1931 Bugatti Type 43 Grand Sport
The Bugatti Type 43 epitomizes the term ‘Grand Sport’, owing its origins to the enormously successful Type 35 Grand Prix racer. Elegant and sleek, the Type 43 brought genuine race track performance to enthusiastic sportsmen and was capable of just over 100 mph. Its 125-bhp, eight-cylinder engine propelled the car smoothly from 20 mph in top gear to its screaming maximum speed.
The Type 43 was introduced in 1927 at the same time as the racing Type 35B, with which it shared the same 2.3-litre, single overhead camshaft, straight-eight engine and Roots supercharger. The Type 43 frame featured waisted longerons to carry the same aerodynamic body as the race car, with axles front and rear, gearbox, radiator and steering from the touring Type 38. The final touch was to use the cast aluminium wheels found on Bugatti Grand Prix cars.
Kidston SA is proud to offer a spectacular example of this grande routière with a four-passenger torpedo body. It combines a celebrated history – including successful Grand Prix competition – with extraordinary documentation, 70 year single family custodianship and expert accreditation at the highest level.
The first owner was Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium, who actually owned three Type 43s and was quite a favourite at the Molsheim factory. Indeed, all his cars carried his ‘43291’ number, obligingly fitted at the works, for fiscal convenience…
Although Prince Leopolds T43s initially received chassis plates with this deceptive number, the correct serial was stamped on the left rear engine bearer arm when each car was resold. Leopolds cars were checked out at the factory prior to delivery to their next owners and given their own identities. This second car became ‘43258’ and retains its original engine, ‘132’. Leopold’s first Type 43 was re-numbered ‘43306’, engine ‘143’, when it was sold, and the third car became ‘43297’, with engine ‘158’.
Prince Leopold married Princess Astrid of Sweden on 4th November 1926 and made frequent visits to that country. He bought his second Type 43 on 20th May, 1931 and the delivery documents and photographs accompany the car. The handover was witnessed by fellow buyer Uno Ranch, who had come to the factory to collect his own Type 40 and recalled the event on page 69 of his book Bugatti-bilar, Europaresor & Flygapparater.
Ranch was waiting to test drive his own car, when “…an orange-coloured Type 43 Bugatti with a noisy engine, open throttle and a screaming blower came out of the factory.” Ranch thought he recognized the driver and was told it was Prince Leopold picking up his new car, liveried in orange as the heraldic colour of the Duke of Brabant, another of Leopolds titles. Ranch listened to the engine noise and gear changes as the Type 43 climbed the hills around town on Leopolds way home.
Prince Leopold drove the car extensively that summer and there are pictures of him and Princess Astrid with it in Lyungbyhed, Sweden. When he decided to sell it in September, 1931, the Bugatti was sent back to Molsheim for servicing and to receive its proper number, ‘43258’. Following that, ‘43258’ was sent by train to dealership Lindblads Motoraktiebolag in Stockholm on 24th December 1931, as documented by the factory.
Lindblads sold ‘43258’ to engineer Nils Loostrom through an intermediary of Prince Bertil of Sweden, then chairman of the Royal Automobile Club. Loostrom paid 7,200 Swedish Crowns for the Type 43on 19th January 1932. The Bugatti was delivered, rather exotically, by French Grand Prix driver Louis Chiron who was on his way to drive a Bugatti in the Monte Carlo Rally, starting from Stavanger. He’d been delayed in Paris with flu, so opted to begin the rally at Oslo instead and was disqualified on completing the event. When Chiron delivered the car to Loostrom he noted all the important data about it by hand on a Type 43 brochure which is included with the car.
Loostrom wouldn’t get to enjoy ‘43258’ for long as Einar Lindberg made him an offer he couldn’t refuse on 4th February: 12,000 Swedish Crowns. Lindberg was an experienced driver who wanted to enter the Swedish Winter Grand Prix. He figured the Bugatti would give him a good chance of winning the race, which was held on the frozen Lake Ramen on 28th February 1932. Photos accompany the car and show Lindberg and Robban Lindholm bundled up in ‘43258’ running on spiked tyres.
