The Bugatti Factory Team Car Voiture Moteur No.3
1933 Bugatti Type 59 Supercharged 3.3 litre Grand Prix Two Seater
Chassis no. 59121
Engine no. 3
Surely the last in the purest of blood lines of Grand Prix racing cars, commencing with the Type 35 Bugatti, the exquisitely engineered Type 59 Bugatti was the final development of this remarkable genre and arguably marked the moment in Grand Prix car design when art was superseded by science. Bugattis final foray as a team entrant in Grand Prix racing was with the Type 59, considered in its day and even now as the most elegant pre-war racing car ever. The Type 57 engine was the basis of the design of the power plant, initially in 2.8 litre form (72 x 88mm), with twin camshafts, dry sump lubrication and a lightened crankshaft. The supercharged unit was said to develop some 230bhp. This power plant was mounted in what was effectively a shortened version of the Type 54 chassis, with wheelbase and track wider and longer than the Type 35 variety. Power was transmitted through a multi-plate clutch to a double reduction type rear axle. Suspension was pure Bugatti with reversed quarter elliptic leaf rear springs, mounted in parallel as proven on the Type 54. Traditionally Bugatti favoured the two-seater Grand Prix concept and the 59 was no exception, Le Patrons fine eye for line resulting in the most exceptional styling and proportions, so exquisitely complemented by the superbly engineered piano wire spoke wheels.
The first three Type 59 Grand Prix cars appeared in 1933, this car being one of that first batch and referred to in factory records as Voiture Moteur No.3. Achille Varzi was entered to drive a Works car in the 1933 French Grand Prix on 11th June but his car was not ready in time. He drove his car briefly during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa on 9th July but the Teams full debut was to be in the Spanish Grand Prix at San Sebastian on 24th September where Voitures Moteur Nos. 1, 2 and 3 lined up on the grid. The three cars had been road registered by the factory just ten days earlier, No.3 bearing the number 4619 NV2. Varzi drove No.1 to a creditable 4th place while René Dreyfus drove No.3 , bearing Race No.26, to 6th position a not inauspicious start for this unproved new model.
With the introduction of the 750kg formula for the 1934 racing season, the Type 59s in their original format were overweight and the new cars were modified, their chassis frames having large holes trepanned in their longerons. Factory records note that in February 1934 the chassis frames of the three 1933 cars were changed to meet the requirements of the new formula. In the course of the 1934 season some engines were upgraded to 3.3 litres by fitting the 100mm stroke crankshafts of the newly introduced Type 57.
Bugatti entered four cars for the first major Grand Prix of the 1934 season at Monaco in April, including the three modified 1933 cars, at that stage still in 2.8 litre form, and a 1934 car. No.3 was allocated to veteran driver Robert Benoist who set the pace in practice, equalling what was destined to become the fastest lap of the race. His over-exuberance resulted in a practice accident which precluded his drive on race day.
No.3 returned to the factory where accident damage was repaired and the car was retained, presumably as a spare car, but never campaigned again as part of the Works Team. In March/April 1935 No.3 was one of four Type 59s - the others were Voitures Moteur Nos.1, 6 and 7 - prepared for sale to a quartet of British amateur racing drivers. No.3 was at that stage up-rated to 3.3 litres.
The four English amateur drivers were Brian Lewis, Earl Howe, Lindsay Eccles and C.E.C. Charlie Martin, who was allocated No.3. At that stage the car was given Chassis No.59121. These were the only four Type 59s to be sold to private buyers, Charlie Martin paying FF220k for No.3.
Martin had begun his motor racing career in 1932, soon graduating from an Austin Ulster to a Type 37 Bugatti and in 1934 had raced the ex-Keiller Type 35 Bugatti. His quest for more speed took him, with his friend Charles Brackenbury, to Mercedes-Benz where he was refused a car and to Auto Union where a 16-cylinder car was available, but at an unacceptably high price. The Type 59 offered to him at Molsheim fitted the bill and early delivery was promised. In April 1935 he flew to Molsheim with Richard Shuttleworth in his Dessouter monoplane, took delivery of No.3 and drove it back to London. The car was liveried in British Racing Green and, although campaigned with mixed fortunes early in the 1935 season, Martin and No.3 settled into a useful partnership, finishing 3rd in the Donington Grand Prix on 5th October, co-driven by Charles Brackenbury, robbed of a most likely win and the £1,000 first prize by a late spin. He finished 2nd in the First Mountain Handicap at Brooklands later that month and in its final race at Brooklands that year No.3 set a remarkable lap of the Mountain Circuit at 79.47mph, being awarded a Brooklands Certificate for this performance. Summarising an initially troubled 1935 season, Martin recalled that she was magnificent to handle and a joy to drive when running properly.
