AT ONE TIME people used to claim that the racing car of today was the touring car of tomorrow, but they were looking at the world through rose-coloured spectacles and trying unsuccessfully to justify the sport of motor racing. During the nineteen-twenties and thirties it could truthfully be said that the racing car of today might become the sports car of tomorrow, but they were still sports cars that were happier in competition on the track than on the open road or in the towns. In 1932 the Bugatti factory introduced a new sports car in the Type 55 which was a pure Grand Prix, underneath a very svelte body. By the current standards sports car, the Type 55 was luxurious and the two-seater roadster bodywork sported voluminious mudguards, full width windscreen and very comfortable leather upholstery. It was essentially a road-going two-seater with luggage accommodation in the rounded tail and all the attributes of a very usable touring car. Mechanically it was a production version of the Type 51 Grand Prix car, complete with supercharged twin-overhead camshaft straight-eight engine. The only real difference from the Grand Prix car was slower compression ratio in the engine to enable it to run on petrol/benzole mixture rather than racing alcohol fuel.
Whereas most sports cars of the time were functional in their appearance the Type 55 was also elegant and to add to the effect the roadster bodywork was offered in two-tone paintwork of black and red, black and yellow, black and green or black and blue. The Type 55 roadster was an eye-catcher in the best tradition; and it performed as well, with a top speed of over 110 m.p.h. As well as the standard roadster a few fixed-head coupes were built, but the noise level inside was pretty high. One or two roadsters came to Great Britain in 1933-34 and a couple more have been imported from France in recent years. In the infamous Schlumpf Collection in Mulhouse there are at least six Type 55 Bugattis, and three of the rare coupes. Without doubt the Type 55 is a classic among Bugattis, and a classic among sports cars, but would you believe that someone is making a new one! This is being constructed from some old Bugatti components and a lot of new ones that are being made these days, while the bodywork is being constructed from scratch. As there are a number of Grand Prix Type 51 Bugattis being raced actively these days in historic racing it has been worthwhile for the owners of these cars to get together and have vital engine components made in small batches, as well as wheels, brakes and similar parts. Consequently it has been possible to build up the mechanical components for a Type 51 or a Type 55 from mostly new parts.
A real Type 55 Bugatti is not only rare, but is an exciting car to drive, and owners of them tend to keep them because there are not many about, but now, who knows? If this first one fetches a good auction price there may be more. — D.S.J.