Original is best – the exKing Leopold Bugatti Type 59 Classic and Sports Car

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Original is best – the ex-King Bugatti Type 59

11 Dec 2013

rare to find any classic car in condition, but it’s little of miraculous for a prized exotic captivating history. This patinated Bugatti Type 59 has had five owners in 75 years, a king with the finest in automobiles of any royal. Fuse low ownership and remarkable pedigree one of Ettore Bugatti’s most Grand Prix designs, a second competition sortie as one of the sports cars in France – by a resistance hero – and you begin to why chassis 57248 is one of the most of Molsheim’s machines.

Also key to car’s special mystique is its public exposure over eight decades. Thankfully, all of its have appreciated its remarkably state and meticulously preserved its aura while still this French thoroughbred’s rewards.

Too easily this Grand Prix design have suffered a soulless rebuild, forever wiping its historic patina, but thankfully it as one of the world’s most original Rarely seen after decades in two private American the sports-racer, affectionately known by old mechanics as the ‘Grand-Mère’, is back in ownership with plans to it. The confined streets of Pau or the sweeping of Spa may again resound with the roar of its supercharged straight-eight.

records relating to race are limited, so it’s impossible to out the individual early histories of the six Prix Type 59s. of the identity challenge is that racers were listed by number rather than details, but there’s no doubt this car was originally developed to with Alfa Romeo’s new Tipo B. For many it represents the of the classic GP car before the German blitzkrieg of all-independent, streamlined titans.

Bugatti fans as me will eulogise about its proportions and wonderful piano-wire but realistically this Type 51 was too heavy, too dated and came too The Type 59’s tally was two proper Grands Prix, and experts reckon that was one of the four-car team at Spa in 1934 René Dreyfus headed a 1-2 for Molsheim after the Alfa crashed. Later, in the Algerian GP, ace Jean-Pierre Wimille beat the in two straight fights to take a victory for Bugatti during times for the company. Although by its weight, limited power, gearbox and poor brakes, the 59 still handled and steered “A superlative car that’s superb on corners and drifts beautifully,” historic racer Neil who has raced both rivals. “It so much better than my P3.”

Without the state aid that the Italian and German teams, tiny empire just from the sale of exclusive cars and railcar engines. finances meant Ettore missed a chance to sell off or competition cars. Four of the Type 59s were sold to enthusiasts in 1935 while the car was transformed for sports car racing. a quasi two-seater with oil on the left side of the cockpit, it take much to turn uncompetitive 160mph GP machine a dominant sports-racer.

When the team arrived at the 1936 Prix du Comminges (a sports-car like many premier events) with a pair of fitted with unsupercharged motors, its rivals were at the audacity. The cars fulfilled the just, but not the spirit. Instigated by the drivers, there was even of a boycott if the Bugattis raced.

director Charles Faroux let the T59s run and, after in practice, Wimille dominated races around the Pyrenean

The controversial victory had sowed the with Jean Bugatti – son and race team manager – and so the GP winner was further developed for sports car events in ’37. included a new four-speed dry-sump gearbox with a central and twin-pump lubrication from a oil tank in the tail. New rear arms developed for the later GP greatly helped the dated rear set-up.

From the back, a new body was hastily featuring shallow side rounded tail covering the wheel, full-width wooden and a single aeroscreen. Skimpy wings and small headlights also fitted and, to placate rivals, its GP chassis was the production series number and road-registered 344 NVV.

The first race of 1937 was on 21 February at Pau Wimille faced an all-French car field of T150 Talbots and 135 but, even while the effects of flu, he dominated the finishing a lap up on the entire field. Bugatti’s number one driver was 2 secs off his previous year’s set in the blown Grand Prix-spec 59 around the 1.7-mile street

Early in May, the Grand-Mère was out to Tunisia for a three-heat sports car GP The Bugatti proved under-geared for the 7.8-mile road circuit Carthage, so a new rear axle had to be in. Wimille was soon setting the ahead of Talbot rival Sommer, but a confusion over flags meant the Bugatti ran an lap, which ultimately up fuel requirements. Having the first two 100km heats, was in sight of the finish when the straight-eight spluttered and died.

