Introduced in 1924, the Bugatti Type 35 was the French automaker’s most successful competition model, amassing more than 1,000 race wins during its heyday. Not everyone needed the performance the model delivered, so in response, Bugatti debuted the lower-output, lower-priced Type 35A in May 1925. Though intended as a high-speed tourer, these, too, were raced, and one such 1925 Bugatti Type 35A — reportedly driven by Louis Chiron in the 1926 Provence Grand Prix — will cross the stage at Worldwide Auctioneers’ 2019 Scottsdale sale.
As a no-compromise racing car, the Type 35 used a 2.0-liter inline eight-cylinder engine with an overhead camshaft opening three valves per cylinder (two intake and a single large exhaust valve). For durability, the engine used five main bearings, and produced 90 horsepower when spun up to its 6,000-rpm redline. The Type 35 received a magneto ignition, as well as a supplemental oil tank — complete with hand pump — mounted beneath the seat. Most received early alloy wheels and some used hollow front axles designed to improve handling by reducing unsprung weight.
Though the Type 35A looked much like the Type 35 (aside from the former’s wire spoke wheels), there were key differences beneath the bodywork. To shave francs off the production cost and simplify maintenance, the Type 35A used an overhead-camshaft, 2.0-liter inline eight with smaller valves and three main bearings instead of five. The magneto ignition was replaced by a battery and distributor system, while the under-seat oil tank was eliminated.
Officially, the car was named the Bugatti Type 35A Course Imitation (Imitation Race), a nod to its race car looks and more modest performance. Unofficially, the car was widely known as the “Tecla,” a nod to a period manufacturer of cultured pearls and costume jewelry. Clearly, the adage “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” had validity on both sides of the Atlantic.
Bugatti’s production volume was small enough that customers could request changes to models ordered, and it wasn’t unusual to find Type 35As delivered with Type 35 performance parts. Chassis 4631, the Type 35A to be sold in Scottsdale, was constructed with the Type 35’s magneto ignition and supplemental oil tank, perhaps indicating that the distributor had a buyer who intended to compete with the car.
Chassis 4631 was delivered to its first owner, Dr. R. Zublin of Strasbourg, France, in October 1925. The doctor didn’t own the car for long, returning it to Bugatti’s Molsheim, France, factory in exchange for a more luxurious Type 30. Chassis 4631 did not remain in Molsheim for long, however, and was shipped to Jean Ollivier, Bugatti’s dealer in Marsaille, by the end of 1925. Ollivier sold the car to Pierre Granier circa January 1926, who soon after returned the car to the factory. It’s unclear why (Repairs? Upgrades?), but chassis 4631 was then delivered to Alfred “Freddie” Hoffmann, heir to the Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical fortune, owner of a racing spark plug company in Marsaille and — by mid-1926 — proprietor of Ollivier’s former Bugatti franchise with Henri Giraud.
Hoffmann’s company reportedly purchased chassis 4631 from Granier in March 1926, entering it into the 1926 Provence Grand Prix on March 28. There, it was campaigned by an up-and-coming racer named Louis Chiron, who finished second in the 2.0-liter class and fourth overall, against a 43-car field that included four other Bugatti Type 35A models. There’s no evidence that Chiron used the car in any other circuit races during 1926, though he may have contested hill climb events behind its steering wheel.
The evidence that Chiron drove chassis 4631 — unearthed by Bugatti historian David Sewell — is circumstantial and based upon a chronology of events. Records for the 1926 Provence Grand Prix did not include chassis numbers, and what’s known is that Hoffmann entered a Type 35A for Chiron in the event. There were a limited number of Type 35As produced by March 1926, and it isn’t likely that Hoffmann owned more than chassis 4631 at the time; therefore, one can state with reasonable confidence that 4631 was the Type 35A driven by Chiron in the race.
A year later, in March 1927, chassis 4631 was sold to a buyer in Nice, France, and over the next 11 years, the car would pass through 10 more caretakers. In 1938, the owner of record was Jean Le Her of Bourges, France, and it’s believed that Le Her kept the car hidden in storage during the war years. In 1948, it resurfaced in the ownership of a mechanic, Javier Guillemelle, who owned it for roughly two years before passing it on.
In 1958, chassis 4631 was purchased by an American — John Youman — allegedly from a couple in the midst of a spat outside a wine shop. Youman imported the Bugatti, then sold it to Peter Seferian, who began a four-year restoration but died shortly after the work was completed. The Bugatti sat in storage from 1963-’97, when it was acquired by David Carroll, who entrusted Competition Motors in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with its re-restoration.
The work included a rebuild of the car’s original 2.0-liter engine, at which time it was upgraded to Type 35T specifications with five main bearings and a longer-stroke crankshaft that increased displacement to 2.3-liters. This restoration was finished in 2004, and in 2005 the car was acquired by the consignor, who added the period-correct alloy wheels. Like many Bugatti owners, he opted to drive the car with some frequency, campaigning it in several Monterey Historics and entering three Colorado Grands and a trio of Copperstate 1000s. In 2016, he shipped chassis 4631 to Europe, where he and his wife spent the next 16 months touring the countryside and attending marque events, including the 50th anniversary of the French Bugatti Club and the International Bugatti Meeting in Sardinia. During this time, the car was driven more than 4,200 miles, a testament to the Bugatti’s engineering and durability.
Worldwide Auctioneers is predicting a selling price between $2.0 and $2.5 million when the Type 35A crosses the auction stage in Arizona on Wednesday, January 16. For additional detail on the company’s 2019 Scottsdale sale, visit Worldwide-Auctioneers.com.