The Bugatti OC Golden Jubilee Rally

(June 2nd-8th)

This club, catering for perhaps the most exciting motor cars of all, celebrated its Golden Jubilee, or 50th Anniversary, with the impressive Marlboro-sponsored International Rally that brought members of the World’s Bugatti Clubs to the pleasant English spa town of Cheltenham, and later to the spa town of Harrogate. They came from as far afield as Japan, America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The sight of nearly 100 Bugattis parading through Cheltenham was not to be missed and I left petrol-starved Wales in good time – in that charming little car, the Alfasud 1.5 saloon, at 34 m.p.g., thereby making my point about a likely small-car renaissance.

Soon Bugattis of all types, sizes, colours and coachwork-styles began to arrive at Cheltenham’s Pittville Pump Room for the Mayoral reception. It is impossible in the space available to describe this great variety of Bugattis. Suffice it to say that there were plenty of stripped-for-racing Grand Prix cars present, to which the Police turned an equally blind eye to that of their Continental counterparts on these occasions, and that an enthusiastic crowd watched the Parade leave for the dinner at the Golden Valley Hotel on a real “round-the-houses”, with full Police support. It was particularly gratifying to see His Worship the Mayor of Cheltenham take the wheel of BOC Chairman Barrie Price’s self-bodied Type 57 tourer, at the head of this impressive cavalcade of Molsheim magic. And when a Continental visitor’s Bugatti broke down the Police went to the Hotel asking for a knowledgeable helper to go with them in the Police car to render assistance. That, and the Mayor’s baptism in Bugatti lore, set the seal to a successful rally.

Back at the Hotel, a very suitable venue for a gathering of this magnitude, and where an excellent meal was to be served, I took a quick look at the assembled cars. There was de Flines’ Type 44 from Holland with leather-covered cabriolet body by D’Iteren Freres and a taller radiator than usual, Mon. Garnet’s interesting Type 57/101C tourer, with lowered radiator behind a horseshoe grille, made possibly by a header-tank set beside the rear of the o/s cambox, its cooling improved by a Kenlowe fan but its fuel-thirst unquenchable, a nice two-door Type 40 saloon, a wickerwork-bodied tourer, and some very imposing Type 57s with coachwork by Graber, Ventoux, Galibier, and James Young, etc. But of course it was the GP contingent that stole the scene, with Marks’ 1 1/2-litre twin-cam 51A motoring on the road, a unique sight. Michael Barker had the Midland Motor Museum’s Type 43, Bob Roberts his 57C, and “Jumbo” Goddard had come from Australia to drive his Type 51 GP. One GP Bugatti was devoid of all aids-to-legality except for modern “winkers” and a Type 57 saloon displayed a large rally number on its flanks.

Then there were all those BOC personalities – President Eric Giles, looking scarcely a day older than he did at the first Prescott hill-climb in 1937, Jack Lemon Burton, who has contributed so much to the Bugatti-way-of-life, has attended more than 400 BOC Council Meetings and missed only two, and who raced Bugattis before the war, Peter Hampton, who has restored several Bugattis and had entered his rare Type 15 for the Rally, Peter Stubberfield, who used to go so fast up Prescott in his twin-rear-wheeled single-seater Type 35B which held the course-record for 14 years, E. Stafford East, who had magneto trouble with his Type 57TT en route but returned for a spare and continued his journey, Hugh Conway, CBE, who wears the mantle-of-Molsheim with such effectiveness and tact, Dr. Janet Missen, who edits Bugantics in a style virtually unchanged since its second issue (the first one, which I still possess, was a duplicated number), her husband, who acted as Toast-Master for the speech-makers at the dinner, Vice-President Roy Taylor, JP, and so many, many others, like the cars too numerous for individual mention. Another highlight was the arrival of Ian Preston’s Type 35B with the Lady Mayoress, not to be outdone by her husband, riding as passenger in this stark motor car, at quite a rate-of-knots along the dual-carriageway out of the town, one gathered. . . And if some of the Bugattis were proving a little difficult to start, the promised hot-air balloon didn’t start at all.

Dinner was followed by the traditional speeches, led by Barrie Price and Eric Giles, and then with a representative from each country paying tribute to the BOC of Britain, which came first, having been founded in 1929, by D. B. Madeley (who owned a Crossley-Bugatti), Col. (later Brig.-General) G. M. Giles, and T. Ambrose Varley. The BOC could hardly praise itself, so may Motor Sport here pay tribute to its 50 years of top-level conduct, both as a one-make Club and instigator and owner of the Prescott hill-climb course? I remember someone who had owned a number of Rolls-Royces of various types saying that he was obliged to get rid of them because he was always late for appointments. I think that on Saturday, June 2nd, some of the citizens of Cheltenham, thanks to the BOC, may have realised that what this gentleman needed was – a Bugatti! That so many are still active is very largely due to the BOC and Hugh Conway. The last speaker at this vast gathering was Aubrey Esson-Scott, who had arrived late. He used to race those immaculate black Bugattis before the war, and his hack flat-nose Morris-Cowley coupe was just as immaculate. His long-tailed 2-litre GP Bugatti once went off the road at the Crystal Palace and I had to run for it, from the point where I had been watching, without an official pass! Esson-Scott said he is now 75, his present love is Jaguars, but he learned what it takes from his Bugattis . . .

On the Sunday the Rally entrants paraded up Prescott. Not being altogether enamoured of classic cars, whose speed-meeting this was, I didn’t attend, neither could I spare the time (nor petrol!) to follow the Rally into Yorkshire. Knowing the BOC, however, I am sure that it all went according to plan, another enjoyable and memorable landmark in the history of this great Club. — W.B.

Postscript: I do not have a revised list of Rally runners and it is possible that about 10% non-started, but as a guide to the popularity of different Bugatti Types around the World the first list showed 98 cars, comprising 20 Type 57s, eight each of Types 40 and 44, six Type 37s, five each of Types 35 and 37A, four each of Types 43 and 57C, three each of Types 35A, 35B, 35C, 49, 43A and 55, two each of 13, 23, 30, 46, and 51 and lone entries of Types 15, Garros, 38, 40A, 49/57 hybrid, 43/44 hybrid, 51A, 57S, 57TT, and 57/101C hybrid. — W.B.