The sports car magazine Svensk Motortidning noted that Lindberg was second on the grid and his car was the best suited to the conditions, but the driver “would have to be of good physical strength for such a bouncy race.” It reported that Lindberg and Per Viktor Widengren were the toughest competition for the Finns but they were defeated by the stretches of snowless gravel roads that were included in the course. On the clear sections the spikes heated up so much that they punctured the tyres. Lindberg had to make two pit stops to change wheels and finished fifth. He also entered the Finnish Grand Prix on 8th May but had gearbox problems and did not finish.
Einar Lindberg sold ‘43258’ to Axel Johnson of Skyttmon on 3rd November 1932. Johnson would campaign the car hard for the next five years and made various modifications to keep it competitive. He had bought the Bugatti to compete in the 1933 Lake Ramen Swedish Winter Grand Prix on 26th February, but on his way there he collided with another car and damaged the steering box too badly to repair it in time.
His next race was the Swedish Summer Grand Prix at Vram on 6th August, but engine problems sidelined Johnson only six laps into the race. It was a disastrous day all round. Shortly after the start, Borje Dahlin’s Mercedes-Benz hit a bridge and left the road, killing his mechanic and hitting a villa. Three other cars followed him and caught fire, which spread to the villa, which burned to the ground. As a result, no Grand Prix races were run in Sweden for two years.
With time on his hands, Johnson modified the Bugatti, shortening the chassis 39cm into a two-seater and lowering it 6cm. On 18th February 1934, Johnson entered an ice race at Vallentunasjon, north of Stockholm and finished 2nd. He followed this with a race at Solvallaloppet, near Stockholm on 6th May, coming 3rd, then had a dreadful crash on 11th August when testing his car. A tyre failed and the Bugatti rolled, pinning him and his brother-in-law under it. Johnson managed to extricate himself, but his brother-in-law was killed.
Johnson returned to action on 23rd February 1936 when the Swedish Winter Grand Prix was resumed at Lake Ramen. Despite being baulked at the start, he managed to work his way up through the field to take 3rd. That would be Johnson’s last race in ‘43258’ and the car was advertised with Stockholm car dealer Phillipsons in 1938.
In 1942 Gothe Hakanson was a 25-year old studying engineering in Stockholm. He enjoyed visiting used car lots and fell in love with the battered old Type 43. To his mother’s dismay, he was able to buy ‘43258’ for 850 Swedish Crowns – down significantly from the 1,500 asking price. Hakanson started what was to become a 43-year labour of love.
With no petrol available for private cars during the war, Hakanson concentrated on dismantling ‘43258’ to discover how it worked. In 1952 he was lucky enough to buy a spare frame from renowned Bugatti dealer and fancier Jack Lemon Burton, who was the spares controller for the Bugatti Owners Club in England. New valves and guides were ordered from Bugatti and new pistons from Mahle in Germany. Hakanson sent the crankshaft and connecting rods to the Hackeloer-Kobbinghoff machine shop in Germany who employed an ex-Works Bugatti mechanic. In 1975 Hakanson was able to acquire a steel framed replica Type 43 Grand Sport body in Austria and the car was finally completed on 23rd November 1985, painted in the same shade of blue that Louis Chiron used on his Bugattis.
The Type 43 has been used regularly since its restoration for international rallies, concours d’elegances and exhibitions. One of its first appearances was at the 1986 Prince Bertil Memorial event in Stockholm, with Prince Bertil’s wife Princess Lilian as a passenger. Prince Bertil remembered driving the same car in 1931 when he was 19 years old.
In addition to research by the present owner Per-Olof Hakanson and French Bugattiste Pierre-Yves Laugier, British Bugatti historian David Sewell examined ‘43258’ thoroughly on 8th October 2009 in Sweden. His report accompanies the car and states that it retains almost all its original major components, with the exception of those which were modified when the car was shortened in 1933/34. The replaced parts include the chassis frame, propshaft, torque arm and coachwork except for the original lid on the tail.
Sewell notes that Jack Lemon Burton’s pre-war stock list indicates that this chassis frame was originally fitted to ‘43259’ – coincidentally one digit off ‘43258’ – and that the torque arm and prop numbers are close enough to have come from the same car, the only Type 43 parted out for spares in the UK in 1938/39.
Sewell concludes: “In my professional opinion, despite its changed frame, this historic Bugatti should be identified in all future documentation as Chassis No. ‘43258’, on the widely accepted basis of its indisputable continuous history. It is in excellent overall condition and performs well on the road.”