This one-off Bugatti Type 55 is going on sale and it's worth millions
Whenever a classic Bugatti is mentioned, people usually draw the gorgeous lines of the Type 57 SC Atlantic in their heads. And often, this misleads to the assumption that it is the most expensive Bugatti ever built. However, here we have a classic Bugatti that is striking enough to shatter the stereotype in your minds.
The Bugatti Type 55 is one of the rarest road-going Bugattis ever built. To understand what the Type 55 is, we need to look at Bugatti’s most successful race car, the Type 35. The Type 35 had numerous variants within its lifespan, and some notable ones included the Type 35T and the Type 35B. Both of the versions had a supercharged 2.3L inline eight-cylinder engine, which proved to be very efficient and powerful.
The 2.3L engine was used in Bugatti’s next-generation race car, the Type 51. The Type 51 was not only famous for its world speed record of 115mph, but also for its motorsport success including a glorious victory in the French Grand Prix in 1931. Bugatti released a road going version of the Type 51 Grand Prix Car dubbed the Type 55, and as expected, it was a huge hit.
Compared to Type 35 cars, the engine was revamped to produce 145hp, although it was slightly detuned for reliability. The engine was mated to a 4-speed manual gearbox, but it was not the powertrain that made the Type 55 such a success. It was the elegant bodywork that grasped the minds of gentlemen drivers around the world. Designed by Jean Bugatti, who was only 22 at the time, the bodywork boasted breathtaking lines accentuated by a two-tone colour scheme. Jean Bugatti’s design is still praised as one of the best Bugatti bodyworks by experts.
However, the Type 55(Chassis #55251) being auctioned in Bonhams Grand Palais Sale next February is no ordinary Type 55. Keen eyes would have noticed that this Type 55 has different coachwork compared to the Jean Bugatti version. The Type 55 being auctioned here is a one-off car that was coach built by the Fignoi & Falaschi, also known as the Type 55 Figoni.
The #55251 has quite a spectacular history. It started its life as a Works race car for the 1932 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driven by Count Guy Bouriat and Louis Chiron of the Bugatti Chiron fame, the car remained competent until the fuel tank split after three hours of racing, forcing the car to retire. Immediately after Le Mans, the car was sold to a wealthy Frenchman, Jacques Dupuy.
Jacques Dupuy was an avid automotive enthusiast, and he wanted something different from the basic Jean Bugatti coachwork. Thus, he commissioned a renowned designer, Giuseppe Figoni to create unique coachwork exclusively for him. The main difference between the base design was the two highline doors, providing practicality and comfort, thanks to the wind-up windows. The rest of the bodywork also received the touch of Figoni, resulting in a fluent bonnet, sweeping wings, and a graceful tail, which many consider as a further improvement from the already beautiful Jean Bugatti’s work.
As an avid enthusiast, Jacques Dupuy participated in numerous competitions with his Type 55. He won the 1933 Paris-Nice Rally. The Paris-Nice Rally was not just a normal ‘who is the fastest’ type of rally, but the winner was determined by a combination of rally, drag race, hillclimbing, and even mechanical test results. It also fared well in the 1933 Bolognese Concours d’elegance!
This unique car thankfully survived WWII and was imported into England into the hands of Geoffrey St. John, a famous Bugatti expert and a vintage racer in 1963. Since then, the car was faithfully driven and maintained for 56 years by him. But now the time has come, and this classic with a great history is waiting for a new owner.
The estimate is currently disclosed, but it is not hard to estimate how much it will sell. A well-maintained Type 55 with a Bugatti bodywork was sold for $10,400,00 in 2016. The #55251 being auctioned here does have a repaired chassis, but when considering a modified Bugatti bodywork example was auctioned for $4 million, the car is still going to be worth a lot. When adding the one-off bodywork and the historical heritage into the calculation, it can be estimated to be sold at least 8 million to a max of 12 million if lucky.
At the end of the day…
Buying a classic car is not just buying the vehicle itself. It is also purchasing a lifelong story the car has cherished over 80 years. The previous owners of this car have been all great enthusiasts, who not only maintained them in prime condition but also regularly used them on varies events. This car was lucky enough to to meet owners who truly loved the car. I sincerely hope the next owner of this car would also be an ‘aficionado’ who not only has the knowledge needed but also the affection towards the car.