Bugatti Museum

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I spent a pleasant afternoon recently at the Bugatti Trust’s museum at Prescott. Being honest, the Trust does not regard this unique archive collection as a true museum, because it is not intended to display more than a few Bugattis and is really a depository for very valuable drawings, photographs and documents relating to the work of Ettore Bugatti and his family from 1901 onwards.

For this reason, not to disappoint those uninitiated in such obtuse matters, no admission charge is normally made, although this delightful Trust building is open at normal hours from Monday to Friday. There David Sewell, the Curator, and his three part-time staff are in attendance, to advise anyone who wishes to purchase copies of original works drawings, of which some 70,000 are available, together with about 20,000 unique photographs, occupying 70 or 80 feet of shelf-space in this very attractive setting at the foot of the Bugatti OC’s Prescott speed hill-climb course. That is absolutely not to suggest that this is a shrine only for seekers after paper information. It is occupied by a most fascinating array of Bugatti cars, artifacts, and other historical items, of the utmost interest to true believers.

This Bugatti Trust building, one door of which is in traditional Molsheim factory form, was opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh on March 16th 1990. Barrie Price met the Royal helicopter in a Bugatti and the Duke was driven up the famous hill, as well as performing the opening ceremony. The Trust (which is separate from the BOC Archive Section which relates to Club history under John Horton) can supply drawings and photographs, hold lectures, provide information, offer a quiet study-centre to Bugatti drivers and generally foster and spread the Molsheim gospel, thereby carrying on the immense archive research initiated by the late Hugh Conway.

Having said that, let’s look around. Centre piece is John Mark’s Type 51 GP Bugatti — could any racing car of its period be more covetable, or any car be better presented than this exhibit? Behind it, just as worthy, is a Type 43, Hugh Conway’s very first Bugatti, beside which is David Sewell’s ex-Kent Karslake Bebe Peugeot, of which Motor Sport had much to say when EKHK owned it. The walls of the compact building display all manner of Bugatti items. Many fine photographs of all that happened in Ettore’s life — a large picture of him looks towards his Bugatti achievements and away from his earlier work for Deutz, De Dietrich and other companies — and a selection of typical Bugatti radiators, replicas made by Underwood, of T35, T23, shuttered T57, T13 and T35B, showing for instance, how the GP “coolers” differed slightly, to provide more efficient heat extraction, and that the immortal Bugatti badge was a copy of that used on the Bugatti-Duetz cars. There is a companion set of wheels, for early GP, T59, later GP,146 and Royale, the last-named for Wheatcroft’s replica T41.

There are glass cases each containing items one would so like to take possession of. Such as a Pocher model of a T50, to approx 1/8th-scale, a smaller very detailed model of a GP Bugatti, and a case full of tiny models, many made from commercial kits, from the earliest to very late Bugattis, including the “Sahara” T40 (of which the archives contain the truck-body drawings) and miscellaneous items like a Bugatti oil-can, a gold medallion won at Southport by Cordon Rouge, a glass reproduction of a T55, advertising posters and so on.

The engine displays show a sectioned T44 which has never been in a car but can be wound round to show how the machinery functions, and a Brescia power-unit, complemented by tables of engine and gearbox components. From the latter you can define how the celebrated banana tappets mate with their sixteen valves and study a cylinder head intended for the T252 roadversion of the very last GP Bugatti. The Trust’s drawings from about 1923 onwards are about 95% complete and reveal surprising things; did you know that Ettore, although alleged to be averse to supercharging, had a vane-type compressor on paper that pre-dates the Cozette? The Bugatti patents are now being listed and disclose this piece of history. This unique study centre has its own dark-room, for rapid copying of photographs it can supply to “customers” and is able to revive blemished prints for posterity.

Outside, a tree in memory of Ettore, inside a Carlo Bugatti table, and of course, all the Bugatti books. The coachwork drawings alone are intriguing, especially those of fine bodywork intended for the T57 range of chassis. Space has run out, but you will, I hope, see that a visit to this Bugatti Study Centre is worthwhile, perhaps if you are at Prescott on a Driving-School Day or on a practice session, or at one of the 1992 BOC hill-climb meetings, the first of which is scheduled for April 4/5th, followed by a main event on May 2/3rd, with the VSCC there on August 1/2nd. A call to 0242-677201 might facilitate a visit.

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