Martin acquired the ex-Raymond Sommer Tipo B Alfa-Romeo for the 1936 season, selling No.3 to a youthful Duke of Grafton who entered the car in the Limerick Grand Prix that year. Grafton was just 22 years old and a newly qualified Cambridge graduate. The purchase price is recorded as £1,000. His racing experience was limited to a few events at the wheel of a Squire early in 1936, however on 3rd August he entered his first race in No.3, the Limerick Grand Prix. A combination of a damp track, Graftons inexperience with this car and the pressure of leading a small group of cars on the first lap led to the loss of control, No.3 striking a convent wall, the resulting split fuel tank engulfing the car in flames. The young Duke sustained burn injuries from which he was not to recover.
No.3 passed from the Grafton family, via their chauffeur, to Bugatti specialist and garage proprietor, Arthur Baron of Dorking. Baron rebuilt the damaged car and, planning to use the car in sprints, he, or more accurately his mechanic brother Leonard, dispensed with the original gearbox, (the Achilles heel of the model), in favour of an ENV 150 pre-selector unit. A slightly deeper and shorter pointed tail were fitted and the car liveried in a shade of deep purple. Baron actively campaigned No.3 with some success in no less than 17 speed events from 1937 to 1939, notable results being achieved at the Bugatti Owners Club Lewes meeting in September 1937, achieving FTD, 1st in Class at BOC Prescott in May 1939 and 1st in a Bank Holiday Mountain Handicap Race at Brooklands on 7th August 1939.
No.3 was sold during the war to John Gaul of Dorking from whom it was purchased by George Abecassis in the summer of 1946. He fitted wings to the car and ran the car on the road. Following a successful Cambridge University Automobile Club Meeting at Gransden Lodge on 15th June 1946, in which Abecassis achieved one 1st and one 2nd place, the car was sold to George Sleight, but then almost immediately bought back by Abecassis who campaigned the car further in 1946. In the 1947 season Abecassis fielded the car on nine occasions including a determined assault on the British Hill Climb Championship. During Abecassiss ownership, Kenneth Bear, a founder member of the Bugatti Owners Club, achieved FTD at Val des Terres in Guernsey on 26th July. At the end of an outstandingly successful 1947 season, in which Abecassis was eventually placed 2nd, behind the unassailable Raymond Mays in ERA R4D, Bear bought No.3 from Abecassis. The car continued its remarkable competition history through 1948 with FTDs at Prescott, BoNess and Shelsley Walsh, the Bear/No.3 partnership lamentably coming to an end in Jersey in April 1949.
No.3 has been in the present ownership for 56 years, careful restoration taking place through the 1960s, 70s and early 1980s, the chassis frame being straightened, a new cylinder block fitted and the car returned to its original supercharged form. (It had been modified in 1948 to run unblown on four Zenith carburettors, in conformity with the then Grand Prix formula). The ENV gearbox was retained, recognising the competitive edge that this would give the car. The work was completed in 1982 and No.3 appeared very occasionally at selected events over the next decade or so, notably at the Type 59 Reunion at Prescott in 1993. Its owner recalls, with a twinkle in his eye, various high speed dawn runs around the Buckinghamshire lanes, the car then being road equipped with cycle wings and fitted with a 3-gallon sprint fuel tank. No.3 made its last public appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the 1990s, at which point it was in running condition, but since that time has been unused. The engine is known to be stuck with standing, the propshaft has been removed for ease of moving, and the usual careful recommissioning will be required.
The list of contemporary drivers of Type 59s reads like a Whos Who of 1930s motor sport, including Wimille, Nuvolari, Dreyfus, Brivio, Benoist, Eccles, Lewis, Howe, Martin and Lemon Burton. The list of current and recent owners of Type 59s embraces the worlds most erudite collectors and drivers including amongst others Ferranti, Carr, Roberts, Millais and Corner. Ralph Lauren, current owner of No.1, interviewed in Classic & Sports Car in March 2005, perhaps summed up the Type 59 best describing it as designed totally from an aesthetic point of view... every detail is like a fine watch. Its so refined, its elegant, fast and very beautiful.
No.3, with its almost unrivalled continuous competition history from 1933 to 1949, emerges on the World stage from 56 years in the twilight.