Buying a Bugatti
Before the fun of driving your vintage car and discovering its place in history, and perhaps its individual past, you have to find it and get it home. An example was a Type 40 acquired by Holland Birkett, when he was extending his repertoire from A7 Specials to the Molsheim products, He had heard that a lady had been asked by her husband, who was away with the Forces, to sell their Type 40, as the war was likely to go on for a long time. After postal negotiations Holly decided to buy it, for £29, and I set off with him to get it running and back to Fleet in Hampshire.
The owner lived in Torquay, so first we had to get to Reading Station, with a large crate labelled “Veterinary Supplies” (Birkett was a vet) which contained tools and, it was war-time remember, tins of “veterinary petrol”.
The girl and her mother had offered to put us up while the Bugatti was made to run, expecting this to occupy a couple of days at most. Alas, for them, the chore extended to several days, during which we consumed what must have been a month’s rationed food (Holly was a big chap) if not a year’s supply. Holly was usually teetotal, but after an evening sherry got a bit lively, to the girl’s quite unnecessary alarm. Her mother had been even more alarmed, with her daughter’s brother and husband overseas in the RAF and Army, to receive Holly’s telegram: “Arriving 4.30 with body.” True!
Worse, he regarded me as useless as a helper and rang Tom Lush to ask him to come down to assist. I spent a long, boring day on Torquay Station, meeting every train until Tom arrived, to show him to the garage in which the dismantled Bugatti stood: and now there were three enthusiasts to feed.
At last the job was almost done. I was allowed one simple task, that of doing up the little nuts securing the cambox cover. “Should we check that oil is getting to the valve-gear?” I meekly enquired. “Bod,” I was told, “you know nothing about cars, just get the thing on… Eventually we set off, at speed, enjoying all the delights which a Type 40 can bestow on motor-mad males. The only stop was for a dog which ran from a house and was bowled over. Its lady owner screamed for a vet. Rising from the driving seat Birkett announced his profession, picked the animal up, and disappeared into the house. Later he emerged and said we were to get going quickly “Why?” “I have reassured her it will recover but it may not last very long.”
Off again, we were belting across Salisbury Plain when there was a rattle and a loud bang. Inspection showed, to my smug satisfaction, that the camshaft was dry and, blue from the heat, had seized.
Now, we were without transport, in war-time. Then we noticed a tram at a distant halt and ran across fields, just as it was moving. “Get your tickets at your destination” yelled the porter. at Fleet.
Arriving eventually at Fleet, Holly explained. Do you remember where the three of you got in?” asked the ticket-collector, “Began with W”, replied Holly. “Ah, Winchfield, that will be 9d each.” It was probably Wilton, further back down the line…
We walked home and seem to remember that went off in my 12/50 Alvis retrieve the stricken Type 40 that evening.