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Lot 562: Bugatti TYPE 54 Grand Prix Works Car

Grand Palais Sale, Bonhams (7 February 2013)

This imposing Bugatti Type 54 is the prototype of the rarefied little batch of FormuleLibre - "anything goes" - Grand Prix racing cars of this design, originally manufactured by the famous Bugatti factory at Molsheim, Alsace, in the autumn of 1931. Surviving factory documentation confirms that only two Type 54 chassis - serials numbers '54201' and '54202' - were assembled in September 1931. At the Monza Autodrome Grand Prix, Bugatti's Italian works driver Achille Varzi was armed with chassis '54201' now offered here, carrying race number '82' is featuring the road registration '4311 NV1'. This registration number was in fact that which appears on the contemporary carte grise belonging to 35CV chassis '50133 ' and it had been issued on June 6, 1931, before the Le Mans 24-Hour race, for the Bugatti Type 50 tourer entered under race number '5' and driven in the Grand Prix d'Endurance by Guy Bouriat and Albert Divo. This registration document had then been conveniently re-used on September 6, 1931, to legalise the works team's brand-new Type 54 '201' with corresponding-capacity (4972cc) engine 'Nr 1'. or many years to follow, numerous published articles relating the story of '54201' declared that its engine has been "ex-50133", i.e. transferred from that Le Mans race Type 50. This has proved to be untrue - a legacy of the convenient paperwork transfer which was only ever a convenient re-use perpetrated by the Bugatti factory team in time for the car's Monza debut, but the right-front engine mount of this imposing Grand Prix car as offered today is still clearly stamped with the first four figures of the Le Mans chassis number related to that carte grise of September 1931...more than eighty-one long years ago. For their racing debut in Italy the Molsheim factory's two brandnew Bugatti Type 54s were entrusted to their two top drivers - and two of the talented drivers of their entire era - the Monegasque Louis Chiron and the great Italian ace, Achille Varzi. Their two 4.9-litre straight-eight supercharged cars appeared in the over-3-litre category, confronting the 16-cylinder works Maserati and the two latest 'twin-six' 12-cylinder Alfa Romeo Tipo A Monoposto machines of Giuseppe Campari and Tazio Nuvolari. In the third qualification heat, Chiron led from the starting flag before moving aside for Varzi to take precedence in '54201' now offered here. A fantastic battle ensured between Nuvolari and Varzi - Alfa Romeo versus Bugatti at 230km/h, and more. Tyre trouble for Nuvolari and an unreliable SediciCilindri Maserati provided a fine 1-2 victory for the Bugatti drivers upon their debut with these extremely potent Type 54s. In the Final of that great race, Luigi Fagioli then prevailed behind the wheel of a 2800cc Maserati. A new duel was fought between Nuvolari's Alfa Romeo and Varzi's Bugatti, a duel decided by the Alfa's engine failing after which Varzi's pursuit of Fagioli was beset by tyre trouble. A second pit stop cost him second place but Varzi was still able to finish third overall, and '54201' set fastest race lap at 164,5km/h. Louis Chiron in the sister Type 54 (engine '14'), finished 7th after further tyre failures under and the remorseless power of the 4.9-litre engine. Both these 1931 cars - incidentally - had no exit orifice in the panel covering the supercharger blow-off valve on bonnet's right-hand side. These first-version Type 54s � chassis '54201' to '54206' as assembled prior to May 1932 - originally featured a taller body and bonnet because of the engine and gearbox aggregate's high-level mount within the frame. The cars' front dampers were small in diameter and the starting handle tunnelled through the front cross-member. From May 1932 forward - including manufacture of the cars fitted with engines 'Nr 7' and '8' - the Type 54s' radiators and engines were set back in the chassis by 15cm and lowered by 2cm, with the gearbox and bonnet line being lowered in concert. Both the dampers and detachable brake drums on these later cars were larger than their predecessors. Through this period, car '54201' survived as the only one never modified. It seems simply that it was never returned to the factory for updating in this manner. In fact '54201' had been offered by the Molsheim factory for FF 160,000 on November 20, 1931 to the Bohemian Czech Prince Georg Christian Lobkowicz, who confirmed his order for it in writing on December 6. The car was then delivered to him on April 27, 1932 at the Chateau of Horin, near Melnik, seat of the Lobkowicz family. It was billed at FF 140,000 to W. Gut, the Bugatti agent for Eastern Europe . Prince Georg Christian Lobkowicz - 1907-1932 Born in Turnov in Northern Bohemia, Prince Lobkowicz was related to the Kings of Bohemia. The family's Chateau of Melnik, north of Prague, had belonged to Czech royalty since the 15th Century. The young Prince had started racing when he was only 20, behind the wheel of an Austro-Daimler. He had bought his first Bugatti on April 6, 1929 - a Type 37A (chassis 'Nr 37366') - from Prague Bugatti agent W. Gut. It cost him FF 51,948. One year later it was joined by a Bugatti Type 35C (chassis '4949') delivered on April 26, 1930 and invoiced at FF 95,000. During that year the Prince founded a