1927 Bugatti Type 38A Grand Sport. Photos by Michael Furman, courtesy The Finest Automobile Auctions.
By the late 1920s, Bugatti had established itself as a dominant force in motor racing with the hugely successful Type 35, but the French automaker was also producing superb grand touring cars. The Type 38A was one example, and it borrowed heavily from the company parts bin, using a stretched frame from the Type 30, the engine from the 35A and the Roots-type supercharger from the Type 37A. Just 39 examples were built, and Saturday, June 11 a 1927 Bugatti Type 38A with an in-period racing history and a documented provenance since new will cross the auction stage, offered to the public for the first time in 25 years.
Chassis 38470 was constructed at the Molsheim plant in August of 1927, fitted with an Art Deco inspired factory Grand Sport boat tail body. The four-seat convertible rode on a 123-inch wheelbase, using Bugatti’s typical suspension setup consisting of a solid front axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs and a live rear axle with quarter elliptical springs. To cope with the higher output of the Type 38A’s supercharged eight-cylinder engine, the cable-operated brakes used drums slightly larger in diameter than those fitted to the normally aspirated Type 38. Though Bugatti had used hydraulic brakes on the Type 30, these proved maintenance-intensive, prompting the automaker to return to the same cable setup used on its Grand Prix cars for the Type 38 and 38A.
With the benefit of forced induction, the Type 38A’s 2.0-liter, overhead camshaft, inline eight-cylinder engine reportedly produced in the neighborhood of 100 horsepower, which would soon prove insufficient to keep up with rival sporting marques. As was typical of Bugatti at the time, the engine used monoblock construction and three valves per cylinder (two intake, one exhaust), and though the number of main bearing (three) matched those used in the Type 35A, Bugatti again used roller bearings instead of plain bearings for Type 38 and 38A engines. Despite the supercharger, the Type 38A wasn’t the fastest Bugatti of its day, though it was said to have excellent road manners.
Following its assembly, chassis 38470 remained in Molsheim for several months before being ordered by London Bugatti dealer Colonel Sorel. In October of 1928 the car was delivered to its first owner, L.G. Bachelier, a man with a passion for all things Bugatti and a founding member of the Great Britain Bugatti Owners Club. In July 1929, Bachelier used his new Type 38A to compete in the JCC High Speed Trails at Brooklands, and it’s possible that the Bugatti failed to live up to his expectations, as he sold the car to Denis Evans in 1930.
Evans also ran the car at the JCC High Speed Trails at Brooklands in 1931 and 1932, and competed in the BARC Open Meeting Mountain Handicap in 1931. Perhaps seeking better performance through lighter weight, or more nimble handling, the car’s next owner shortened the frame to turn the Bugatti into a two-seater. It would remain in this altered configuration through multiple owners in the U.K. and in the U.S., until acquired by the consignor, the JWR Collection, in 1991.
The frame chop was not the car’s only alteration. Thanks to its early use in competition events, the original supercharged engine was replaced with a normally aspirated 2.0-liter Bugatti eight-cylinder by the same owner who’d shortened the frame. When acquired from Dr. Terry Bennett in 1991, the car was said to be in need of a complete restoration, so the decision was made to return the car to its “as built” form.
Neither rebuilding the frame nor crafting a new body proved to be the most difficult part of the restoration. Instead, it was sourcing an original Bugatti supercharger, a mission that would likely prove impossible today. Nearly two years after work on the car began, it was completed in 1993, and the car earned a class award at that year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. In the years since, it has been shown at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, the Radnor Hunt Rally, and The Elegance at Hershey, to name but a few of its appearances.
Owned by the same family for two and a half decades, chassis 38470 has a documented history that includes in-period competition, and after nearly nine decades, retains a considerable amount of its original hardware. The Finest Automobile Auctions expects the car to sell for $400,000 to $600,000 when it crosses the auction stage in Hershey, Pennsylvania in June.
For additional information on The Elegance at Hershey auction, visit TheFinest.com.