Posts Tagged ‘Bugatti Type 39’

Christian Lautenschlager descending the ‘le piege de la mort’ switchback, Mercedes 18/100 HP (4.48 litre straight-four), first in the July 1914 French Grand Prix run over a 752 km road course in a little over 7 hours 8 minutes.

Mark suggested I write something on ten of the more interesting cars I have had the privilege of driving. (Car 2 I have only been a passenger in, but it is included here because of its relevance to Car 1). This could be a challenge for others to produce their lists. Although I have had extensive experience of a few of the cars, the majority are more an exercise in name dropping. Here goes in approximate date of manufacture order:

1. 1914 Grand Prix Mercedes

Yes, I have driven Lautenschlager’s winning car (above).

In 1974 I went to Lyon for a memorable dual celebration of 60 years since Mercedes won the Grand Prix de l’ACF at this venue, coupled with 50 years since the debut of the Type 35 Grand Prix Bugatti on the same circuit. (Incidentally, the latter was the inspiration for my proposal that we similarly celebrate 50 years of the AGP at Phillip Island in 1978).

To cut to the chase; I had a Rosé infused lunch sitting opposite Phillip Mann, the then custodian of the 1914 winning Mercedes. He proposed I ride with him in the afternoon, and handed me the wheel for the last couple of hours.

What a car; a low first gear to cope with starting and the ‘fourche’ at Les Sept Chemin and then three close and high ratios to follow. Quick and light; two-wheel brakes did not seem to be a problem, and when Phillip said, “Bob, if you used third gear more, you would not use the brakes so much” (‘code for have a go’), the car came alive.

As we followed a road that swept beside the twists and turns of the Loire, there were ample opportunities to extend it in third and then into top, which was only a smidge higher ratio. Road holding and steering were what one would expect from a car that had won one of the greatest races of all time. The 750 km. race had taken just over 7hrs – heroes all, those Belle Epoque drivers.

A short piece on the 1914 French GP; https://primotipo.com/2017/05/01/1914-french-grand-prix/

 

Arthur Duray in the 4.44 litre straight-4 Delage Type S before the off. #9 is Paul Bablot (unattributed)

2.1914 Grand Prix Delage

I am also privileged to have had a couple of rides as passenger in the wonderful Murdoch family Delage, Type S, that raced with the Mercedes at Lyon.

Twin OHC, desmodromic valves, four valves per cylinder, four-wheel brakes, five speed gear box with direct drive on third (two overdrives), and all this in 1914. Usually known as the ‘Indianapolis Delage’, this is a much more sophisticated bit of kit than the Mercedes, but it was not to win that mythic race.

Like the Mercedes, it was designed for the circuit; again a lowish first gear and then a bunch of higher ratios, one for each piece of this track that varied from the aforementioned hairpin to  right angle bends through the town of Givors and then a long fourteen km. straight back to Sept Chemin, necessitating the high gearing of these cars.

The weight limit for this race was 1100 kg’s and with 4 1/2 litres of sophisticated racing engine to propel them, these cars, for their day, had super-car performance with a maximum speed of close to 170kph. Even today this 104-year-old car can hold its own with modern traffic.

Delage were out of luck; two of their three team cars were said to have had valve adjustment issues with their complicated desmodromic valve gear and the third car of veteran Arthur Duray was delayed after running near the front of the race and could only manage eighth place, over 40 minutes after the winning Mercedes.

Regardless of the result, of the two cars, I think the Delage would be my choice based on its sophistication, not to mention its booming exhaust.

 

The Sunbeam team cars lined up at Strasbourg before the start of the 1922 French GP- #9 Jean Chassagne, #16 Kenelm Lee Guinness and #21 Henry Segrave (Selou)

3.1922 Grand Prix Sunbeam

Four of these Ernst Henri designed cars were at Strasbourg for the 1922 Grand Prix de l’ACF.

The three racing cars broke down with valve trouble through over-revving attributed to low reading rev-counters and the practice car suffered an engine fire before the race. Not an auspicious debut.

This was another epic race over 803kms of public roads won by Felice Nazzaro at an average speed of close to 130kph – these 2 litre cars were not slow.

By December 1925 Jean Chassange’s car was competing at Maroubra in the hands of Hope Bartlett. The car is now in a restored condition in Queensland.

The Sunbeam I drove was imported to Australia in 1984 by Tim Hewison, and it was during his custodianship that I drove it. Having had some experience of the often-underrated vintage touring Sunbeams, I found that the GP car had all the same attributes of light and precise controls – a delight to drive.