The prize was lost and, as a a second filler cap was later to the car – so that the fuel level be seen. A week later, and of its wings and lights, the T59 sports won the Grand Prix in Algeria returning home. Back in with a new cowl covering the radiator, the Grand-Mère was surprisingly by the improved Talbot at Miramas for the Prix de Marseille during a battle that ended in failure.

Wimille’s last in the Type 59 sports car was at Reims in the GP de la on 18 July, where he convincingly all the Talbots and new Delahaye 145 V12s. In sun around the ultra-fast road in the Champagne region, Wimille up for his extra fuel stops the 305-mile, 63-lap race to nearly 3 mins ahead of Divo’s Talbot.

Always to sell old race cars, wasn’t surprised when his illustrious customer, King of Belgium, expressed an interest in the Type 59. The Grand-Mère had never up to the Alfa 8C-2900A Spider but it was unquestionably one of the world’s fastest cars and it’s easy to see its to the car-loving king.

Quite the deal was is unclear. Some that the car was a gift to Ettore’s royal, while others it was part traded for the King’s 51 Grand Prix racer. At point further modifications made to the bodywork, including a streamlined cowl with moulded into the bodywork. how much Leopold III used his Bugatti during this era of his reign isn’t known, but he it repainted black, his favourite car with a yellow stripe Belgium’s racing livery.


Little attempt was made to the Bugatti blue, which is now visible under worn of black.

In 1967, car-mad enthusiast Stephane Falise of the Bugatti’s storage in Brussels. An reader of The Autocar ’s Talking Cars series, Falise was by the idea of Grand Prix converted for road use – Rodney roadgoing Type 59 was his dream As a young student, Falise had stories that the King’s was still stored in the Argenteuil and made a formal enquiry to the household.

To his amazement, he eventually the car. That year, wrote a very enthusiastic for Bugantics . the quarterley magazine of the Bugatti Owners’ Club, detailing the T59’s specification and his plans to preserve it, right to its dents and worn paint. ‘I racing cars to look and up to the job, but do not like them to too polished and cleaned,’ reported the Belgian. ‘Thus I shall not the inside of the bonnet but let it be its dried castor oil varnish. I shall not the small bump at the rear – who who made it – but I shall keep all the and engine parts in perfect order.’ Falise, like of its owners, was intimidated by the old GP car and hardly drove it.

For many years it sat its head off with a local

Over the next two decades, the car was seen. Story has it that Leopold’s second wife, Lilian de Rethy, tried to the Bugatti after her husband’s in 1983, but without success. In however, Falise sold the car to the Bob an American car connoisseur with interest in highly original On its arrival in America, Rubin Leydon Restorations in Pennsylvania to the Type-59’s remarkable originality performing a complete mechanical When the finished project out of the scenic Bucks County workshop, the car looked just as it had when it arrived from but mechanically refreshed.

Rubin and the team comprehensively disproved the that all Americans over-restore cars, long before became a valued feature. Historics founder Steve was entrusted to race it at Laguna and, in 1994, then MFF 459, the famous black returned to Europe for the International Rally in Italy.

Late in the 1990s, American collector Anthony Wang the T59 but was never happy driving cars, so he rarely took it out of his Long Island collection. early this year, the rumour mill reported ‘57248’ had at last returned to

The car is now with respected Bugatti Tim Dutton, again being fettled in preparation for fitting The highly original body is and the chassis stripped but, to its overhaul, Dutton trailered timewarp legend to the LAT studio for an awaited photo session. dramatic lighting enhanced its originality, Dutton offered a insight into the design of the great Bugatti Grand car. “For me the glory were the Type 35 and 51 when had the funds to develop fresh he said. “Finances were stretched by 1933 and the main was on road cars.

Also Bugatti was a better body than he was an engineer. Ettore was less interested in Grand racing – possibly disillusioned at the leap in design from and Auto Union thanks to backing.”

