(September 12th-15th) (See colour pictures in centre spread)
To commemorate the debut of the Type 35 Bugatti which appeared for the first time in the French GP at Lyon in 1924, an International gathering of Bugatti Clubs was held in the town in September. It promised to be a notable occasion and as I had to be in Cannes on business the day before it started it seemed prudent to look in on the return journey.
Driving southbound along the Autoroute du Sud on the Thursday morning we had overtaken a couple of sedately-driven Bugattis in convoy and later we passed a number of trailers either carrying blue-painted cars or covered in blue tarpaulins. The Lyon pilgrimage, it seemed, had begun! We had ourselves paid a considerable sum of money to the BOG for what was first thought to cover hotel expenses for the four days, was later said to cover food only but, in fact, was an entry fee. Indeed, arriving at the stipulated hotel in Lyon we were told that the rally-h.q. had been changed to the Novahotel on the other side of the town. ‘We hastened there, only to discover that no-one had heard of us. So we just booked in, had lunch, and set off for the driving-tests at Belleville-surSaone.
In that town, the carefree atmosphere we had expected of this Bugatti rally immediately became apparent when we encountered VSCC President Nigel Arnold-Forster driving Delage II on the public road in stripped racing trim. Admittedly the big car, its outside exhaust thundering defiance, was being escorted by a modern Mercedes-Benz saloon carrying a warning flag, rather as if they were pretending that the Delage was no racing car but just a steam-roller on its way to a roadrepairing assignment in the dark age* Later, however, Nigel dispensed with his escort as he hurried back to Lyon to repaint the o/s of the bonnet which had been blistered by a carburetter fire en route to the tests.
This was what we had come to see (the freedom, not the fire) and soon the main road was packed with Bugattis, many of them also in racing trim. The gendarmes, poker-faced but good-natured, looked on without a murmur. Nor shall we soon forget the happy smiles on the faces of the aged, clothcapped workers who emerged at going-home time from a factory and encountered the racing Delage halted at some traffic lights . . . .
The driving-tests were held along the Avenue Du Pont, drivers accelerating for an encouragingly long distance up this, another public road, before swinging round on some loose surface by the river and rushing back towards the start, where they were required to stop in a marked-out box. One gendarme was trying to control the spectators, who applauded loudly those drivers who slid sideways as they braked while ignoring those who stopped properly but sedately! Hamish Moffatt was especially well-received, because he slid into a straw bale and was duly penalised. The local population, some of whom probably remembered the GP at Lyon in 1924, perhaps had been at the dramatic race of 1914, came to gaze at this welcome manifestation of motoring history. The spirit of the rally was becoming apparent!
That evening there was a reception at the Henri Malatre Museum at Rochetaillee-sur-Saone, to which the cars raced by a back route, watched by groups of onlookers in every village street. Tucking in behind Moffatt’s Type 35, specially rebuilt for these Lyon celebrations, we paced it by the BMW’s speedometer, at 95 mph. over the distinctly bumpy road; his god-daughter, Miss Arnold-Forster, was the intrepid (very!) passenger …
Being in France, the reception did not start until those whose automobiles had no lights had been obliged to leave. However, if we too missed the champagne, we shall long remember the impressive line-up of Type 35s outside the Gordini building and the fun of following a trio of GP Bugattis back into Lyon in the dark, only one of them, driven by a girl, having any form of lighting and the noises and the scent of racing oil and fuel being simply spleddid. The locals seemed to be enjoying every minute of it and again the gendarmes looked on impassively.
At the museum’ we had time to take a quick look round. I was surprised how small were those Le Mans: Alpine Renaults, and was reminded that the Citroën 2 c.v. had been made as a water-cooled prototype in 1936 and of how very like a vintage Rolls-Royce was the Sizaire-Freres: Other exhibits included that immense Nazi-leader’s Mercedes 770 Speciale, a 1906 three-cylinder Ours, a 1.h.d. Model-T Ford and a nice selection, naturally, of French cars, as well as a gull-wing MercedesBenz 300SL, a Berliet V600 engine and many famous racing cars and motorcycles.