racing team with his friend Zdenek Pohl of Libn�ves near Pod�brady - a gentleman who postwar would own an Auto Union V12-cylinder 'Silver Arrow'... On August 11, 1931, the Lobkowicz Type 35C was replaced by a brand-new Type 51 (chassis '51131') for which he paid FF 117,206. He was fast becoming one of Bugatti's most valued customers. By the spring of 1932, the Lobkowicz/Pohl team of Bugattis comprised '37366' , '51131' and now the imposing 4.9-litre '54201'. The budding young Czech racing driver had only one month to become acclimatised to his powerful new machine which immediately proved far more demanding than his previous mounts. He entered it in the high-speed AVUS Rennen race on the virtual Autobahn course within the German capital, Berlin, on May 22, 1932. Zdenek Pohl fielded '37366' in the 1500cc class of that same race. At the start of the big-cars heat, 'G.C. Lobkowicz' lined-up his Type 54 on the fifth row of the grid, between Luigi Fagioli's Maserati Tipo 26 and Hans Stuber's Bugatti Type 51. Bugatti '54201' wore racing number '38' and had been repainted in Czechoslovakian national colours, what shows in monochrome photographs as a dark chassis was in fact red � the bonnet blue and the rest of the body white. Soon after the race started, on his way into the SudKehre('South Curve') hairpin, Lobkowicz moved left to take a racing line through the turn, only to collide with another Bugatti driven by H. Lewy who was attempting to pass - unseen - to the Prince's left. The unfortunate Lobkowicz lost control of his large and powerful new Bugatti which skidded broadside across the track verge and into the ballast of the parallel railway track. With its wheels trapped and tripped, the Type 54 rolled over, its young driver being thrown out onto the rails where he was found to have sustained injuries to his un-helmeted head. Without regaining consciousness he died in Berlin's Hildegard Hospital, to which he had been taken, accompanied by his mother. Photographs taken immediately after this tragic accident strongly infer that the Bugatti's damage was confined principally to the body and wheels, while the chassis remained substantially unharmed. These same photographs clearly show the same large dialled rev-counter and the lap counter seen in the car in early September 1931 when pictured in the factory yard with registration number '4311 NV1' freshly painted... The car was returned to the Chateau of Horin and the Prince's funeral was then conducted by the Archbishop of Prague and 27 other priests in the presence of many members of the royal families of Austria and Hungary. Subsequently, Lobkowicz's mother - the Princess Josephine - presented both this car and the Type 51 to his friend and team-mate Zdenek Pohl. n memory of the Prince, Pohl then repaired the crashed car to GP configuration and the Brooklands type screen of course broken, was replaced. The glass is etched in the lower corner 'Praha' which means Prague. He meanwhile continued to campaign the Type 51 annually until 1935 in the Czechoslavakian Masaryk GP at Brno. During first practice for the Jeneralka hill climb on April 27, 1935 - three years after the accident - Pohl drove the big Type 54 but recognised its obsolescence against more modern competition. Consequently, he opted to have it re-bodied by the best Czech coachbuilder � Oldrich Uhlik - whose new establishment was located in Prague Strasnice. Uhlik had trained as a coachbuilder during World War 1 in Vienna and in Paris - at the Belvalette workshops - as well as in Czechoslovakia. He had set-up his first business in 1921, followed by the new factory in 1927 from which hundreds of fine and prestigious cars would be bodied up until 1938. Uhlik's work upon the Varzi/Lobkowicz/Pohl Bugatti Type 54 was completed in the Spring of 1936, the great car reappearing clothed in an elegant two-seat roadster body. It was then road-registered in the Pod�brady area under the serial 'C-49.259'. It immediately proved itself to be the fastest road car in Czechoslovakia - an accolade it retained for many years as Zdenek Pohl retained it for some 38 years until 1970. It was then acquired from him by the much respected great British connoisseur and collector, Mr C.W.P. (Peter) Hampton. He then had the Uhlik two-seat roadster body removed, and after being shipped to the USA through Ray Jones the Uhlik body resides today with a new old stock type 54 chassis and type 50 engine at the Peter Mullin Museum. Chassis '54201' was entrusted by Peter Hampton to world-leading Bugatti specialists Crosthwaite & Gardiner. An original-style racing body was fashioned for it by the Peel coachbuilding company. In 1993 after Peter Hampton's death, the car was bought at a Brooks (Bonhams) auction by the collector A. Kogan. Its current vendor subsequently acquired '54201' in June 2005, and had it rebodied by celebrated British specialist Rod Jolley, to match as far as possible photos taken at the factory and at Monza in 1931 - so that as offered here today this magnificent Grand Prix racing car from the early-1930s is presented in its Molsheim, factory team form. Close inspection will confirm that it is still fitted with its original engine 'n�1'. The right-front engine mount shows the time-worn number stamping '5013' as witness to the great car's debut race at Monza in September, 1931. Within that great, straight-eight, supercharged