One-Off Bugatti reborn

Made a long haul in the summer sun the other day to that shrine of Bugatti contentment, Ivan Dutton’s workshop at picturesque Ickford near Oxford, being much frustrated by slow traffic.

The object of the visit was to see again a one-off Bugatti, which I had known years previously in the earlier stages of my intense, if unexplained, interest in cars. It had come about then, this earlier visit to this Bugatti Special, because the Bugatti OC wanted someone to help with contributions to its magazine Bugantics, which happily survives in unchanged format, now ably edited by Mrs Pat Preston.

They recruited the then-youthful WB, who was more than happy to take on this unpaid task after all, repayment came in the form of runs in the latest Bugattis, with Col G M Giles and others, when a Type 57SC, for instance, not only made the right, joyous sounds but was about the fastest car on the road no E-types then to hoot and vanish into the distance, as might happen today…

So all was bliss and happiness, as to help fill Bugantics I devised my `Special Bugatti Types’ series of articles. It was not easy to find cars which departed sufficiently far from specifications as to be eligible. In the end I found just 16, over a number of years. (Reproduced unedited in Barry Eaglesfield’s useful Bugatti Book, (M RP, 1954) they portrayed my budding enthusiasm and writing enjoyment, although I would like to have cleaned them up a bit.)

The car I am now on about formed No10 of the run: Aubrey Esson-Scott’s modified Type 51 s/c twin-cam 2-litre, a rare model. Its long-tailed body was finished in gleaming black, its owner equally immaculate, in matching overalls and helmet when he raced it an apprenticeship at Hooper’s had taught him the art of coach-painting and his black Morris Cowley coupe was just as smart. He had collected the Bug personally from Molsheim in 1934, his other sport being punt racing. I used to see him racing the Bugatti, and ran like mad when he lost it on the Crystal Palace circuit in 1937 and slid backwards off the track -I had no track pass, so thought it wise not to be clobbered. (When I interviewed Esson-Scott again in 1980 he was just as immaculate, as was the 1962 E-type jaguar coupe, which was his later love.)

Now Ivan Dutton has found what appears to be this very car, identifiable by the altered prop shaft, special front cross-member with quickly detachable extremities to facilitate changing the front axle (not with further prangs in mind, surely?), tank mounting, traces of the attachments for the long tail, even the holes where the bonnet-strap was secured. By a series of astonishing coincidences Ivan also has the engine once in the car, so is anxious to reform it as it was when Esson-Scott, and later Souter, ran it. it stood, a chassis outside the big workshops, reminding me of a photograph I used in a wartime MOTOR SPORT somehow a GP Bugatti looks even more exciting without its body.

That was the car I had gone to talk about, otherwise it would have been easy to become overwhelmed by the astonishing assembly of Bugattis at Ivan’s habitat. In the inner sanctum was a line of completely immaculate (that word again!) cars, mostly GPs and not all in Molsheim blue, either. Ivan began to describe them the Type 43 Malcolm Campbell rebuilt after the fire that practically destroyed it during the 1929 TT, Campbell’s 1927 Boulogne GP winner.., but unless you have a few million, what is the use? The desire to take away a slice of the stock has to be firmly resisted, I can tell you.

Outside in the enormous workshop there are about half as many Bugattis again, with a lucky young apprentice toiling on one of them, as a friend of mine did years ago when he went to Papworth’s, his First job being to lace-up the web of wires retaining a Molsheim undershield. More later, I hope, about this unique Bugatti that Ivan is rebuilding.