1929 Bugatti Type 35B Grand Prix
The Type 35B is to many the definitive Bugatti, the Grand Prix car which won perhaps more races than any other pre-war and remains the archetypal 1920s high performance automobile. Given that 80 years and one world war have passed since the heyday of these cars, it’s not surprising that the survival rate for totally genuine examples is relatively low. The ‘bitsa’, a car built up or restored using components (which were interchangeable) from different chassis, is a long-established notion amongst vintage car enthusiasts and in particular Bugattistes. This is such a car, assembled over many years by American Bugatti collector Overton Axton ‘Bunny’ Phillips (1908-1999) but not completed before his death. At the time the car’s frame was believed to come from chassis ‘4776’, a Type 35 delivered in June 1926 to Paris, and it was sold as such during the dispersal of the Phillips collection by Christie’s at their 1999 Pebble Beach auction. Subsequent research by the auction buyer, UK Bugatti historian and author Terry Cardy, suggested however that the frame (numbered ‘636’ by Bugatti’s supplier, therefore of probable 1929 manufacture) had come from chassis ‘4935’, a Type 35B delivered new to racing driver Marcel Lehoux in Algiers in June 1929. This car had been driven by Lehoux in the VII Grand Prix of San Sebastian (3rd), the 1930 Monaco Grand Prix (DNF, rear axle) and the Grand Prix de l’ACF at Pau on 21st September 1930 (DNF, gearbox), by now equipped with twin rear fillers like the latest works cars. Later owners included Sceli (F) and Hamilton Upshur (USA) from whom Phillips is known to have acquired chassis ‘4935’ in 1961. The independent American Bugatti Register (p.37) supports the idea that Phillips swapped the frames between the two Type 35s he owned, as does their numbering.
Terry Cardy completed the project with an engine built to twin-cam, Type 51 specification, the final evolution of the Type 35B line which prolonged its competitive edge into the early 1930s. The bodywork, which was restored by Dick Parravani, is believed to be of original Molsheim manufacture, as are most other major components except the replica alloy wheels. Terry has confirmed to us that the following are original Bugatti items: frame no. ‘636’, hollow front axle, rear axle (possibly with Touring diff casing), gearbox, bodywork (the bonnet is a converted original) and a camshaft. The radiator, bulkhead and wheels are new.
The completed car, still identified as ‘4776’ (Cardy had not yet purchased a cache of Phillips paperwork which mentioned the frame swap), was again sold by Christie’s at their 2004 Retromobile auction where it was acquired by the present owner. He imported the car to Switzerland where it has remained, unused except the occasional blast on the road with borrowed licence plates, ever since. “Fast and furious” is how he describes the experience, but work and other commitments have now determined that the Bugatti should find a new home where it will get the use it deserves. It is an exciting opportunity for the adrenalin seeking vintage motoring enthusiast and one which bears perhaps the most prestigious name of all.