PROPERTY FROM THE OSCAR DAVIS COLLECTION
1929 BUGATTI TYPE 40 TORPEDO ROADSTER
Chassis No. 40765
Engine No. 663
Blue with black upholstery
Engine: four cylinder, single overhead camshaft, 1,496cc., 12 valves, twin Weber carburetors, coil ignition, estimated 70bhp at 5,000rpm (see text); Gearbox: four-speed manual, center change; Suspension: beam front axle on semi-elliptic springs, live rear axle on reversed quarter-elliptic springs, Hartford-type friction shock absorbers all round; Brakes: four wheel drum. Right hand drive.
The Type 40 Bugatti was an entirely new model introduced in 1926 to replace the touring versions of the 16-valve Brescia range which had remained in production with progressive specification changes over the previous six years. The new car was the least expensive of the new range, the concurrently introduced two-litre eight-cylinder Type 38 replacing the Type 30 while the 1500cc Type 37 replaced the racing version of the Brescia.
Initially the Type 40 utilized the same chassis rails as the superceded 2.55-meter wheelbase Type 23 Brescia, but later a slightly longer chassis, which was actually a shortened version of the deeper Type 38 frame, was substituted. The engine used was a detuned version of that fitted to the recently introduced Type 37, and was likewise equipped initially with splash but later with full pressure lubrication to its five-bearing crankshaft.
As with all Bugattis the cylinder block and head were in the form of a single casting, while the four valves per cylinder which were a feature of all the Brescias were replaced by three-valve heads, with two inlets each smaller than on the Brescia together with a single larger exhaust valve. This nevertheless yielded slightly better breathing which, combined with the robust bottom end, produced a particularly sound and reliable engine. The gearbox was almost identical to that recently introduced on the Type 38 while the front and rear axles and other major components were also very similar but of slightly reduced scale.
Between its introduction in June 1926 and production ending over five years later, around 900 examples of the Type 40 were built and although not particularly fast and relatively modestly priced, it nevertheless retained all the many other virtues for which the marque had already rightly become renowned. At first Bugatti produced only the finished chassis to be fitted with bodywork by outside coachbuilders to clients' choice, but within twelve months the archetypal Grand Sport torpedo body, a slightly smaller version of that usually fitted to the high-performance Type 43 sports model, was being supplied by the factory.
This particular car, chassis no. 40765 with engine no. 663, was one of a batch of three chassis nos. 40763-5 inclusive, which was invoiced by the factory on 18th June 1929 for delivery to their English agency located on London's Brixton Road. Chassis no. 40764 survives to this day in England and is still fitted with its original Grand Sport coachwork so it is considered probable that all three cars of this batch were likewise equipped.
The next reference to this specific car is to be found in the register of Bugatti cars contained within The Bugatti Book published in 1954. Therein it is listed as being in the ownership of T.H. van Solt of Soest in Holland, having previously been owned by another Dutchman named Schnippers. The car was fitted with a modern streamlined two-seater body built in 1951 by van Egmond of Uithoorn following a 1949 factory restoration of the chassis. From this it can be concluded that the car was imported to Holland before the war, or just possibly immediately thereafter, although details of its earlier British ownership remain unknown.
The car was imported to the U.S.A. in 1958 for its new American owner Charles Davies of Long Beach, California. It was found to be in need of a complete overhaul which its new owner later described in detail in the Winter 1960 issue of Bugantics, the quarterly journal of the Bugatti Owners' Club. Its streamlined coachwork, which had previously been grey and later maroon, was repainted in Bugatti blue. However within a few years this coachwork was removed and replaced by an open pointed-tail two-seater body which was far more characteristic of the body styles fitted to the Type 40 during its production period.
In 1974 ownership of the car passed to Dr. Richard Riddell of Laguna Beach who in due course rebuilt its engine fundamentally and brought it to a far higher than standard state of tune. A new crankshaft, connecting rods and forged pistons were installed together with a new cylinder block topped by a camshaft to Type 37 specification, while the original single Zenith carburetor was replaced by a pair of much freer-breathing twin-choke Webers. As a result the engine's original power output of around 45bhp was raised substantially to a claimed 70bhp, with a correspondingly spectacular increase in the car's road performance.
Following these engine modifications the car proved its performance on the track by competing successfully from time to time against Type 37 Bugattis and other ostensibly higher performance cars of the period at a number of West Coast vintage race meets. Not only did it prove itself to be a remarkably swift machine, but also an outstandingly reliable one, thanks in no small measure to the new components utilized in its engine rebuild.
Dr. Riddell sold the car to Mr. Oscar Davis through the Christie's Pebble Beach sale in 1998. Since then the car has been used very little, if indeed at all. Anyone wishing to acquire a fast and reliable vintage Bugatti road car which is equally suitable for rallies or competition use certainly ought to give this example serious consideration. Although heavily modified mechanically, it remains otherwise essentially an authentic Bugatti, and any other example of the marque with matching performance such as a standard Type 37 would require an outlay of around twice that which is anticipated for this rapid and reliable machine.