One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76

This lot has been removed from the website, please contact customer services for more information

Lot 727
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis
The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini
, 1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater
Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76

Sold for US$ 1,175,000 inc. premium
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis
The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini

1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater
Chassis no. 4802
Engine no. 76
The extraordinary stature of the dual-purpose two-seater grand prix designs of the legendary Ettore Bugatti is unchallenged.

Thoughtfully conceived and built in a multi-version family of ‘look alike’ models powered by a range of diversely-targeted engines, no other contemporary manufacturer conceived such a creative model scheme.

The works team deployed by the world-famous Molsheim factory represented the crème de la crème during Bugatti’s heyday in the 1920s. These cars established the halo under which Mr. Bugatti developed ingenious variations upon the basic high-performance theme to encourage enthusiastic private owners to step up to his sales counter and invest in Le Pur Sang - ‘The Pure Bloodline’. It is the works cars, driven by Bugatti’s greatest drivers, upon which the Bugatti legend is based.

Without doubt, it was in 1926 that Ettore Bugatti truly found his feet as a high-performance motor car manufacturer of International stature. With the Type 39A he produced a car with a supercharger which really worked and which had given little if any teething trouble. The 1926-27 Grand Prix Formula demanded cars of no more than 1500cc with a minimum weight of 600 kilograms, 50kg less than the limit connected with the 2 liter Grand prix category of 1924-25. Riding mechanics were not required, and covers were permitted for the unoccupied second seat!

Bugatti modified its successful and highly reliable Type 35 straight-8 cylinder engine design to match this new capacity limit. To achieve maximum horsepower and torque these 1 1/2 liter engines were now supercharged, the first time a grand prix Bugatti employed forced induction. This smaller-engined but now ‘blown’ Type 35-derived model emerged from the Molsheim factory as the Type 39A, as offered here.

The catalogued bore and stroke dimensions of the Type 39A was 60mm x 66mmm that was achieved by the adoption of a shorter-throw crankshaft. Yet there is also strong evidence that the earliest 39As actually retained an unchanged ‘2 liter’ stroke crankshaft with the reduced bore of 52mm to match the new Formula limit. In fact Bugatti produced three alternative crankshafts for 1926 with stroke lengths of 66mm, 88mm and 100mm, and with cylinder blocks of either 51.3mm, 52 or 60mm bore he could easily assemble an entire family of 8-cylinder engines displacing from 1100cc to 1500, 2000 and 2300 – all with the option of being supercharged or unsupercharged.

His superchargers were designed for him by the prominent Italian engineer Edmond Moglia. Bugatti sent a team of three works cars to the early-season 1926 Targa Florio race in Sicily, at the end of April. These were equipped with 2.3-liter engines and were known as the Bugatti Type 35T (for ‘Targa’). When later supercharged these became the Type 35TC (‘compresseur’). In Sicily the celebratedly superior road-holding, braking and steering of the Bugattis enabled them to beat the faster factory Talbots. The great race was won by ‘Meo Costantini with team-mates ‘Nando Minoia and Jules Goux second and third – a legendary Bugatti 1-2-3.

Three special Bugattis were then entered for the Grand Prix d’Alsace, run for 1100cc ‘voiturettes’ on the old 1922 Grand Prix circuit on public roads outside Strasbourg. Two were Bugatti Type 36 single-seaters and the third team car a normal-looking two-seater. All used 1092cc engines fitted with Moglia-designed superchargers. This marked the first appearance of supercharged Bugattis in any significant event. Aperitif heir André Dubonnet won in his two-seater followed by the Italian Count Aymo Maggi and Bugatti’s banker, Pierre de Vizcaya. Nothing like keeping the money man happy!

The 1926 Bugatti Type 39A offered here – chassis serial ‘4802’ – began life as the first of three sequentially-numbered 1,493cc supercharged two-seat cars built for the Bugatti factory’s participation in the new 1 1/2 liter 1926 Grand Prix Formula that contested the major Grand Prix races of the 1926 season. His own design supercharger, based upon the Moglia prototype, was fitted to his three entries for this full Grand Prix Formula event. The radiator was moved forward slightly to provide space for the blower drive, while a tell-tale feature was provision of a round hole in the right-side of the engine hood adjacent to the manifold relief valve blow-off port. Driven by Mr. Bugatti’s friend and agent Bartolomeo ‘Meo’ Costantini, ‘4802’ finished second to Jules Goux’s similar Type 39A in the season’s inaugural event, the French GP on June 27 on the Miramas circuit near Marseilles in the deep south of France. The race was wrecked as only Bugatti reported for duty, sportingly running a walkover race for his drivers Costantini, Goux and de Vizcaya. Goux won from Costantini – the only two finishers…

