Big Bugattis

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Big Bugattis

LAST month I drove to Corby to see some of the big engined Bugaftis which Magnum Engineering Ltd. is rebuilding at Magnum Rare Cars, and to drive one of them.

The car I drove I was John Wilson’s Type 46S. As we entered the workshop, there it was, immaculate as if it had just come out of Molsheim or been on a Show stand. A black and yellow close-coupled 11ft 6in wheelbase coupe by Billeter & Cartier of Lyons, a car which J. Lemon Burton imported from Corsica in 1954 for Matthew Pryor and which was later owned by John Carter, the Wilson family acquiring it in 1961.

It looks like a scaled-down Royale, but is to my mind a much more practical car, which Ettore himself is said to have regarded as his favourite Bugatti. John Wilson, who is a professional pilot, uses the car quite extensively, so there was no need to think in terms of sordid values, but remembering that £8,000,000 was paid for a Royale…! The car is notably original, the engine number, 9S, being found on most of its components, and the body, although re-upholstered, in leather naturally, has its original fittings, dashboard, instruments etc. Chassis number 46585, the car’s registration, UPH 744, dates from 1954 when it arrived in this country. It runs on Dunlop 6.50/7.00 x 20 tyres on those impressive cast alloy vaned wheels, and has streamlined-shape Aerolux Marchal headlamps and a tall elephant mascot. Since it was refurbished by Magnum’s it has done some 12,000 miles, including visits to Prescott and three Continental rallies. On these long journeys autoroutes pose no problems and some 80 miles can be packed into each hour a contemporary road test speaks of a top speed of 96 mph with a high axle ratio.

A week or so before I saw this magnificent Type 46S, it had been used for a wedding and the cap of the oil-feed to the Roots supercharger, which is on the offside of the single oh-camshaft 5.3-litre (5359cc) straight-eight 24-valve engine, had been inadvertently left on. This resulted in oiled-up plugs when the starter tuned the nine bearing, disc-web crankshaft and the blower doused the plugs. There are 16 of them, horizontal in the head, also on the o/s. Ignition is by coil. The plugs were cleaned while we went to lunch in Peter Davies’ Volvo and all was then well, the engine starting after some pumps on the Ki-gass, the knob of which is before the passenger.

The oval instrument panel in the centre of the plain dashboard carries six dials, and I noticed the discreet knobs for the Andre Telecontrols at the extreme ends of the dash. The front seats are spacious and comfortable, the new upholstery in light hued leather, and ahead extends the impressive length of bonnet. The internal door handles and window winders are quite small on the massive expanse of rear-hinged doors,and although this is a close-coupled coupe, the rear seat is of generous proportions… .However, this is beginning to sound like that old road test story.

Of more moment, I was to discover that this is essentially a top gear car. Once into the highest ratio with the long ball-gate central lever no other gear is normally required, even when crawling in traffic or negotiating roundabouts. It is, however, on long straight roads that this striking looking Type 46S truly finds its intended domain, cruising if not exactly inaudibly, with but a faint purposeful rumble. Indeed, John is about to have a higher final drive than the present 3.9:1 ratio made, the engine having ample power to pull it. The ride is good, if not quite a Rolls-Royce glide, and it is easy to visualise this great and individualistic car proceeding imperiously along France’s pre-war Routes Nationale. with cloverleaf Citroens, and tiny Peugeots and Mathis, moving hastily out of its path . . .

The gearchange, double de-clutching up and down, is easy, remembering that the lever is a considerable distance from the back axle, three-speed gearbox. To the left of the gear lever is a far shorter, slender handbrake. The cable-operated brakes with their 16″ diameter drums are entirely adequate, and the low-geared steering notably light, right-hand lock restricted because the drag-link fouls the tyre. Plated minor control levers protrude from the dash but, the engine being untemperamental, I was given no instructions about them; an item of period recall was pulling out the tiny ignition key to kill the engine… .Other road users tend to look askance at this large, elegant Bugatti, a BMW owner saying “Swop?” at the refuelling stop. Petrol thirst is about 8 to 9 mpg. I need hardly say that everything beneath the bonnet is as clean and sparkling as the rest of the car. To keep his T46S company, John Wilson has two Ferraris, a rhd lightweight 206 Dino and a 365 Boxer and an Aero Morgan, and he competes at Prescott with an Elva-Climax.

Before the 1987 Munster Rally, the Bugatti did suffer a mechanical disaster but Magnum Rare Cars completely rebuilt its engine in three weeks, and the event was successfully completed including recovery of another T46 which had broken down. This is the service Magnum performs and during my visit they were working on a touring 146 and two T50s, one of which is the ex-Kenneth Bear, Jack Crowther, Stafford-East car, NPP 128, car number 50143, engine 26. Its 4.9-litre (4972cc) twin-cam engine has been com pletely stripped down and the open body, originally fabric over a mesh framework, now fabric over steel panels, is being completely refurbished. This is the car which was entered for the 1935 Le Mans race to be driven by Delavau/de Valence, but crashed in practice by the latter, its rear fuel tank, unlike those of the ill-fated “works” T50s of 1931, having angled fillers to accommodate a spare wheel between them.

Magnum Rare Cars was formed as a separate company by John Robinson, John Wilson and Peter Davies for the restoration and preparation of the better makes of old cars, the present emphasis being on the bigger Bugaftis, a Ferrari 365BB, Elva Mk. 7 etc. Experience gained in the building of racing cars, such as some 15 F3 Magnums and others between 1982 to 1987, is of value in these various projects.

At the secure and modern unit on the Northamptonshire industrial estate, to which it moved five years ago, Magnum Engineering (Corby) Ltd. employs a staff of 16, and has not only the latest computerised machine tools but a drawing office with three draftsmen, and is equipped to undertake all kinds of precision work, not only on the older motor cars, but for industry in general; and such undertakings can be treated in the strictest confidence. I was told, for instance, that a local firm mass-producing picture frames has had its output appreciably speeded-up by using machinery designed and made by Magnum and that other work has included complex one-off gearboxes, etc. WB

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