Although of only two litres, its twin overhead camshaft engine, coupled with a light racing body, gave it a satisfyingly brisk performance. With direct but light steering, powerful brakes and a delightful gear-change, this would have been a wonderful road-car and an exciting racing car.

My drive was limited to a quick squirt up and down the Flinders-Mornington Road. Unfortunately, the car was only in Australia for a short time and I never had the opportunity to take it for a serious drive.

Hope Bartlett’s GP Sunbeam shortly after its arrival in Australia, Sydney 1925 (H Bartlett Collection)

 

Bugatti T32 ‘Tanks’during the 1923 French GP weekend at Tours. #18 Prince de Cystria, #16 Pierre Marco and #11 Pierre de Vizcaya. Segrave’s Sunbeam won, the best placed T32 was Ernest Friderich’s in third place (unattributed)

4.1923 Grand Prix Type 32 Bugatti Tank replica

After a satisfactory 1922 Strasbourg GP, with second, third and fifth placings, hopes must have been high at Molsheim for these innovative cars in the 1923 Grand Prix de l’ACF at Tours.

The triangular layout with three long straights had focused Bugattis mind on streamlining, and with only three corners per lap, he was happy to make do with a three-speed gear box, albeit in a trans-axle configuration.

Disappointingly, they could manage no better than third place in yet another marathon event; Henry Segrave’s winning Sunbeam averaged 123 kph for the 800kms. Of the team of five cars one was reconstructed around remaining parts and is now in Italy. Another unmolested example is in the Cité de l’Automobile (Schlumph) museum in France.

Noted Bugatti enthusiast Bob Sutherland was given unrestricted access to the Schlumph car which enabled him to construct a ‘tool-room’ copy, apart from a three main bearing crankshaft; the full roller bearing crankshaft of the team cars was only revealed in more recent times when the Italian car was restored.

Bob Sutherland entrusted me to race his car at three Australian historic meetings – Winton, Sandown and Phillip Island.

The Tank lost in the wide open spaces of Winton (B King Collection)

 

Tank office, the magneto is on the back of the engine, so the driver sits right amongst the machinery (B King)

Legend had it that these cars were evil handling because of their 3 metre wheel-base coupled with aerodynamic lift engendered by their ground-hugging, enveloping bodywork.  I can categorically say that the rumours were not true; the car was a delight to buzz through bends and there was no sign of lift at 100 mph.

On the flip side, the car was tricky to drive with the gear change to the trans-axle and the lever for the rear wheel brakes being operated by the left hand, while the right foot was busy being a human balance-bar operating the front wheel brakes as well as an almost inaccessible throttle pedal courtesy of the tight packaging of the straight eight engine which intruded into the cockpit. (Braking was not a priority at Tours with only three corners per 23 Km lap).

Once you got your head around the complicated controls, it was a delight to drive, just like any other Bugatti; and fast enough to pass an Alvis 4.3 litre racing car and a Gypsy Moth engined car down the main straight at Phillip Island. In the absence of a rev-counter and in deference to the three main bearing crankshaft fitted to this car, it was thought necessary to lift off well before turn one. Ettore Bugatti must have had sufficient confidence in his new 5 main bearing ball and roller crankshaft to deem a rev counter unnecessary.

A quickie; https://primotipo.com/?s=1923+french+grand+prix

Bugatti T39 #4607 at Stag Corner during the 1985 AGP meeting (B King Collection)

5.1925 Grand Prix Bugatti Type 39

Of Bugattis I have owned, I chose this one as the most delightful to drive.

The Type 39 was the 1 ½ litre variant of the straight eight GP Bugatti – more normally 2 or 2.3 litre. The Type 39 was designed for competition in the Voiturette races in 1925, but initially appeared in the Grand Prix de Tourisme with skimpy touring bodies which barely complied with the rules (and probably not the spirit of the competition).

After the 1000Km touring car race at Montlhery they were rebodied with the familiar GP bodywork and then sent to Italy for the 1925 Italian Grand Prix des Voiturettes. The five team cars were successful in both endeavours.

Remarkably two of the team cars were competing at Maroubra by June 1926, where they met with limited success, being too high geared for the track. However, my car, chassis No. 4607, won the 1931 Australian Grand Prix with Carl Junker at the wheel.

After several blow-ups, the engine was replaced with a Ford V8 in which form it went on to even more fame as the Day Special, driven by Jack Day and then Gelignite Jack Murray. Many years on I was able to restore it using the engine from its sister car.

