Chassis Num: 51132
Engine Num: 15
High bid of $2,750,000 at 2010 RM Sothebys. (did not sell)
This 1931 Bugatti Type 51 is powered by engine number 15; it originally was a Type 35B wearing chassis number 4961, and part of the four-car Bugatti works team in the 1930 Targa Florio. The car was later entered in the Grand Prix of Europe at Spa. Since this race was run to fuel-consumption formula, this car - along with the 2 other Type 35Bs entered in the race - were converted to to two-liter Type 35C specifications. They were given bolster fuel tanks and smaller superchargers. Chassis 4961 was driven by Guy Bouriat led the race, but stopped near the finish line to allow team leader Chrion, under team orders, to pass and take the win, and thereby become 1930 Champion of Europe.
After the Grand Prix, this Bugatti underwent a factory conversion, bringing it to Type 51 specifications. It was hoped that the car would be ready in time for the French Grand Prix, but the conversion took longer than anticipated. The work was completed in June of 1931 and it was re-numbered as 51132, registered for road use by the factory, and used throughout the year as a works practice car.
In December, the car was delivered to French racing driver Jean-Pierre Wimille for the price of 140,000 francs. During the 1932 season, Wimille raced extensively in this car, winning the Oran Grand Prix in Algeria on May 2nd.
In 1936, the car was imported to the US by Bradley Martin. It was entered by McClure Halley for Texan Dave Evans to drive in the inaugural George Vanderbilt Cup. The race was a 300 mile event held on New York's Long island on October 12th. Of the 45 entrants, Evnas qualified the car 36th and finished 14th.
The car was later sold with a damaged engine to author Ralph Stein. The damaged section of the crankshaft was repaired, but the problem re-emerged a few years later. In 1940, it was sold George Weaver, who installed either a Frontenac or a Peerless Marine engine.
Ownership passed to David Uihlein of Milwaukee in the early 1950s. Thomas Rosenberger of Milwaukee is listed as the cars next owner, selling it to Paul Moser of Santa Barbara, California in 1979. In 1985 it was purchased by Klaus Werner of Germany.
While in Werner's care, the car was re-united with its original engine. It was used in historic European racing events for a number of years before it was sold in the early 1990s.
The car is currently fitted with frame number 732 and engine number 15. The 2.3-liter straight-eight cylinder Dual Overhead Cam engine has a roots-type supercharger and an available 160 horsepower. There is a four-speed transmission, 4-wheel mechanical drum brakes, and a leaf-spring suspension.
In 2008, this Type 51 Grand Prix was offered for sale at the Gooding & Company Auction held in Pebble Beach, California. Bidding failed to satisfy the vehicle's un-listed reserve, and the lot was left unsold.
In 2010, this car was offered for sale at the 'Sports & Classics of Monterey'
presented by RM Auctions. It was estimated to sell for $3,500,000 - $4,500,000. Bidding reached $2,750,000 but was not enough to satisfy the car's reserve. It would leave the auction unsold.By Daniel Vaughan | Dec 2010
The Bugatti Type 51 was produced from 1931 through 1935 with a total of 40 examples being produced of both the T-51 and T-51A. These new racers were Ettore Bugatti's attempt to replace the aging Type 35's with a more-modern racer with improved power and performance. The front-wheel drive Miller racing cars were extremely quick and Ettore wanted to know the reasons for their success. In exchange for three Type 43, Ettore got two Miller 91's. These two vehicles were studied and their engines dismantled. Nearly identical copies of the engine block and head were made and installed in a Type 35. The result was the Type 51. The Type 51 came in to configurations, a 2.0-liter and 2.3-liter. The Type-51A had a 1.5 liter engine and a supercharger. The twin overhead cam engine 2.3 liter engine was capable of producing 160 horsepower with a Roots-Type supercharger. With the body and chassis weighing in around 750 kg's, the car had a top speed of 230 km/h.
In 1931 a Bugatti Type 51 emerged victorious at the French Grand Prix. This was one of the few highlights of its career. The more powerful Alfa Romeo's and Maserati's were far too dominate. Bugatti found it difficult to compete with teams that had government support such as the German's and Italians.
Later, the Type 53, Type 54, and type 59 were created. The Type 59 was powered by a 3.3 liter engine and mounted in a modified version of the Type 54 chassis. These were produced in very limited numbers with only about 7 examples being created. The 250 horsepower and low center of gravity made them formidable contenders. The weight of the vehicle was reduced by drilling holes in the chassis.
Not all of the Type 51's were bare-bones racers. A coupe was created that coupled power with luxury. It had a short racing career driven by Rene Dreyfus and Louis Chiron. It was later purchased by Andre Birth who had a custom coachbuilt body adapted to the chassis. In 2000 it was purchased by the Nethercutt Collection who commissioned a full restoration. It was shown at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours in honor of the featured marque, Bugatti. It was awarded Second in Class.
By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2006