1931 BUGATTI TYPE 51 REPLICA
COACHWORK: ATLANTIC COUPE BY DUBOS
Chassis No. see text
Engine No. see text
Deep violet with grey leather interior
Engine: Roots-supercharged straight eight, twin overhead camshafts operating 16 valves via inverted cups, Zenith 48K triple-diffuser updraft carburetor, Scintilla magneto ignition, 2,262cc, approx. 185bhp at 5,000rpm; Gearbox: four-speed manual; Suspension: tubular front axle on half-elliptic springs, live rear axle on reversed quarter-elliptic springs and Bugatti-type shock absorbers all round; Brakes: fully compensated mechanical system operating on all four wheels. Right hand drive.
The Type 51 Bugatti was the final development of the classic and outstandingly successful single-cam Type 35 racing car which had been introduced in 1924. That model had been developed during the later Twenties by the addition of a Bugatti-designed Roots-type supercharger and its original two-litre engine capacity had been increased on the Type 35B which produced substantially more power than its forebear. Its detail cylinder head and valve-gear design was closely influenced by the contemporary Miller racing engine which Bugatti had dissected and closely examined but otherwise the remainder of the engine, and indeed the rest of the car, was still pure Type 35 throughout.
Thus a Type 51 was really no more than a twin-camshaft Type 35B. The only other visual differences were the one-piece well-base alloy wheels replacing the earlier detachable-rim design, twin fuel fillers on the tail, the magneto now offset to the left of the dash because it was driven from the exhaust camshaft and the blower relief hole being located lower on the side of the bonnet. Yet the fact that a seven year old racing car design with no more than additional power should prove itself capable of sustaining the run of Grand Prix successes of its immediate predecessor bears remarkable testimony to the soundness of the original layout.
For the three years to the conclusion of the 1933 racing season the Type 51 Bugatti was a principal contender for top Grand Prix honours. With works drivers of the calibre of Chiron, Varzi, Williams and others, outright wins were secured during 1931 in the Tunis, Monaco, Morocco, Geneva, French, Belgian and Czechoslovakian Grands Prix, together with a number of lesser victories. Second place was taken in the German GP and 3rd in the Italian GP, whilst Varzi finished 3rd in the Targa Florio after leading most of the way.
In 1932, with the Alfa Romeo and Maserati marques increasingly in the ascendant, wins were again secured in the Tunis and Czechoslovakian events and third place again in the Targa Florio, whilst in 1933 Varzi famously beat his great rival Nuvolari's Alfa Romeo at Monaco, other wins being gained at Monza and Dieppe with second place in the Belgian and third in the Spanish Grands Prix. However by the end of the 1933 season the Type 51 was beginning to show its age and being supplanted, first by the Type 54 and then by the Type 59 models.
A total of only forty Type 51 Grand Prix Bugatti were produced, and about ten of these were in fact earlier models which the factory had converted to twin-camshaft specification.
This particular Type 51 Bugatti was assembled in England in the 1980's for Bob Sutherland. The chassis frame is understood to be a replica produced by American Ray Jones, and it was built up correctly in all details into a rolling chassis using an original touring Bugatti front axle with original brakes and wire wheels and a replica gearbox by Peter Shaw who a few years earlier had built the rolling chassis of Bob Sutherland's Type 35 Bugatti Tank. The rear axle has an original centre casing numbered 801 which must have been sourced from a touring model.
The car's twin-cam engine was assembled mostly from new parts but entirely to the correct specification by Richard I'Anson of Tula Engineering. However the supercharger, numbered 174, and its gear drive casing are amongst the few genuine original parts to have been included, as also is the correct Scintilla 8-cylinder magneto.
The coachwork is a scaled-down copy of the Atlantic fixed head coupé design which was fitted by the factory to one prototype and just three production examples of the much larger Type 57S model, two in 1936 and one in 1938. A Parisien named André Bith had bought a Type 51 Bugatti in about September 1936, at around the same time that the Bugatti factory's Type 57S Atlantic prototype was first revealed to the motoring public. Bith's Type 51 was Chassis No. 51133, originally invoiced for delivery to racing driver Louis Chiron in February 1931, and was possibly the car he had driven to victory in that year's Monaco, French (co-driven by Achille Varzi) and/or Czechoslovakian Grands Prix.
Chiron had sold the car in 1932 and it passed through other hands before being acquired by Nice garagiste Albert (or Raymond or François dependent upon which reference is believed) Chambost who in July 1936 crashed his 8CM Maserati fatally in the Deauville Grand Prix, Bith subsequently purchasing the Type 51 from his widow. Bith was a close friend of Chiron and also well acquainted with Ettore Bugatti and his son Jean, but he was not a racing driver. As he later described himself, he was just a young fellow who loved driving fast and expensive cars - and who could obviously afford to do so.
He modified the car for his intended road usage in October 1936 when he added headlights, cycle fenders and a passenger door, shortened the tail to accept a spare wheel, fitted wheel discs, painted the car black and upholstered its interior in white leather. However in February 1937 he decided to transform it more dramatically into a coupé, his designer friend André Roland helping him conceive a shortened version of the Atlantic coachwork which he greatly admired. In April 1937 Parisien coachbuilder Louis Dubos was commissioned to produce new coachwork to their designs. The bodywork panels were made in sheet steel, the front fenders and hood in alloy. Bith's most noteworthy drive in the car was the 1937 Paris-Nice rally which he completed without drama.
Originally the car was painted pale blue but to please a young lady friend he had it repainted in a striking shade of deep violet, and in June 1937 allowed this friend who had just been elected Miss France to present the car at the Bagatelle Concours d'Elegance in Paris where she succeeded in winning the first prize. Bith drove the car for another year or so and then sold it in July 1938 through his local garage and never saw it again. The next owner was Jean-Claude Berson who retained it for two years before selling it in 1940 to an aviator.
In the early postwar years the car was owned for a short time by renowned French racing driver Maurice Trintignant who used it as a source of spares for his racing Type 51, and it was next owned by a mining engineer living near Paris. By this time the car was understandably in poor shape, had lost its supercharger and had been painted black.
The car was imported to the USA in 1955 from Bugatti dealer Jean de Dobbeleer of Belgium by Gene Cesari who sold it to Evi Richardson in 1957. A year earlier Richardson had imported an incomplete Type 51 chassis from France which he intended building up into a complete car to which he wished to fit the Atlantic body, so in 1959 he disposed of the remainder of the car to which this body had been fitted. But he never completed the restoration before selling the finished Type 51 Atlantic in 1973 to European collector and Bugatti authority Uwe Hucke who in turn replaced its Atlantic body with new standard Grand Prix coachwork.
In due course Hucke sold the Atlantic body to Bob Sutherland, in 1984 in fact, just in time for it to be thoroughly refurbished by coachwork specialists Church Green Engineering of Dorset and fitted to its newly finished Type 51 chassis. The completed car was presented at the 1985 Pebble Beach Concours where it won a First in Class. Since then the car has been driven regularly by its owner, notably most years on the Colorado Grand. More recently he replaced its wire wheels with the correct alloys and, following lengthy correspondence with André Bith, had its coachwork repainted in the same shade of deep violet which graced it when it won the Paris Bagatelle Concours just 63 years ago this year. Although no longer on its original chassis, the Atlantic coachwork nevertheless adds the finishing touch to a truly outstanding and absolutely unique motor car.