Bugatti T55 SuperSport,
Lot 147
1932 Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport Roadster 55208
Sold for €2,097,500 (US$ 2,562,935) inc. premium

Lot Details
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1932 Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport Roadster
Chassis no. 55208
Engine no. 12
By the early 1930s Ettore Bugatti had established an unrivalled reputation for building cars with outstanding performance on road or track; the world’s greatest racing drivers enjoying countless successes aboard the Molsheim factory’s products and often choosing them for their everyday transport. In 1927 Bugatti had produced the Type 43 Grand Sport - the first 100mph Grand Prix-engined sporting chassis suitable for everyday road use. It was in effect a close-coupled four-seater touring model powered by the supercharged Type 35B Grand Prix engine. Because of its lengthy run of success, Ettore Bugatti remained stubbornly committed to this single-cam engine, only adopting the more advanced double-overhead-camshaft method of valve actuation, after much prompting by his eldest son Jean, on the Type 50 of 1930. From then on Jean Bugatti took greater responsibility for design, his first car being the exquisite Type 55 roadster, a model ranking among the finest sports cars of the 1930s.

The Type 55’s 2,262cc, supercharged, twin-cam, straight-eight engine was carried over in slightly de-tuned form from the successful Type 51 Grand Prix car - successor to the legendary Type 35 - and fitted in the Grand Prix Type 54’s ladder frame chassis. The precocious Jean Bugatti added his own individual touch, designing a sublime two-seat roadster body that is universally acknowledged as one of the finest ever to grace an automobile. Unlike the Type 43, this new model was invariably a two-seater that was often referred to, quite justifiably, as the ‘Super Sport’. Aimed at only the wealthiest clientele, the Type 55 sold in commensurately limited numbers, a mere 38 being built between 1932 and 1935, the vast majority of these in the first year of production. Indeed, it truly was the ultimate exclusive supercar of the early 1930s. Even its closest rival, the 8C Alfa Romeo, was produced in far greater numbers, the majority of which were in long-chassis form and often fitted with four-seater coachwork. In contrast, almost half of the 38 Type 55 Bugattis built were fitted with Jean Bugatti-designed roadster or closed coupé coachwork, the classic roadster being considered by many cognoscenti to be by far the most outstandingly attractive sports car ever offered to the motoring public.

Chassis number ‘55208’, fitted with engine number ‘12’, was completed in chassis form in February 1932 before being invoiced by the factory on 14th April 1932 for delivery to their Parisian agent Dominique Lamberjack. Priced at 72,500 francs, it was one of five Type 55 chassis delivered to Lamberjack. According to the factory records it was fitted with ‘Roadster Luxe’ coachwork executed presumably either by the factory or by their close associates Gangloff of Colmar, no doubt to the order of its original owner who is thought to have been the French amateur racing driver Charles Brunet.

A photograph of the newly delivered car, surrounded evidently by members of the Brunet family, shows it with the temporary registration number ‘4954 W12’. The next record of the car is when it took part in the 1934 Le Mans 24-Hour race, entered by Brunet who shared the driving with Freddie Zehender. Allocated race No. 14, the Bugatti was running in a strong 5th place when, on its 75th lap at around midnight, it spun out of contention when avoiding a crashed competitor. A photograph of the car with No. 14 on its door and Brunet at the wheel before the start shows that it had been fitted with leather bonnet straps for the event but was otherwise unchanged in appearance. A later photograph of the car in Hugh Conway’s Bugatti book shows it with the temporary registration number ‘4452 W12’ and still with the bonnet straps and race No. 14 on its radiator core.

Over the next few years the car’s history becomes less clear. It was reportedly left standing in Monaco for a long period, possibly throughout the war years, before being acquired by a Frenchman named Pijer living near Lyon. A photograph of the car on file during that period shows it fitted with completely different wings with built-in headlights. It was then registered with the number ‘2178 AB5’, which was issued circa April 1949 in the Ain region of France to the north east of Lyon. In the late 1950s the car was taken to Nice for restoration by Riviera Bugatti agent, Friderich, who was at the time also restoring Type 55, chassis number ‘55218’, a Jean Bugatti roadster. During the restoration it was decided to unite the more attractive and better condition body of ‘55218’ with the wonderfully original and complete chassis of this car, and a straight switch of coachwork was performed. ‘55218’ eventually sold to the Schlumpf Collection where it remains in this form to this day.