engine the original crankshaft is stamped 'n�2'. The chassis frame is stamped '3' and we can assume that the first two frames were possibly used for chassis 'n� 54202' and perhaps for the technically-similar Type 47 tourer. This Type 54's back axle is stamped '16 x 54'. Its original final-drive ratio could have been 16 x 40. The car features the early-style brake drums as used by the works and both its forward-mounted starting handle housing and 2cm-higher gearbox mounting accurately match the 1931 debutant cars. Every mechanical part is true to the works Bugatti team's original layout of September 1931.In summary - Bugatti Type 54 chassis '54201' offered here is one of only four surviving cars from the nine built in 1931-1932. Of its surviving sisters: Chassis '54203' ex-Kaye Don has not embodied its original major mechanical components since 1937 and is now in the Bernie Ecclestone collection. Chassis '54205' ex-Lord Howe car has long featured a two-seat roadster body made for its owner by Bachelier in 1936 and now resides in the famous Louwman Museum. Chassis '54210' ex-factory team was exported to the USA in 1950. During unloading the car crashed down onto the wharf and despite having been repaired by the factory some after-effects of that impact were only discovered once it was driven in American events. That car was then restored by Ray Jones around 1970. Sold 4 years ago from the Tony Wang collection and after the sale fully restored by Ben Collings for the Viessmann collection. In consequence, as offered here Bugatti Type 54 chassis number '54201' is the only example of the model which has survived with its original major mechanical components still installed. Moreover, in view of its 1931-style specification and appearance it is presented today as the finest and most original Type 54 still in existence, aesthetically true to its initial configuration, as first raced by the legendary Achille Varzi that long-gone September day upon the equally historic Italian Autodrome, in the Royal Park at Monza... Recognized as such by a variety of renowned Bugatti historians including Pierre-Yves Laugier, in 2009 the T54 was even invited to be shown at the world famous Pebble Beach Concours d'El�gance in California. Origins of the type The truth is not so different as a factory memo speaks of "the transformation of the type 50 engine n� 14 into the type 54 on August 20, 1931". The hot cocktail got together stock parts which had been under-employed yet: The frame and the axles come from the 16 cylinder 3 litre tourer named Type 47 of which the design was completed on November 22,1929. Its wheelbase is still 2750mm but the track is widened to 1350mm. The gearbox is used as a rigid cross member and is retained by three bolts and is also provided by the Type 47 and is down to three ratios only. The blown engine block is the first twin cam model i.e. the Type 50 introduced in October 1930. The flywheel (214mm diameter) and the camshafts are from the Type 53. The supercharger is a Le Mans Type 50 blower. The alloy wheels are of the Type 51 pattern but the brake drums are bigger. The weight amounts to 950 kg. The Type 54 Bugatti is credited with 300bhp at 4000rpm. The engine workshop documents gives close figures : 265/277bhp at 4000rpm which are the same in the October issue of Omnia magazine. The first Type 54 chassis number is Car 54201 Engine 1 and is perhaps the second chassis made after the Type 47 pattern. It is built at the same time as the chassis fitted with the ex Type 50 engine n�14 and stamped n�54202. The Type 54 production In late-August 1931 two further cars were assembled, fitted with engines 'n�1' (54201) and 'n�14' (54202). From January to May 1932 the cars with engine numbers '3' to '8' were built but Sir Henry Birkin 's order for the Type 54 with engine '6' was cancelled and the engine transferred to the Bugatti 50T series. Type 54 with engine 'n�3' (54203) was then delivered to Jean-Pierre Wimille in March but was traded-in during the Summer of 1935. Type 54 with engine 'n�4' (54206) was sold to H-J von Morgen in March 1932, promptly taken back in May, and then dismantled and its engine redeployed on one of the 50T series. Thus, out of just nine Type 54 cars built at Molsheim, three were dismantled there for their engines to be redeployed in the 50T series. The second car built, ex-Marcel Lehoux (engine 'n�14') was also returned to the factory and was probably dismantled at the end of the 1932 season. In late 1932 the only Type 54s remaining in private hands were chassis 'n� 54201' engine '1' ex-Lobkowicz (in Czechoslovakia), '54203' engine '2' (Kaye Don in England), '54205' engine '5 (Lord Howe in England) and '54209' engine '8' soon to be delivered to the Polish Count Stanislas Czaykowski in Paris. Only one car - '54210' engine '7' � would be retained by the Molsheim factory until ... 1950! After the unfortunate Count Czaykowski's fatal crash at Monza in September 1933, only the engine of his car ('n�8') was returned to the factory. And so, as early as the end of 1933, only four of the nine Type 54s built had survived intact.

Lot Details
Auction Grand Palais Sale
Bonhams, Paris, France
Lot Number562
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Condition rating0
Registration number
Chassis number54201
Engine number1
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors