Ettore Bugatti's personal Type 57C and the Corgi Rolls Royce Pullman Silver Ghost to go to auction
By Mike Hanlon
February 23, 2012
The Goodwood Festival of Speed is a very special event and it attracts an audience of some considerable influence. Hence the annual auction by Bonhams usually contains some special automobiles.
This year there are two stand-outs going under the hammer already: the first is the 1912 Rolls-Royce Double Pullman Limousine (estimated GBP 2,000,000/US$3,147,000) which was reproduced in the popular Corgi Classics series of widely circulated die-cast toy cars, the second being the personal 1938 Type 57C of the Le Patron, Ettore Bugatti.
Firstly, let's try to put the name Ettore Bugatti in perspective in the automotive world.
Ettore Bugatti produced engines that set world speed records for planes, boats, trains and cars, built the most successful racing car in history and the most expensive car in history. When the Molsheim factory on the border of Germany and France was destroyed during WWII, there is no doubt an era in automotive craftsmanship came to a close.
The Bugatti name has now been restored to its former glory by Volkswagen with a new series of cars of the very highest caliber, but one has to look at history a little to fully understand how successful Bugatti seemed to be at everything he touched.
The success of Bugatti's racing cars, the Type 35 in particular, was no doubt the company's most effective promotional tool.
The World Championship of motor racing is now commonly agreed to be Formula One, and motor racing history is generally ignored prior to WWII, but the name Bugatti was just as well recognized during the twenties and thirties in Europe as Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari are today.
Indeed, a little known fact is that there was a World Grand Prix Championship run for three years from 1925 to 1927. Motor racing was becoming incredibly popular with the masses, and the very same Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) that now sanctions Formula One grouped together the French, Belgian, and Italian Grand Prix events plus the Indianapolis 500, and awarded points and a world title. For the latter two years, the British Grand Prix was added. Bugatti featured in all three championships, taking the official world championship in 1926, winning three of the five events.
Grand Prix motor racing events became big business in this time. They drew massive newspaper coverage and massive crowds, and the winners got a lot of publicity. Soon Grand Prix events sprang up on the streets of large towns across Europe - Rome had one, and even neighboring Tripoli held a Grand Prix.
This is the period when Bugatti became a household name worth keeping. In the years 1924 and 1925 alone, the Type 35 won 351 races. The T35 won the famed Targa Florio race five years running, from 1925 through 1929.
Look through the three seasons of the world championship (1925-1926-1927) and you'll see the list of "other Grand Prix" events at the bottom of each page, which reflects the number of races which were considered Grand Prix but were not part of the championship - you will see this list of events grow from 17 events in 1925 to 31 events in 1927.
You'll also notice that by 1927, Bugatti was winning over 75 percent of all major races.
This is the time-frame in which it has been estimated that the Type 35 won more than a thousand races around the world - from Australia to Argentina, Bugatti was a household name.
Bugatti's cars became so famous that royalty, movie stars and captains of industry sought them - partly to associate with the very best, and partly because they were the only people who could afford them.
Bugatti was no stranger to high society. He was from a well-known aristocratic family with a history in the fine arts, so he essentially "interviewed" these people to ensure his cars were going to a good home. His eccentricity is legendary and he had no trouble turning away potential clients with a high profile, having famously refused to sell a limousine to King Zog of Albania due to the King's poor table manners.
The quality of Bugatti's cars from this era really has to be inspected to be understood. One of the finest illustrations of just how well Bugattis were made, is this wonderful tale of finding a Bugatti at the bottom of a lake, 75 years after it went in.
Bugatti's cars were hand-crafted like no others in automotive history. The level of detailed craftsmanship is astonishing. This car was Bugatti's personal car and the provenance indicates it is believed to have been given to Bugatti by his employees on his birthday.
Despite the claim not being verified, it is almost impossible that the vehicle was not produced with the prior knowledge that it was going to the boss, and one can easily imagine that every employee who touched the vehicle would have done their very best work in creating a personal car for the man who had given everyone so very much to be proud of. Bugatti could not have achieved its extraordinary success without fierce pride in its work, and this car would have been a labor of love for those who created it.
There are several indications in the provenance that this is a special car, but none more so than the tale of its being hidden by the people at the factory during German occupation.
The task of driving the vehicle to its hide-out was given to Robert Benoist, who was driving for the official Bugatti's factory race team at the time, and hence the equivalent of Jenson Button or Sebastien Vettel. The works driver narrowly avoided capture whilst driving this car to its final hideaway.
Another indication there is something special about this car is that it was returned to the care of the factory until 1959 and driven by the Managing Director amongst others. It was during this time that it was fitted with "numerous extra fittings including the three-spoke steering wheel, special Lockheed hydraulic brakes and distinctive radio set."
With three owners since the factory, the Bugatti has rarely been shown - its last big outing was a quarter century ago at the 1985 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
The car is expected to sell for more than GBP1,000,000 - approx US$1,570,000.
"The Corgi" Rolls-Royce
This 1912 Rolls-Royce 40/50hp Double Pullman Silver Ghost Limousine, is one of the most recognizable classic cars in the world, thanks to being chosen as a model for the Corgi Classics series of die-cast model cars.
This was a time when custom coachbuilders flourished - craftsmen of extraordinary skill made one-off automobile bodies for the the rich. The Pullman Limousine style is named after American Railway Car manufacturer George Pullman's luxurious and extravagant railway cars, so the intention from the beginning was to create a grand opulent vehicle.
This car turns 100 years old this year, and was built on the Silver Ghost chassis, which had been proclaimed by the highly influential Autocar magazine as "the best car in the world" just five years prior.
The 1912 Rolls-Royce 40/50hp Double Pullman Limousine's coachwork was constructed by Barker & Co. of South Audley St., London and delivered new to John M. Stephens in South Croydon.
Stephens had previously purchased the first-ever Silver Ghost, and he was the first of a string of prominent collectors to own the car. Since WWII, the car has been part of several of the world's finest automobile collections, including those of John C. Sword, Denis de Ferranti, Richard Solove and John M. O'Quinn.
The car that Sports Car Market magazine once described as "a masterpiece of elephantine Edwardian elegance" is expected to fetch in excess of GBP2,000,000 when it goes under the hammer.
Gizmag's editor-in-chief Noel McKeegan will be making his third visit to the Goodwood Festival of Speed this year, so we'll be there to report on how these remarkable vehicles have fared.
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