In 1960 ‘55208’ sold via Baer in Switzerland to Edward Gilmour, of New York who overhauled the engine, fitting a new cylinder block and pistons. Then, in 1980, it passed to renowned Bugatti collector Bill Serri Jnr, of New Jersey. ‘55208’ retains its original major components, including the front axle, engine, gearbox and rear axle, all of which are numbered ‘12’. The roadster coachwork is numbered ‘27’ inside one bonnet panel, so matching the original engine number of the car from which it was taken almost 50 years ago. Likewise ‘55208’ retains just about all its other original parts including the radiator, road wheels, instruments and electrical equipment.

The Type 55 was in presentable overall condition, although a non-runner, when acquired by the current owner at the Rétromobile Sale in Paris in 2003 (Lot 51). Since then it has been treated to a no-expense-spared full mechanical rebuild by renowned marque specialists Novo Restauration Automobile (Frederic and Jean Novo) of Marolles en Hurepoix, France and comes with all the relevant invoices. Presented in perfect running order yet still retaining its delightful patina of age, ‘55208’ offers the unbeatable combination of a complete set of authentic running gear allied to an original example of what is generally acknowledged as the most desirable coachwork ever fitted to this rare and highly sought after model.




Le châssis « 55208 » équipé du moteur n° 12 fut achevé en châssis en février 1932 et facturé 72 500 F le 14 avril avant sa livraison à l’agent parisien Dominique Lamberjack qui vendit au total cinq Type 55. Selon les archives de l’usine, la voiture fut habillée d’une carrosserie de « Roadster Luxe » exécutée probablement par l’usine ou par son carrossier habituel Gangloff de Colmar, sans doute sur commande de l’acheteur qui serait le pilote amateur français Charles Brunet.

Une photo de la voiture récemment livrée entourée par la famille Brunet la montre avec son immatriculation provisoire « 4954 W 12 ». La voiture apparaît ensuite aux 24 Heures du Mans 1934 aux mains de Brunet et de Freddie Zehender sous le n° de course 14. Alors en 5e position, elle partit en tête-à-queue vers minuit quand son pilote tenta d’éviter un concurrent accidenté. Une photo montre la voiture équipée de courroies de capot en cuir, mais par ailleurs conforme à l’origine. Une photo ultérieure de la voiture dans le livre Bugatti de Conway la montre avec une immatriculation provisoire « 4452 W 12 », des courroies de capot et le numéro 14 peint sur le faisceau du radiateur.

L’histoire de la voiture devient ensuite moins claire. Elle serait restée à Monaco pendant les années de guerre avant d’être acquise par le Français Pijer résidant près de Lyon. Une photo d’époque la montre avec des ailes très différentes et des phares intégrés. Elle fut alors immatriculée « 2178 AB5 » (vers avril 1949) dans le département de l’Ain. A la fin des années 1950, la voiture fut emmenée à Nice pour y être restaurée par l’agent Bugatti de Nice, Friderich qu, à l’époque, restaurait aussi le châssis Type 55
n° 55218, un roadster Jean Bugatti. Lors de ces travaux, il fut décidé d’installer la caisse plus belle et en meilleur état de « 55218 »
sur le châssis absolument d’origine et complet de cette voiture et les carrosseries furent échangées. « 55218 » fut par la suite vendue à la Collection Schlumpf dans laquelle elle figure aujourd’hui.

En 1960, « 55208 » fut vendue à Edward Gilmour de New York qui refit le moteur avec un bloc et des pistons neufs. En 1980, elle passa aux mains du collectionneur Bill Serri Jr. du New Jersey. « 55208 » a conservé ses principaux composants d’origine : essieu avant, moteur, boîte et pont arrière portant tous le numéro d’origine « 12 ». La carrosserie roadster porte le numéro 27 frappé sous un volet de capot, numéro correspondant à celui du moteur de la voiture dont la caisse fut reprise il y près de 50 ans. De même,
« 55208 » a aussi conservé ses autres pièces d’origine : radiateur, roues, instruments de bord et équipement électrique.

Cette Bugatti Type 55 était dans un état général présentable, quoique non roulante, lors de son acquisition à la vente de Rétromobile à Paris en 2003 (Lot 51). Elle a depuis bénéficié d’une reconstruction mécanique sans limite de prix par les réputés spécialistes de la marque Novo Restauration Automobile (Frédéric et Jean Novo) de Marolles (France) et elle est accompagnée des factures relatives à ces travaux.
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