A chassis # 37332. I know it is going to be expensive but does anyone have any ideas where I start looking.

  5. Michael John Lane says:

    I am researching the life and times of Eileen Lane nee Ellison (1910-1967) who married my cousin Sq Ldr Brian John Edward Lane DFC (1917-1942) If anyone has any information please contact me. I appreciate there is already a lot of data and images on the internet etc which no doubt I may have already found but there still must be more out there unpublished. Michael

  6. robert king says:

    John Macmillan, please ring me 0419 503 203
    Michael John Lane. There is a lot about Eileen in “Amateur Racing Driver” written by her thirties racing buddy, TP Cholmondeley-Tapper. The Bugatti Typs 37A is here in Melbourne in restored condition – chassis number 37322.

  7. robert king says:

    Thomas A Benson, which was the first Holden powered racing car. (My definition is that these cars were road racing cars, not Holden saloons and were specials).

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