The next event, the European Grand Prix at San Sebastian, Spain on July 18 was run in blistering hot temperatures covered no fewer than 780 kilometers on the Lasarte public road circuit outside the city of San Sebastian in the Basque country of Spain. This marked the debut of the catalogued Type 39A models, once more supercharged, and confronted this time by three new Delage straight-8s. The Bugatti team composed of Goux, Costantini and Ferdinando Minoia in the three Type 39As now faced formidable competition from the 8-cylinder, dual overhead camshaft, supercharged Delages. A design oversight, locating the superheated exhaust pipes close to the driver, cost the Delages the race. Goux led until the finish after some 7 hours racing, and averaging 105.4km/h. The Bourlier/Seneschal Delage placed second, with the Costantini and Minoia Type 39As third and fourth. After the race the second-placed Delage was disqualified, elevating Costantini’s car to second place, only for this change to be reversed on subsequent appeal. A few days after this European GP the Spanish Grand Prix was held on the same Lasarte circuit, run to free-Formula rules – Bugatti competing with unsupercharged 2-liter works cars. Costantini won this event, followed by Goux in another Bugatti 1-2.

The Bugatti team did not enter the next race, the British GP at Brooklands on August 7 although the marque was represented by Malcolm Campbell in Type 39A ‘4810’ who finished second to a Delage. The final race in the formal grand prix season was the Italian GP at Monza on September 5. The Bugatti team Type 39As faced no appreciable opposition other than by Maserati. Costantini in ‘4802’, the car offered here, led the majority of the race but as it drew to a close began to suffer engine problems letting French driver Louis Charaval, racing under the pseudonym “Sabipa” in another of the Bugatti factory’s Type 39As, through to take the win from Costantini in ‘4802’ after 4hrs 20mins, having averaged 138.2km/h. This was the first Italian GP not to fall to an Italian car since 1921.

The dominance of the Bugatti Type 39A was evident, with three grand prix wins to one for Delage and one for Miller (in the Indianapolis 500 which counted for the Championship.) The Meo Costantini Type 39A, ‘4802’, took two second places and one third in its four Grand Prix-class races during 1926, in so doing making its own important contribution to the Bugatti marque’s World Championship for manufacturers, the first such championship to be formally organized and recognized. Bugatti became the 1926 Manufacturers’ World Champion marque – thanks to their finely engineered, fast, reliable, nimble, and above all supercharged Type 39A.

For the racing customer with really serious intent, Grand Prix racing versions of the taproot Bugatti Type 35 model topped the company’s price list. The cheerful amateur who fancied an all-purpose mixture of high-performance touring, sports car racing, or ‘Formula’ competition had the options of separate fenders, electrical lighting systems and even – whisper it – weather protection with a full windscreen and fabric hood. Rig your Bugatti with all the above and you could – with just a dash of stamina and determination – rip your way across Europe at staggeringly high average speeds. Arrive at your intended race circuit, strip off fenders, lights and all other extraneous extras, and there you were with an open-wheeled competition car – ready to go road racing in anything up to and including the Grand Prix class.

This versatility – and in period Mr. Bugatti’s success in building and selling so many of this extraordinary family of multi-purpose mouth-waterers – lies at the heart of what has made ‘The Bugatti’ the epochal machine it became for our forefathers, and the immensely collectible, hugely coveted, object of desire it is still today…

Never one to miss a commercial opportunity, Bugatti frequently retired the team’s grand prix cars, replacing them with newer vehicles and getting paid by commercial clients for the aura of the team cars’ competition success. That seems to have been the case with the three 1926-season works Bugatti Type 39As. The engines were subsequently modified to the latest Type 39 specification prior to being offered for sale early in 1927 through the company’s fashionable showrooms in central Paris. ‘4802’, as will be discussed later, may have had its frame replaced as part of the post-season factory refurbishment.

By 1928 – if not earlier – ‘4802’ offered here was in the United States in the ownership of Horace Dodge, Jr. of Detroit, scion of the Dodge motor manufacturing family. Now equipped with a wider “Miramas” style radiator, a larger supercharger with a 185mm long body rather than the original Type 39A 150mm length and an unusually enclosed cockpit scuttle and surround, he entered it in the 1927 Indianapolis 500, but it failed to appear in the great race. A Bugatti Type 39A also was entered in the 1928 500 with Shorty Cantlon scheduled to drive it but once again did not appear. As there is no evidence of any of the other Type 39As coming to the U.S., it is reasonable to assume that both Indy 500 entries were by, or on behalf of, Horace Dodge, Jr.

Since that time this classical and historically very important Bugatti Type 39A survived in a succession of long-term American ownerships. It has been preserved and maintained in sequence by Robert Smith, Chuck Hassan, and then jointly by Bob Fergus and Joel E. Finn.