The car had all the usual attributes of GP Bugatti, as one would expect, with razor sharp steering, a ‘knife through butter’ gear box and powerful brakes. All this was complemented by precise, delicate, handling on beaded edge tyres and an engine that loved to rev courtesy of its short stroke roller bearing crankshaft (60×66 mm). Carl Junker used 7,000 revs through the gears in winning the 200-mile AGP at Phillip Island; almost unheard-of engine speeds for those days. His average speed was 110kph on the rough and dusty roads of Phillip Island.

A bit about the ‘Day Special Ford V8’ aka this Type 39 is here; https://primotipo.com/2018/11/08/the-spook-the-baron-and-the-1938-south-australian-gp-lobethal/

The Type 39 #4607 shortly after its arrival in Australia- here at Maroubra, Sydney note the elaborate scoreboard and banked track in the background (B King Collection)

 

Type 40 not long after restoration, outside David Mize’s barn in Vermont. The Indo-chine number plate was useful to fuzz the Fuzz (A Rheault)

6.1928 Type 40 Bugatti touring car

Why are Bugattis always so maligned? Is it envy or a dearth of experience of these cars, or is it easy to make fun of some of their antediluvian features?

Of all Bugattis, the Type 40 has suffered the most slings and arrows. Usually passed off as the ‘Molsheim Morris Cowley’, it is a humble car with its 1500cc engine usually burdened with a none-too-light four-seater body. However, it maintains all the usual characteristics that make Bugattis a pleasure to drive, and has a cruising speed half as much again as the maximum speed of the aforementioned Morris.

David Mize was employed by the State Department of the US Government in Vietnam and was able to liberate this original factory bodied Grand Sport Type 40 which he found in the killing fields.

Following light restoration, the Type 40 saw active service on numerous International Bugatti Rallies from the mid-nineties. He and the car visited Italy, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, England, Scotland, Corsica, Sardinia, Tunisia and Australia, including Tasmania. In Europe it was driven to and from events, usually with the writer at the wheel.

Although outpaced by its more sporting brethren in a straight line, it could usually keep pace with them on twisty roads; so long as the roads did not go up-hill. An epic cross USA adventure came to a premature end when the output shaft of the gear box fractured at a point where an unfortunate modification had been made.

In all, David and I did more than 40,000 kms in the car, but this was the first time that it did not get us home. My last drive was as memorable as my first, from Provence to Luxembourg in 2015; David sadly died in 2018, aged 90, but the car remains on active service with his close friends.

The author enters the car while David Mize makes space in the narrow (and svelte) body, Corsica, 2007 (B King)

 

Ron Reid in the Sulman Singer chases Colin Bond, Lynx Peugeot s/c at Oran Park 1967 (oldracephotos.com)

7.1935 Sulman Singer

This car might seem a little out of place in this exalted company, but it is included because of its unique place in Australian motoring history.

It was my fortunate lot to be invited to drive this remarkable car at Wakefield Park at an ‘All Historic’ meeting in 2013, through the generosity of Malcolm and David Reid.

This was a car with which I had had many memorable dices in my Anzani Bugatti when it was raced by its long-term custodian, Ron, the Reid boy’s father. Ron mostly had the upper-hand, particularly if he was using a hot motor; if he had a ‘cooking’ motor, then we had great dices.

Singer Le Mans power in a light weight chassis added up to a spritely performance – sufficient for me to pass the ex-Osborne 18 l Hispano-Delage at Wakefield, definitely a case of David and Goliath. Unfortunately, my drive was curtailed by rattles in the engine – the crankshaft had broken at only 4,000 revs. Not to worry said the Reid boys, ‘that was our $10 motor fitted 10 years ago which was about to be replaced anyway’.

Tom Sulman had built the car while living in England and had many successes with it in the pioneering days of speedway in England before repatriating himself and the car to Australia post-war. Tom achieved a memorable 5th place in the 1947 AGP at Bathurst. Raced by two generations of Reids, the Sulman has probably had more starts in Australian Historic Races than any other car.

See here for a feature on Tom Sulman and his cars; https://primotipo.com/?s=sulman+singer

Mal Reid in the Sulman Singer passes George Hetrel’s Bugatti Type 35C at Phillip Island (FB)

 

‘Nash in England is the car sitting outside the factory in Isleworth on the day the first owner took delivery (G Bain)

8.1934 Frazer Nash TT Replica

Interestingly, in the Australian context, the first owner of this car was mystery man AG Sinclair. However, Sinclair had nothing to do with this car’s arrival in New Zealand in 1936; he had already sold it.

In New Zealand this extensively raced car went through numerous incarnations as a special before being bought by Gavin Bain in 1976 in restored condition, now fitted with a 6 Cylinder 2 litre ohc AC motor in place of the original 4ED Meadows.

In 1984 Gavin invited me to drive it in Dunedin in a hill climb (Bethune’s Gully) and in road races. The road race was a true ‘round the houses’ affair on the historic Wharf Circuit made famous by Peter Whitehead and Tony Gaze in their Ferraris. Tony later told me that part of the circuit was rough gravel in their day – fortunately it was all bitumen by 1984.

Characteristically, Frazer Nashs are defined by the way they ‘hang the tail out’ when cornering. No matter how hard I tried, this car tracked true, possibly because of the extra two cylinders ‘up-front’ altering the weight distribution. What-ever, it was great fun to drive with its rapid gear change courtesy off the chain drive transmission and its direct steering. And I was hooked on around the houses racing; just like the Ards TTs, except that the left-right flick past the butcher’s shop in Comber was replaced by a plumbing supply company in Dunedin.

The author lines up on the front row of the grid, Dunedin Wharf Circuit 1984. Definitely round the houses (G Bain)

 

The Ferrari 212 when owned by Nino Sacilotto (M Bunyan)

9.1951 Ferrari Type 212 Export Berlinetta Chassis ‘212 0112E’

This fabulous car competed in the Mille Miglia with its original owner, Count Guerino Gerini, having already been uprated to 2.7l, Type 225 specifications.

By 1956 it was in Sydney with Nino Sacilotto, a textile agent and the Italian Consul; he also had a smart Italian restaurant in Kings Cross, where I met zabaglione for the first time. Nino drove it to Melbourne for the 1956 Australian Tourist Trophy at Albert Park. By 1959 it was with Adelaide engineer Harold Clisby who undertook an extensive mechanical rebuild after the crankshaft broke on his delivery drive.

In the sixties it was owned by Ian Ferguson, and I had the opportunity to drive it for several laps at Winton on an early Australian Ferrari Register track day. Ian and I were both Bugatti owners, and I likened it to driving a Grand Prix Bugatti with a roof. Like the Bugatti, one’s left knee rested on the gear box (5 speed with dog engagement); also housed under the unlined aluminium roof was a howling 2.7 l, 12-cylinder engine. Motoring heaven.

One quickly appreciated Sacilotto’s description of the ordeal of driving it from Sydney to Melbourne: “I started out with a full bottle of scotch wedged between the seats; by the time I got to Melbourne, the bottle was empty”.

At a later date I had a number of rides in New Zealand in Phipps and Amanda Rinaldo’s Type 166 Inter Coupe (Chassis 007 – the earliest road registered Ferrari). The contrast was stark. This car with a 2l engine and the usual interior creature comforts was civilized; sure, you could enjoy the whirring 12 cylinders, but there was none of the cacophony of the later racing car – Sydney to Melbourne would have been a pleasure; even without the whisky.

 

The 375 MM back ‘home’ in Modena (G Bain)

10.1953 Ferrari 375 MM Chassis ‘MM 0370AM’

Again, through the good offices my friend Gavin Bain, I had the opportunity to drive this beast in practice at an All Historic Amaroo meeting – we swapped drives, he drove my Bugatti.

Gavin had replaced his Grand Prix Ferrari 375 F1 with this car which had won the Buenos Aires 1000km in 1954 when driven by Umberto Maglioli and Giuseppe Farina. The fabulous Pininfarina body on it was draped over a bellowing 4.5l, 12-cylinder engine, matched to a close ratio gear box.

Gavin warned me that it had a high first gear and that the clutch was ‘in or out’ and therefore you needed to give it a few revs to get moving. I did just that and went wheel spinning up Bitupave Hill. Wow, how good is this? Real power. I drove it for about 12 laps and cautiously sped up.

By the end of my stint I felt that if I could drive it for week, I just might be able to drive it at racing speeds, but I was well aware of my limitations and felt that I could never be drifting it through corners with only inches separating me from my competitors – I was never going to be a Maglioli or a Farina.

Somewhere in Italy (G Bain)

Epilogue.

Reg Nutt, who as a young fella was riding mechanic to Carl Junker in the winning Bugatti Type 39 in the 1931 AGP, told me that he had raced 27 cars, but had never owned a racing car – an enviable record. I guess I have been lucky to have had, mostly brief, acquaintance with some pretty remarkable cars.

Photo Credits…

Bob King/Collection, Gavin Bain/Collection, Merv Bunyan Collection, Lynton Hemer, A Rheault, Selou, Hope Bartlett Collection

Etcetera…

(G Bain)

Frazer Nash being worked on at Dunedin in 1984 an below in Gavin Bain’s New Zealand yard.

(G Bain)

Finito….