Lot 170

2022   |   Pebble Beach Auctions

1931 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix


$2,750,000 - $3,250,000





Car Highlights

Fabulous, Thoroughly Documented Provenance

Retained as a Bugatti Factory Team Car Through 1934

Owned by a Succession of Elite Collectors

One of Only 40 Built and Approximately 20 Survivors

Expert 1989–1994 Restoration by Crosthwaite & Gardiner

Technical Specs

2,262 CC DOHC Inline 8-Cylinder Engine

Roots-Type Supercharger and Zenith Carburetor

160 BHP at 5,000 RPM

4-Speed Manual Gearbox

4-Wheel Cable-Operated Drum Brakes

Front Rigid-Axle Suspension with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs

Rear Rigid-Axle Suspension with Reversed Quarter-Elliptical Leaf Springs

Register to Bid

Joe Twyman

Automobiles Ettore Bugatti, Molsheim, Alsace, France (1931–1934)

Claude “Barowski” Bossu, Roubaix, France (acquired from the above in 1934)

Jean Delorme, Paris, France (acquired from the above in 1936)

H.R.H. Prince Bertil, Sweden (acquired from the above circa 1936)

Genaro Leoz, Valdepoenas, Spain (acquired in 1937)

Jack Lemon Burton, UK (acquired from the above in 1937)

Donald B. Parkinson, Los Angeles, California (acquired from the above circa 1937)

George D. Parrish, California (acquired from the above in 1938)

Thomas “Tommy” S. Lee, Los Angeles, California (acquired from the above in 1940)

Willett Brown, US (acquired from the above in 1946)

Otto Zipper, Santa Monica, California (acquired from the above in 1946)

W. Hudson Mills, East Orange, New Jersey (acquired from the above in 1946)

Robert H. Fergus, Ohio (acquired from the above circa 1965)

Joel Finn, Poughkeepsie, New York (acquired partnership interest with Fergus in 1974)

Ralph Lauren, New York City, New York (acquired from the above circa 1986)

Current Owner (acquired from the above in 2004)

Bugatti Works Test Sessions, France, March 1934, Benoist

Cote de Lectoure Hill Climb, France, September 1934, Bossu (3rd in Class)

Mont Ventoux Hill Climb, France, September 1934, Bossu, No. 92 (1st in Class)

Grand Prix des Frontières, Chimay, Belgium, June 1935, Bossu, No. 14 (4th)

Cote de Eymoutiers Hill Climb, France, August 1935, Bossu, No. 26

Cote de Lectoure Hill Climb, France, September 1935, Bossu (1st in Class)

Montlhéry A.G.A.C.I. Members’ Meeting, France, May 1936

XIe Grand Prix des Frontières, Chimay, Belgium, May 1936, Bossu, No.12 (DNF)

Harper Dry Lake Land Speed Racing, California, 1940, Lee, No. 414

XXIe Bugatti Meeting at Montlhéry, France, 2005

Goodwood Revival Meeting, UK, 2006, No. 10 (27th)

Goodwood Revival Meeting, UK, August–September 2007, No.15 (18th)

Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême, France, September 2007

Grand Prix Historique, Monaco, May 2008, No. A12

Grand Prix Historique, Monaco, May 2010, No. A26

Grand Prix Historique, Monaco, May 2012, No. A6

As the first new Bugatti Grand Prix car since the Type 35, the Type 51 ushered in a new DOHC cylinder head design, reputedly inspired by the fast and advanced front-drive Millers from America. Consistent with its progenitor, the Type 51 remains one of the most unmistakable and visually beautiful race cars ever conceived. Two versions were offered, the T-51 with either 2.0-liter or 2.3-liter engines and in T-51A tune with 1.5-liter supercharged power. Type 51 production ran from 1931 through 1935 with marque authorities citing 40 examples built in all, including a small number of cars upgraded at Bugatti’s Molsheim works from supercharged single-cam Type 35 racing cars. Weighing only around 750 kilograms (1,654 pounds), the Type 51 was capable of exceeding 140 mph at full chat. While the Type 51 was eventually outgunned by the Alfa Romeo, Auto Union, and Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix cars to come during the 1930s, the Bugatti was highly successful throughout the top European races of the era in the hands of legends including Louis Chiron, Achille Varzi, William Grover-Williams, and other greats.

This Bugatti Type 51, chassis 51154, carries exhaustively documented history compiled by renowned Bugatti historians David Sewell and Mark Morris, who followed the car for several decades, culminating in their detailed 100-page report accompanying the car at auction. Supporting historical references include entries for this car in The Bugatti Book (1954), Hugh Conway’s The Bugatti Register, and the Nordic Bugatti Register (2014), plus research conducted by Bugatti historian Pierre-Yves Laugier using copies of Bugatti factory records.

According to Mr. Laugier’s research of the factory records, cited by the Sewell and Morris report on file, the origin of this Bugatti Type 51 dates to July 7, 1931, when two 2.3-liter Type 35B engines, nos. 205 and 207, were on hand at Bugatti’s Molsheim works. Both were documented to have been upgraded to twin-cam Type 51 specification, and engine no. 205 would become a 2.3-liter Type 51 engine, no. 17. According to the Molsheim factory engine book, engine no. 17 was fitted to this Type 51, chassis 51154, assembled on July 7, 1931. Soon after assembly, 51154 embarked on its early career as a works racing Bugatti.

While 51154 was completed too late by Bugatti to participate in the mid-July 1931 Grand Prix of Spa, photographic analysis of the car’s minute details by Sewell and Morris led them to conclude, “…it is almost certain” that William Grover-Williams drove this Type 51, with engine no. 17, at the German Grand Prix on the Nürburgring on July 19, 1931; however, the historians found no subsequent racing entries attributed to the car for the remainder of 1931. According to period photographs studied by Sewell and Morris, this Type 51 was possibly used by famed Bugatti driver Louis Chiron in testing for the Grand Prix de la Marne on July 3, 1932, and at the French Grand Prix tests at Reims that month. An engine overhaul on August 9 and work to the gearbox and rear axle on August 19 closed out the Bugatti’s 1932 season, followed by more service to the car from January to early February 1934, with the car likely having been used by Bugatti for testing purposes, given the February 11, 1933 maintenance note referring to a special supercharger. Certainly, the highlight of 1933 for the car was its use for some practice and training runs at Montlhéry in March with none other than the retired 1927 Grand Prix champion, Robert Benoist, with the legendary driver photographed on the track behind the wheel.

According to extracts from the Bugatti factory’s Sales Register and Invoice Book, a Type 51A, chassis 51154 with engine 17, was sold to Claude Bossu, the car’s first private owner, on July 13, 1934. Bossu was the scion of a successful family and aspiring driver, who raced under the pseudonym “Barowski” and paid 86,400 francs for his new steed. From 1934 to 1936, Bossu contested seven events, including a 1st in Class victory at the September 1934 Mont Ventoux Hill Climb. Various events followed, including finishing 2nd at Montlhéry, plus 1st in Class at the Côte de Lectoure race on September 1, 1935. Bossu’s final outing was at the May 1936 Grand Prix des Frontières at Chimay, Belgium. On the wet circuit, Barowski was blinded by mud thrown up from his front tires, drove into a field, and flipped the Bugatti, causing minor chassis damage. Fortunately, he was unharmed and elected to retire from racing, selling the car to Jean Delorme, who also owned Type 51 chassis 51149.

Delorme proceeded to rebuild the 2,300 cc engine of 51149 with most of the mechanical parts from 51154, including the crankshaft and upper crankcase. The parts from 51149 were then fitted to 51154, transforming it into a 2,300 cc car. Crucially, both 51149 and 51154 retained their original lower crankcases – considered by Bugatti authorities to be the actual core engine component, stamped with engine nos. 27 and 17, respectively. Delorme also fitted a large supercharger. Additional work included transferring the hood and road equipment from 51149 to 51154, plus a repaint of the body. Towards the end of 1936, Delorme put both cars up for sale, with 51154 purchased by H.R.H Prince Bertil of Sweden, who then resided in Paris. A photo taken of the Prince with the car on file shows the unusually large supercharger.

In 1937, the Prince sold 51154 to Spanish racer Genaro Leoz, through whom the car passed to Jack Lemon Burton of the UK, who then sold the Bugatti to Donald B. Parkinson, an American architect, with the car shipped to him in Los Angeles. In 1938, chassis 51154 passed to George Dillwyn Parrish for approximately two years, before it was acquired by Los Angeles playboy Tommy Lee, who raced the car on the dry lakes in 1940 and kept the Bugatti in his collection until around 1946.

The Bugatti’s next documented owner was W. Hudson Mills, who sold the car circa 1965 to Robert Fergus. In 1972, Joel Finn helped Mr. Fergus repair 51154, subsequently becoming part owner of the Bugatti. In January 1986, fashion magnate Ralph Lauren purchased 51154. In 1989, Mr. Lauren commissioned UK Bugatti experts Crosthwaite & Gardiner to meticulously restore the Bugatti, including the painstaking construction of a new body, with the car completed in March 1993. The Bugatti was retained by Mr. Lauren until 2004 when it was acquired by the current owner, who has actively campaigned it at such prestigious events as the Goodwood Revival Meeting and Monaco Historic Races.

Extremely well documented, 51154 is accompanied by a wealth of paperwork documenting its rich provenance, plus UK V5 registration. Exceedingly rare and fascinating, this Bugatti Type 51 stands ready for continued adventures with its next custodian.