Eventually it was returned to its native France where it joined the collection of M. Marc Nicolosi, passing subsequently to R. Rouhard before – in 1990 - going to dealer Jacques du Montant. He consigned it to a Parisian auction from which it was acquired by its present American owner, who brought it back into the USA at that time. It has been carefully maintained in his exceptional collection since then, and has participated in a number of important North American events including the Copper State 1000, historic races at Laguna Seca, Loudon and Lime Rock and concours at Loudon, Castle Hill and Pebble Beach.

1926 Bugatti Type 39A chassis ‘4802’ has recently been inspected by internationally-respected Bugatti authority David Sewell. His detailed report is available for perusal by registered bidders, but he notes several intriguing facts.

The first concerns the cockpit scuttle which he found to be original but unusual in that it had been extended back by some 4-inches with an additional panel which also swept around the cockpit, more on the passenger’s side than the driver’s. He judged the tail section to be original other than its front closing panel. The steering column had been lengthened necessarily to maintain clearance from the extended scuttle. A similar cowl modification has been observed on another Bugatti, the Type 35 b which O.A. “Bunny” Phillips – coincidentally? – prepared to race at Indianapolis.

Also noted was the frame number, ‘389’, is higher than he expected. Its 1926 team car sisters, serials ‘4803’ and ‘4804’ – also completed in June 1926 – have frame numbers ‘307’ and ‘228’ respectively. Customer Malcolm Campbell’s Type 39A, serial ‘4810’ completed in July 1926 has frame ‘288’. Nonetheless, the scatter of these Bugatti frame serials is self-evident. This Type 39’s frame number ‘389’ might suggest that ‘4802’ was in fact re-framed by the factory later in 1926. However, even if this did in fact take place, it was surely prior to the car being delivered to Paris for sale in January, 1927.

As the full report specifies, the car as offered here features one of the later 350mm wide parallel-sided ‘Miramas’ radiators introduced during 1927 rather than the intermediate 310mm wide ‘Targa’ style fitted as original in mid-1926. In conjunction with the enlarged supercharger, it seems likely that these modifications were made during preparation to race at Indianapolis in 1928 – or perhaps in 1927 when as as-yet unidentified Type 39A competed there. Mr. Sewell states that by a process of elimination that car “could not have been other” than this Type 39A. Consequently these changes would surely have been made before the car left Europe for the USA – thus, very probably, by none other than the factory itself.

Most significantly, other than the pair of Type 36 1100cc single-seater Bugattis which used very different five-gear supercharger drive casings, the three 1926 Type 39A works team cars – of which ‘4802’ was the earliest-numbered – were the first Bugattis to be supercharged…

This vital historical factor may well explain why the numbers ‘1’ and ‘2’ appear on this very car’s supercharger casing.

Overall, Bugatti Type 39A ‘4802’ offered here retains all its major mechanical components save for its larger radiator and supercharger – both of which are major enhancements. And as for the cachet of having been one of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis ever built, we commend ‘4802’ as a very special example indeed of Le Pur Sang…
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
One of the first three supercharged Grand Prix Bugattis The Ex-works team, Bartolomeo Costantini,1926 Bugatti Type 39A Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. 4802 Engine no. 76
Auction information

This sale is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future sales, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this sale, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations

ALL BIDDERS MUST AGREE THAT THEY HAVE READ AND UNDERSTOOD BONHAMS' CONDITIONS OF SALE AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THEM, AND AGREE TO PAY THE BUYER'S PREMIUM AND ANY OTHER CHARGES MENTIONED IN THE NOTICE TO BIDDERS. THIS AFFECTS THE BIDDERS LEGAL RIGHTS.

If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

Like the vast majority of auctioneers Bonhams charge what is known as a Buyer's Premium. Buyer's Premium on all Automobilia lots will adhere to Bonhams group policy:

25% up to £50,000 of hammer price,
20% from £50,001 to £1,000,000 of hammer price,
and 12% on the balance thereafter. This applies to each lot purchased and is subject to VAT.

For Motor Cars and Motorcycles a 15% Buyer's Premium is payable on the first £50,000 of the final Hammer Price of each Lot, and 12% on any amount by which the Hammer Price exceeds £50,000. VAT at the standard rate is payable on the Premium by all Buyers, unless otherwise stated.

Some lots may be subject to VAT on the Hammer Price. These lots will be clearly marked with the relevant symbol printed beside the lot number in the catalog.

Payment Notices

Payment for purchases may be made in or by (a) cash, (b) cashier's check or money order, (c) personal check with approved credit drawn on a U.S. bank, (d) wire transfer or other immediate bank transfer, or (e) Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover credit, charge or debit card. Please note that the amount of cash notes and cash equivalents that can be accepted from a given purchaser may be limited.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Lot symbols
Exempt from tax

Zero rated for VAT, no VAT will be added to the Hammer Price or the Buyer's Premium.