Saturday was devoted to the Limonest hillclimb, the twisting road closed for what was announced as a series of demonstration runs but which naturally turned out to be a fullfig, timed contest. The hairpinned course is 2.6 km. long, making Prescott seem like a suburban garden path. Delage II was a centre of attraction because it had made f.t.d. here in 1922, ’23 and ’24. Nigel was aware that Benoist had driven it in 1924 but it was the local dustman who, instantly recognising “La Torpille” which he had seen racing there as a boy, confirmed that on the earlier occasions the car was driven by Rene Thomas. Memories are long, in France! The only other car present in 1974 to uphold Delage honour was Surmain’s magnificent Kellner-bodied D8S from the owner’s Coachwork Museum in Majorca—I know, because he kindly gave me a lift back to the Paddock in it after the practice runs.
The list of runners showed 114 entrants, of which 94 were Bugattis and of these 15 were the Lyon-debut Type 35s of one sort or another. Practically every Bugatti model was represented, from Type 13 to a Type 57/ 110C saloon, a cavalcade which would have both pleased and astounded Ettore. They were opposed by Mann’s 1914 Mercedes which had been driven there from London and which was the actual 1914 Lyon GP-winner, several Alfa Romeos, a tatty but fast racing Amilcar Six, and the Malatre Museum’s long-tailed 1923 GP Rolland-Pilain which had survived a minor fire on the Friday. In addition to these and other cars, TASO Mathieson had very sportingly brought out, with the help of Castrol and the NMM, the Sunbeam “The Cub” which had run in the 1924 GP, and Sandford-Morgan from Australia and Louis Giron who was working at the Bugatti factory when it was made, shared the NMM’s actual Lyon Type 35 Bugatti. The Sunbeam was suffering from a sticky clutch and had to make its run in 2nd gear, after a flying start which drew sympathetic applause from the big crowd of spectators. Then there was a determined Simon Phillips, complaining that he couldn’t get his 328 BMW to lift a wheel at the corners, and a so-called Paris-Madrid de Dion Bouton thrown in as light relief. Moreover, the Ferraris had a class to themselves.
Primarily, though, this was a Bugatti occasion, and Molsheim stories abounded. Like that of the waitress in a restaurant outside Lyon who remembered Ettore taking his drivers there for refreshments from the camp he had set up near-by, during the period of the 1924 GP, and of how he had paid in Louis d’Or gold coins.
Lord Raglan’s 37A had an electric fan to help it keep cool, although this had not obviated some valve trouble on the way down, whereas Major Lambton and his daughter had enjoyed a good run in their 37 from the French capital, having put it on the Southampton/Paris car-train ferry. The de Ferrantis brought the road-equipped 3.3-litre Type 59, a Type 46, and a 35A from Eire, booking rooms for themselves, two chauffeurs and their personal helicopter pilot. At the hill Janet Misson got hot cranking St. John’s Type 51 and pushing Kain’s 35, a service not required for Conway Junior’s 37A which has a starter above the gearbox, thought to be an original Bugatti addition. Poor Conway Senior, who had been busy sorting out the casual French organisation, had his 35B catch fire on the hill, due to a blow-back; he put the fire out expeditiously but a fireman then covered the car in foam. Barker, in the Conway Type 43, had no problems other than observing the owner’s rev-limit. Moffatt lost a tyre tread in practice and two cylinder: 3 on the timed run; it is interesting that whereas in England his 710 x 90 tyres are notable. in Europe several Bugattis are so shod, although in the 1924 GP it was Dunlops of another size, on which Ettore had unwisely insisted) that caused the Type 35’s debut to be unauspicious, the race being won by Alfa Romeo, at 71 m.p.h. Rippon had a great dice in his yellow 35B and is rumoured to have come to rest hanging over a parapet . . .
The organisation at the hill was TV somewhat indifferent. For instance, but cameramen were allowed at the start but not not our photographer, a policy we ca few understand, because television lasts a few flickering moments whereas a journal records events got events for all time. Moreover, spectators got on the course, in spite of efficient fencing. All in all, however, this Limonest hill was a very enjoyable happening.
Ian Preston Preston made f.t.d., Vena Llewelyn’s Type 13 easily won the Br lage, class, and that docile ‘road car, the Delage,
Continued on page 1232