For Dutton, the Type design was dated even it was built: “Bugatti insisted on with a live axle, is less important when on smooth modern tracks but on the road circuits it was very The chassis has all the good points of the 35 with a stiff front and rear. Its strength is in all the right

The solid-mounted engine further the chassis, which all helped to the suspension work. I don’t Bugatti understood roll so solid was the only way.”

easy to see why there has been a run of Type 59s because the engine is a development of the Type 57: “The is the same, but with a dry sump, no damper and different cam profiles. For the sports car races, the firing was changed to smooth out the running. The car gearbox was an early crash developed from the Type 55. a lovely strong unit a good change.”

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One of the problems early Type 59s was rear-wheel that used to distort the springs under power. the later cars had radius says Dutton. “The front axle was another to cope with the disadvantages of the live axle. With a front axle, the wheels grab, twist and shimmer braking, particularly on rough so the split helps to compensate for The double-reduction back axle was a way to get the down lower but it was a headache.” non-Bugatti restorers criticise the de Ram dampers, but not Dutton: “They have cost a fortune and it a dedicated specialist to set them up. But you have to consider the poor of road circuits in the ’30s.”

The Type 59’s distinctive hub and brake drum design may over-complex compared to a standard “but they were a lot to make, were lighter, and as strong. With its dog drive, the wires are just lateral for the rim. Best of all, no torsional load on the hub or the brake.

classic Ettore. He always to be different”.

“If the Type 59 had appeared in it would have been an car,” concludes Dutton, by 1932 Bugatti really a new concept. If you put doughnut wheels on a 59 today, it should beat an ERA – but would be sacriligious with beautiful wires.”

Wider and than the T51 it replaced, it’s wonder that the Type 59 into the ultimate Bugatti car. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to The Autocar ’s 1938 Fastest Car contest to prove it. Any Alfa, or Delahaye owners up for the challenge?

– the Bugatti royal

The car-loving royal, Leopold III, had a succession of high-performance sports throughout his life. Prior to the of his reign in 1934, he’d ordered several fast starting with a Type 43 Sport that he regularly on trips to Sweden with his wife Princess Astrid The car’s special features scuttle cowls and aeroscreens replaced the full-width windshield.

For his son, Prince Baudouin, the ordered a Type 52 electric Bugatti in 1930, although may have been a gift Ettore. Two years later the 43 four-seater (bottom) was replaced a two-seater Type 55 roadster. III ordered lighter cycle in place of the flowing Jean styling and had the body painted

Tragically, Princess Astrid in a road accident in August when Leopold lost of his Packard Tourer while around Lake Lucerne.

The didn’t put Leopold off driving as well as the Type 59 Sport a pair of Type 57s joined the Royal garage. When allowed, Leopold occasionally race meetings and flagged off the Belgian Grand Prix at

During WW2, Leopold stayed to face the German rather than flee to with the Belgian government, led to his imprisonment under the Nazis. His to a unsettled country split pro-Royal Flemings and socialist ultimately made him abdicate in Such problems didn’t his automotive interests.

His allegiance from Molsheim to Maranello a succession of exotic Ferraris. included a 342 America followed by a 375 cabriolet with gorgeous styling. Leopold also had Isos, a Ferrari 330GT various Cadillac state and even a Stingray before he aged 82 in 1983.

FACTFILE – Type 59

Produced/number built Construction beam chassis, body Engine front-mounted, block and head with crankcase dual-overhead-camshaft 3257cc with two valves per cylinder, six bearings, Roots supercharger, two 52mm carburettors and Scintilla magneto Max power 250bhp @ Transmission separate central gearbox, driving rear Suspension: front live with semi-elliptic leaf and de Ram shock absorbers rear quarter-elliptic leaf springs, arms and de Ram shock absorbers worm and wheel Brakes drums Track 4ft 1   in (1251mm) 8ft 6   in (2597mm) Weight 1650lb Wheels piano-wire style 6x19in tyres 0-60mph 6 Top speed 160mph

This originally appeared in the November issue of Classic Sports Car which retains the copyright to all and images.

Words: Mick pictures: Peter Spinney

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