Having served my apprenticeship in writing by sending schoolboy letters to Motor Sport and other motoring papers, and writing unpaid contributions for the Bugantics magazine of the BOC, I thought to broaden the last-named with more than just bits about the club's rallies and social events. But how to do this?
Bugattis are such good cars that few owners wished to improve them or to increase their very acceptable performance. Even so, I decided to embark upon a series of 'Special Bugatti Types'.
I remember that first I went, in 1933, to see Jack Robinson's extremely potent Brescia Bugatti, which he raced at Brooklands and elsewhere. Jack had bought it for £95 in 1928 as a normal circa-1926 Brescia. He gave it a 60lb body made by a blacksmith for £5 and tuned it at his Wendover home, with help from R R Jackson. It set Best Undergraduate time at Branches Park and Ewelme Down but sadly overturned at the latter venue. Repaired, by 1931 it could circulate Brooklands at nearly 100mph and also lap the Mountain circuit there at over 64mph. How this was done covered over two pages of Bugantics.
I went next to Derby in a Type 40 Bugatti to see what is now the famous 1913 5-litre, chain-drive 'Black Bess'. It had done extremely well, driven by Ivy Cummings, in pre-war sprints, as companion to her GN, as she told me in a later interview while she bathed her baby. L H Preston had run the old Bugatti at Brooklands and, for Oxford, was beaten only by a younger Vauxhall 30/98 at an Oxford & Cambridge speed-trial at Henley Park in 1926, where Preston rode also his Norton and Brough Superior bikes. Actor James Robertson Justice had the car when we discovered it. It was in a saddish state, but it is now history that Col GM Giles, CBE, MC, TD, Vice-President of the BOC, bought it and fully restored it; Peter Hampton then kept it immaculately, as does David Heimann, its present owner, aided by Ivan Dutton. I once spent a chilly day at Kop Hill for the BBC trying to relive the performances there by Ivy, whose beauty I failed to convey.
Emboldened, this unknown 20 year-old author next took a train to Dorking to ask Arthur Baron how he had turned a 1929 Type 44 Bugatti into a racing car able to win its class at Lewes (25sec) although it had only been completed the day before, was not run-in, and had no teeth on a second-gear pinion. It then made FTD at the JRDC Henley speed trials. How it was done I explained: four Solex carburettors, 10:1 compression ratio, wheelbase shortened to 8ft 6in, etc.
I then gave a full account of the 16-valve Type 22 Bugatti raced by Leon Cushman, about which he was very helpful, including a very informative account of what happened in the 1922 JCC 200-Mile Race.
Equally helpful was J Lemon Burton, almost 'Mr Bugatti' here, the blue doors of whose Edgware Road premises thrilled me whenever I passed by, with thoughts of all those Molsheim-built racing cars behind them. Now I was inside, discussing his very successful Type 37A, so well-known for its performances in sprints and at Brooklands.
F J Fielding's very much modified 1927 non-s/c Type 37 GP car was yet another 'special'. It was driven to events but was the smartest racing Bugatti imaginable. I first saw it outside W B Scott's Brooklands shed in 1934. This ex-R J Noel machine was bought by Fielding from Jack Bartlett in 1930. It was soon given a large supercharger, and its owner, who specialised in Shelsley Walsh, supplied me with almost six pages of data about how it was made faster and faster, and of the mishaps in between.
Next, Guy Griffiths, whom I knew very well, told me about the Brescia Bugatti he had been racing, tuned by the son of a clergyman who drove a Brescia as his road car. I also did a piece about another Brescia, for which dirt-track racing and wonderful speeds were claimed.
I also penned long accounts of E K Rayson's ex-G E T Eyston and TASO Mathieson 2-litre, by then much changed, and thus ideal for my purpose. This racing car was towed to meetings behind Rayson's 33/180 Mercedes-Benz.
The supply of unusual Bugs was by now running out and I concluded this series of articles with detailed descriptions of Esson-Scott's very well-known twin-cam 2-litre, black single-seater, Lemon Burton's idea of a racing version of a Type 44, L G Bachelier's supercharged 4.9-litre Grand Sport, how Baron fitted a blower to a Brescia engine and then popped it into a GP chassis, the Almack-owned, ex-Field, ex-Campbell single-seater and s/c GP-powered Type 40, Leslie Ballamy's ifs Type 37 which Dick Seaman once unwisely tried to race for him and, finally, John Smyth's rebuilt Brescia Bugatti.
But all Bugattis are irresistible, are they not?