Historic Grand Prix cars

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THE TYPE 59 Bugatti is rare in that it was the last pure racing car that Ettore Bugatti sold to customers. Before this, with the 2-litre and 2.3-litre versions of the Type 35 and Type 51 straight-eight and the 4-cylinder Type 37 variants, much of the business of the Bugatti factory centred around customers anxious and willing to race the Molsheim products. The Type 59 was conceived to replace the 2.3-litre twin-cam Type 51 as Ettore Bugatti’s answer to Alfa Romeo, who had moved on from their 2.3-litre 8-cylinder Monza model to Vittorio Jano’s masterpiece, the Tipo B “monoposto”. While Jano’s new 8-cylinder engine was 2.6-litres, Bugatti’s new one was 2.8-litres, both double overhead-camshaft 8-cylinders supercharged, but as different as chalk and cheese. The Type 59 Bugatti followed all the regular Molsheim design features, such as the channel-section chassis frame designed as a bridge, deep in the centre at maximum bending loads, and shallow at the ends. Reversed quarter-elliptic rear springs were used, as was normal Bugatti practice and tubular front axle with the half-elliptic leaf springs passing through forged eyes in the beam. The chassis was of two-seater width, in order to sit the driver low down alongside the propeller shaft, unlike Jano’s “monoposto” where the driver sat fairly high in the middle. The Type 59 was late in being completed and did not appear until the end of 1933, long after the “monoposto” Alfa Romeo had dominated the scene. The appearance of the new Bugatti was at San Sebastian for the Spanish GP, the last race before the new 750 kilogramme (maximum) Formula came into force in 1934. The factory team of Type 59 cars, plus one “negotiated private owner”, ran during 1934 with mediocre results and it was technically obsolete from the moment the new Formula Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union cars appeared, as was the all-conquering “monoposto” Alfa Romeo, even though its engine size was increased to 2.9-litres and later to 3.2-litres. Similarly, Bugatti had increased the size of the Type 59 to 3.3-litres, but with very little improvement.

In 1935 the Molsheim factory sold four of their team cars to Bugatti enthusiasts in England, as recounted in detail in MOTOR SPORT in March 1976 (photo-slat copies available) when we featured a fine cut-away drawing by Tony Matthews. This month, we feature in our Historic GP car series the car bought by C. E. C. Martin in 1935.

Bugatti Type 59
Chassis No. 59121
Engine No. 3

C. E. C. (Charlie) Martin had been racing various Bugattis prior to 1935 so he had little trouble in getting on the select list for the four available Type 59 cars and he has already described in MOTOR SPORT how he went to Molsheim to collect the car, and drove it back across France to the Channel port, freely admitting later that it was an awful journey and a bit of a mistake. Imagine a Frenchman going to Didcot to buy one of the 1981 Williams FW07C cars and driving it down to Southampton to catch the ferry to France.

Just as the Type 59 had not been the most successful Grand Prix car to come from the Bugatti factory, it was equally not the most successful in private hands, though it was an attractive car to look at. Martin ran in three major events in 1935, the International Trophy on an artifical road-circuit laid out on the Brooklands track, the Mannin Moar run round the streets of Douglas in the Isle of Man, and the Donington Grand Prix run on the Midlands Park circuit. At Brooklands he retired when a chassis lug broke, but in the Isle of Man he was second to the Hon. Brian Lewis driving a similar Type 59, owned by Noel Rees. At Donington Park Martin very nearly won, being in the lead near the finish, only to have a spin on Starkey’s Hairpin and have Shuttleworth’s “monoposto” Alfa Romeo and Lord Howe’s Type 59 go by before he could get going again. As well as British race meetings Martin tackled a few European events but the car was not a model of reliability, though he did manage a third place in the second Heat at the Marne GP at Reims, and fifth in the Final. Altogether he was fairly disenchanted with his acquisition, and kept his more reliable Type 51 as a stand-by, but before the 1936 season began he rid himself of the Type 59 and bought a “monoposto” Alfa Romeo.

The new owner was a Cambridge undergraduate, the Duke of Grafton, who had had a limited amount of racing experience, but hardly enough to justify racing the Type 59 so it was no great surprise when he had a fatal accident with it in an Irish road race. The wreckage returned to the mainland and was bought by Arthur Baron, a Bugatti specialist in Dorking, Surrey and he rebuilt the car completely. Baron had been doing competitions with Bugattis of various types for some years, but limited his activities to sprints and hillclimbs and the smaller Brooklands meetings. During the rebuild Baron replaced the original Bugatti gearbox with an ENV pre-selector gearbox, a unit that was a bit bulky and heavy, but which paid dividends on standing-start acceleration events. The finished car was painted a deep purple colour with a new and deeper than standard tail and some twin-rear-wheels were made using Type 57 brake drums as the normal Type 59 drums are rivetted integral with the radially spoked wheels. This was in order to get more rubber on the road for accelerative adhesion than the widest tyre of the time could afford. In its rebuilt form, Baron appeared with the car in 1937 and I well recall seeing it at a Bugatti Owners Club speed hill-climb at Lewes, on the road up to the horse-racing course. This was only a minor club meeting, but the sight of Baron making fastest-time-of-the-day made a lasting impression. Although the Type 59 was by then five years old it was still a pure Grand Prix car among “voiturettes”, specials and sports cars that made up the bulk of the entry. Arthur Baron used the Type 59 up to the end of motorsport in 1939 and after the war he did not return to the competition world and the Type 59 passed into the second-hand trade. In 1946 when the sport really got under may again George Abecassis acquired the Type 59, just as Baron had last used it and ran it in every possible event from airfield racing to hillclimbs.

When Abecassis began serious Formula 1 racing with the Grand Prix Aka there was no time for club events so the Bugatti was sold to Kenneth Bear, a London insurance broker who had a good stable of Bugattis which he used for club events. In 1949 Bear entered the Type 59 without its supercharger running on four Zenith HAK carburetters to comply with the Formula One rules, for the Jersey Road Race on the sea-front at St. Helier. Once again the car was involved in tragedy for during an evening practice session the brakes failed, Bear crashed and died as a result. At the time Stafford East was in business with Bear and looking after the cars. After Bear’s death the other Bugattis and the wreckage of the Type 59 were put away in store. Many years later Stafford East started to rebuild the wrecked car back into its super-charged form with two down draught Zenith carburetters and it was completed last year, appearing at the Brooklands Society Dinner as “Car of the Evening”. The week before writing this story, I visited Stafford East to see the car and it had just been started up and run for the first time since 1949. Stafford East is now long retired from the Motor and Garage Trade and engineering, and keeps the car safely at his home, prepared to give it an occasional outing if circumstances justify it. — D.S.J.