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Exceptional Motor Cars, Christies (16 August 2006)

Monoposto coachwork by the Donington Collection

Engine: four cylinder, in-line, 70mm bore by 95mm stroke, Miller-type barrel crank-case, alloy cylinder block with wet liners, detachable alloy cylinder head, twin camshafts operating four valves per cylinder, Bugatti supercharger, 1460cc, power output unknown but probably about 100bhp; Transmission: Bugatti multi-plate clutch, separate all synchromesh four speed and reverse gearbox similar to the pre-war Type 57S45 unit; Chassis: ladder frame similar to Type 59, wheelbase 2.4 meters, track 1.2 meters; Suspension: front axle beam suspended on semi-elliptic springs and damped by lever-arm friction shock-absorbers and constrained by a torque arm; wheels: 18 inch diameter wire spoked; Brakes: 350mm diameter alloy drums operated by twin cylinder hydraulics.

Ettore Bugatti had founded his reputation as a manufacturer of high quality performance automobiles with his earliest four cylinder models before WWI. He introduced his first eight cylinder cars in 1922, and within ten years his entire range was of this configuration. However, whilst attending the Bugatti Owners' Club's International Prescott meeting in July 1939 Ettore's talented son Jean had intimated that a new four cylinder racing car was planned for the following season. Tragically this was destined not to materialize because within the next two weeks Jean was killed in a testing accident, and some three weeks later Europe was once again plunged into war.

Bugatti, assisted by his designers Noel Domboy and Antoine Pichetto, spent the war years planning future models, one a 1,500cc car to be produced in a wide variety of forms ranging from a five-seater sedan to a single-seater racing car. By 1944 his plans for production were well advanced and he detailed his intentions in a letter dated February 1945 to Eric Giles, the Secretary of the B.O.C. The car was to have a supercharged 1500cc 16-valve engine, with a single overhead camshaft for the road cars but twin camshafts for the racing model.

Further details were released once the war had ended. In a letter dated 27 September 1945 to Laurence Pomeroy, the editor of The Motor, Monsieur R.A. Bouchard of the Bugatti Company in Paris advised that the racing chassis was to be of ultra-low build, being derived from that of the pre-war 4.7 liter Type 59/50 B racing car, whilst its engine was to feature all-alloy construction with detachable wet cylinder liners, a detachable head (a first for Bugatti) and a five-bearing crankshaft. Transmission was to be by a four speed all synchromesh gearbox, and the car's total weight was not to exceed 600kg.

No more than twenty examples were to be built in the old La Licorne factory in the Paris suburb of Levallois at a price of 500,000 French francs each. Five were to be delivered in April 1946, with five more during each of the next three months. Already fifteen French racing drivers had each lodged deposits of 25,000 francs, and English readers of The Motor were invited to order the remaining five planned. Inevitably this ambitious timetable floundered against the troubled post-war economic background when materials required for motor car construction were all in extremely short supply, and several orders were cancelled.

Eventually a batch of five complete sets of parts for the racing model was produced, whilst an artist's impression of a planned aerodynamic sports saloon appeared in several Continental motor magazines and at least two of their chassis were produced. However Ettore Bugatti died in August 1947 before a single example of either type had been fully assembled. The 1947 Paris Motor Show was held at the Grand Palais in early October and Bugatti displayed on their stand an engineless example of their Type 73 sports chassis together with a standard single-cam Type 73 and a racing twin-cam Type 73C engine. One hopeful racing car buyer, Serge Pozzoli, who had placed his order at the Paris Motor Show, recalled later that he had visited the Works and seen several chassis, and one complete racing car with a running engine. However, without Ettore's impetus the whole project slowly ground to a halt, the unfinished cars were dismantled, all their parts were stored at Molsheim and deposits were returned to the would-be owners.

All these parts and many others remained in storage at Molsheim for several years until one set of Type 73C parts was acquired in late 1960 by Belgian Bugatti dealer Jean de Dobbeleer of Brussels. There he assembled and fitted with a monoposto body featuring a typical Bugatti radiator shell based on one of a pair of 1945 Type 73C body drawings by Pichetto. After selling the finished car to a Frenchman, de Dobbeleer returned to Molsheim in 1961 and acquired the parts for another Type 73C, Chassis No 73002, which he proceeded to assemble, after which he sold its body-less chassis to the US via his American agent Gene Cesari.

This car was the only Type 73C to be listed in Hugh Conway's 1962 Bugatti Register, in which its owner was listed as Jerry Sherman of Pennsylvania. Thereafter it passed in 1969 to Eric Richardson, the leading American Bugatti authority of his day, before passing in 1973 by Tom Wheatcroft who was then in the process of both purchasing and assembling what was to become his famous Donington Collection of Grand Prix racing cars. The car was fully restored in the Donington workshops to the extremely high mechanical and cosmetic standard invariable achieved by Wheatcroft, who has always insisted his cars should perform and drive as well as they look.

The car was then fitted with a copy of the second of Pichetto's 1945 73C body designs, this one featuring a cowled radiator grill typical of the late pre-war and early post-war period.

Tom Wheatcroft often invited his many racing driver friends to private test sessions at his Donington Park track, and accordingly this particular car was driven from time to time on such occasions by Wheatcroft and his associates throughout his period of ownership. However, wishing to accommodate a selection of much more recent racing cars, Wheatcroft decided to sell several of the exhibits displayed in his Donington Collection, and in 1994 he sold his Type 73C Bugatti to Alberto Lenz of Mexico. Lenz in turn sold the car to its current owner in 2002. Over the last few years he has meticulously carried out numerous improvements, including fitting the car with piano wire wheels and hubs by Crosthwaite & Gardiner and cycle wings to make the car road-legal. It should be noted that a complete set of detailed pictures during the restoration by the present owner are on file.

Whilst the Type 73C Bugatti was in truth no more than an undeveloped factory prototype which fortune dictated was never to show its true potential, or even indeed ever to have the opportunity of competing in period motor racing, it does have one claim to fame which it will retain for all time. It was the very last racing car designed by perhaps the greatest and certainly the most successful racing car designer of all time - Ettore Bugatti.

Lot Details
Auction Exceptional Motor Cars
Christies, Monterey Jet Center, California, U.S.A.
Lot Number21
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)$323000
Condition rating0
Registration number
Chassis number73002
Engine number2
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors