The Type 38A Bugatti

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[Following Motor Sport comments on the Type 43 Bugatti, that great enthusiast, V. L. Seyd, who tells us he is still riding his Honda 400/4 F2 motorcycle at the age of 77, recalls the Type 38A with which he had much fun and of which perhaps three came to England. – Ed]

In his authoritative and excellent book “Bugatti”, Hugh Conway dismisses the Type 38A with the remark “There have been more successful models”. Of course he is right and, compared with the Type 43, it was in most ways an inferior car although as the photo of my Type 38A shows, apart from the absence of the Bugatti cast aluminium wheels, the cars were identical in appearance. As Conway says “The standard model had a Molsheim-built body of narrow torpedo shape with four seats and a single left-hand door and a removable hatch in the tail which gave access to a luggage compartment, and this applied to both the Type 38A and the Type 43. It was, of course, in the engine department that the cars differed, the Type 38A having the three-bearing crankshaft originally used in the Type 30, which was the first eight-cylinder two-litre car which Bugatti introduced, in 1922. A three. hearing crankshaft carried on three large ball-hearings was not a recipe for a smooth, vibration-free, eight-cylinder engine, and this became apparent at engine speeds of over 3,000 rpm. So how did I become the owner of one of these cars? From the time when I became interested in cars at a very early age the Bugatti always severed to me to be the perfect motor car, and I remember, when on holiday with my parents in Belgium in about 1922, that a young Frenchman used to run up and down the front at Wimereux in a Brescia with a very skimpy body and a copper petrol tank at the back. How I envied him, and how I longed to own a Bugatti. But it was some years before my ambition was realised.

When the Bugatti OC was founded in 1929 I had a supercharged Ulster Austin Seven and, as at that time the Club was organising Hill Climbs and Sprint Meetings, I joined the club to enable me to compete in these events, in which I was sometimes quite successful. Is was through the BOC that I met Colonel Giles and his brother Eric, who ran a very successful and high class interior decorating business in Queen Street Mayfair. The Colonel was a charming and very good looking man in a typical military manner and was the Club’s Chairman. A bachelor, he lived in one of those delightful houses in Regents Park Terrace. In the garage underneath, the Colonel housed his immaculate Type 43 and also a Type 35 two-litre Grand Prix. As I was living quite near, in Hampstead, the Colonel, who was pleased to “talk” Bugattis with any enthusiast, would invite me round for a chat and a drink, when a very pleasant evening resulted. On a fine evening, and without much persuasion, he would start up the Grand Prix Bugatti and we would do a few laps of Regents Park, which was an exciting and vivid experience for me at the age of 23.

One of the great Bugatti enthusiasts of the time was the late L. G. Bachelier who had a garage and workshop in Durnsford Road Wimbledon. There, in the “Thirties”, Bachelier and his two sons built, and rebuilt, numerous Bugattis including several Type 35s, and a Type 49, and even a Type 54 4.9-litre racing car which he converted for road use by fitting a two-seater body on it, similar to the standard Type 55 Bugatti. It was also through the “Club” that I met another Type 43 owner, Keith Faulkner who also owned a Type 46 5-litre single overhead-cam saloon, which provided very comfortable motoring indeed. Before he had the “Two Three” Keith buds Type 38A and this car found its way to Bachelier’s Garage where I first saw it. How much does Faulkner want for it I asked Bachelier? For £180 it’s yours, he replied and I am happy to give it a respray. Of course I should have had it painted in its original Bugatti blue, but feeling “patriotic” at the time I chose “British Racing Green”, a great mistake, it looked awful. And so, at last I had become a Bugatti owner, not a great car but at least one of the “Great Marque” Bugattis. One of the joys of ownership was the pleasure of opening the bonnet just to look and admire that beautiful piece of machinery, all shining steel and polished aluminium. In this respect it took a Bugatti expert to appreciate the difference between the engines of a Type 43 and a Type 38A. Only the experts would see that the blower on the Type 38A was smaller, since this was the blower normally fitted to the four cylinder racing car, the Type 37A.

During the winter in the “Thirties” as well as the Monte Carlo Rally the great sporting event was the London to Land’s End Trial organised by the MCC. Having won a “Gold” in the 1930 and 1931 events with a Cup Model Austin 7 and a Lea-Francis, I was delighted when Bachelier suggested that we made up a team of Bugattis for the 1932 event, comprising, Colonel Giles, Kenneth Bear, and Keith Faulkner on “43s” and myself with my Type 38A. In the event all the cars went beautifully and the team gained the coveted “Gold”. As already explained, the Type 38 engine was not a high-revving engine, but the blower gave it considerable “torque”, so when it came to the test hills we were able to treat them more like speed hill-climbs, much to the joy of the spectators, who applauded as we roared up Beggar’s Roost, scattering stones in all directions, which caused The Autocar cartoonist of the day to caption his drawing: “That was a BUG that was”. During two year ownership of the Type 38A it never once let me down. On advice from Bachelier I used Champion C3 sparking plugs, which never oiled-up or failed, while an Autovac ensured that petrol was always available at the carburetter.

Indeed, my experience showed that, properly maintained and looked after, a Bugatti can be as reliable as any other car, and not, as is sometimes thought, a box of tricks that requires constant tuning and adjustment. My car was used daily, often taking me through City traffic to my office near Tower Bridge, and in the evening to the theatre and restaurants.

So when I eventually sold it back to Bachelier for £150 I reckoned that I had enjoyed nearly two years’ Bugatti motoring for just £30. How fortunate one was in those days to be able to enjoy owning a Bugatti for so little money! So perhaps Hugh Conway was a little unkind in his assessment of the Type 38A. I look back on the many splendid miles of Bugatti motoring that it provided for me with great affection. Leslie Seyd

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