1931 Bugatti Type 51 news, pictures, specifications, and information
Boattail Roadster
Chassis Num: 51132
Engine Num: 15
High bid of $2,750,000 at 2010 RM Auctions. (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
Boattail Roadster
Chassis Num: 4654
Engine Num: 31
Sold for $907,500 at 2008 Gooding & Company.
This Bugatti was originally a Type 35A (with chassis number 4961) and was raced by the Bugatti team in the 1930 Targa Florio. Later the car was converted to a 2-liter Type 35C specification for the Grand Prix of Europe at Spa in Belgium and then to Type 51 specifications for the French Grand Prix. It was subsequently used as a works practice car and as a road car. It was once owned by the Bugatti driver Jean-Pierre Wimille. After many more years and many more specification changes under several different owners, the car was restored and fitted with a new body. It was among the many wonderful Bugattis owned by the late Dr. Peter Williamson.

Dr. Samuel Scher went searching for a Bugatti Type 51 in the late 1940s, but none were available. Several months later, one was located and it had never been raced. The car was purchased by Dr. Scher, reconditioned by the Paris Bugatti agents, and then shipped to the US. Upon its arrival, the car was painted and upholstered and given to Harry Gray to drive in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) race at Linden, New Jersey, which he won. The following season, Bill Milliken drove the car in SCCA competition. On January 3rd of 1950, at a race in Palm Beach, Florida, Milliken missed a shift, resulting in a connecting rod to go through the crankcase.

The damage was never repaired as it passed through several owners throughout the years. It was owned by Jack Nethercutt and later purchased by Dr. Peter and Susan Williamson in 1964.

In the mid-1990s, Jim Stranberg at High Mountain Classics undertook the task of repairing the car. There were various indications that the car was a Type 35A, but there was no Molsheim chassis number. The engine number 55228 was a Type 55 that was re-built to Type 51 specifications. The trail for engine number 55228 led to Monsieur Leloup, the last known owner, who had also owned a Type 35A number 4654, engine number 44A.

Apparently, when Dr. Scher had been searching for the Type 51, a Type 55 engine and Type 35A chassis had been located, all reconditioned by the Paris Bugatti agents. A replacement chassis was issued by the BOC in the UK. The plate number was 4654, which can now be found on the car.

The car now wears an alloy body which was built by Bunny Phillips. The interior is tan leather and there are dual aeroscreens and an electric starter and cooling fan. The car has no fenders nor are there any road lights.

The engine is a 2262cc eight-cylinder unit with dual overhead camshafts and capable of producing 180 horsepower. There are Zenith carburetors and a Roots supercharger.

In 2008, this 1925/31 Bugatti Type 35A/51 Grand Prix car was offered for sale at the Gooding & Company auction held in Pebble Beach, CA. The car was offered without reserve and estimated to sell for $1,300,000 - $1,800,000. As the gavel fell for the third and final time, the car had been sold for $907,500, including buyer's premium.

By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2009
Boattail Roadster
Chassis Num: 51121
Engine Num: 2
Sold for $4,000,000 at 2016 Bonhams.
The Ettore Bugatti built road-going Type 50 and the Grand Prix Type 51 introduced twin-overhead camshafts to the company's lineup. This new design was based on the highly-supercharged straight-8 Miller 91 built by engine specialist Harry Amenius Miller, together with his shop foreman Fred Offenhauser. They derived their engine from elements of the 1913 Peugeot racing engine. Their 181 cubic-inch straight-eight Miller engine had a valve train with twin overhead camshafts which would carry many American track racing vehicles to success. The Millers of the 1920s dominated American speedway racing.

This particular example, chassis number 51121, is the first in the series of the 40 cars built. It was ordered by Lord Howe through Colonel Sorel, the British concessionaire and took delivery on April 14, 1931. A few days later, it began its racing career. Earl Howe took part in the 1931 Monaco Grand Prix with the new car, freshly liveried in dark green paintwork. He quickly retired from the race when a cam-box stud pulled out.

His next race with the car was at the Frend Grand Prix at Montlhéry where Brian Lewis (later to become Lord Essendon) shared driving duties. The duo finished in 12th place. At the German GP at the Nurburgring Howe finished, but too far off the pace to be classified. Co-driving with Clifton Penn-Hughes, Howe contested the BRDC '500' race at Brooklands, but was forced to retire.

By this point in history, the car had gained Howe's racing colors of blue and silver.

Earl Howe returned to the Monte Carlo race in 1932, this time he finished fourth overall behind the works Bugattis and Alfa Romeo 8C. He then won the Mountain Handicap race at Brooklands after starting from scratch, and averaging 73.64mph. He then hill-climbed the Bugatti at Shelsley Walsh, returning Fastest Time of the Day at 44 seconds. His next race was at the Klausenpass mountain climb. A second BRDC '500' followed, this time having an average speed of 126 mph, before being forced to retire due to a split fuel tank.

In 1933, he again raced at the Monaco Grand Prix, but was sadly sidelined due to a rear axle failure. At the French Grand Prix, he was hit in the eye by a flying stone and again retired. He also retired from the Nice Grand Prix due to engine problems. This was followed by a tenth place finish at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Four British home events completed his 1933 season with the Bugatti.

Howe competed with the aging Bugatti Type 51 for the 1934 season. His season consisted of a fifth place in the Marne GP at Reims-Gueux and 7th in the Nice GP. Back home he finished 5th in the JCC International Trophy race at Brooklands, before winning the Gold Star Handicap race at the Whit-Monday Brooklands Meeting. Third places at Shelsley Walsh and in the Donington Trophy race completed his season.

After the season, the Bugatti was sold to fellow British driver, Arthur Dobson. He fitted the Bugatti with a pre-selector gearbox and then went racing. His best finish in the season was a third in class at Shelsley Walsh. The car was later sold to C. Mervyn White, of Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire. Mervyn White then finished 2nd with the car in a 1936 Brooklands Long Handicap race, and also contested the Leinster Trophy in Eire, the JCC International Trophy at Donington Park and the Donington Grand Prix, but unreliability intruded each time. In 1937, Mervyn White won the Brooklands Easter meeting Long Handicap race at 121.4mph and took a 3rd place in the Broadcast Trophy race there.

During practice for the Cork Grand Prix, Mervyn White crashed the car and suffered severe head injuries, which he died from four days later in Cork's Mercy Hospital. The damage to the Bugatti was largely confined to the front and rear axle and the tail bodywork. The wreckage was later acquired by Arthur Baron who rebuilt the car and competed with it during 1938. In 1939 it returned to Shelsley Walsh, winning its class there driven by Norman Lewis, and it won again at Wetherby in Yorkshire while also competing at Prescott hill-climb.

The car's next owner was D.M. Jenkinson. In 1954, it was acquired by one A.M. Mackay of Symonds Hyde, Hatfield, Hertfordshire. While in his care, it was seldom seen, but it was rebuilt by Geoffrey St. John.

In 1983 the current owner enlisted the help of Bugatti aficionado Bill Serri to help him acquired a great Grand Prix Bugatti. Serri advised of a particularly good car that was available in Switzerland and he was promptly sent off to inspect it. While on his travels, he took the opportunity to traverse back through the U.K. and to visit Mackay. When he arrived, he found Mackay willing to sell his Bugatti. A deal was quickly struck and a few days later the Bugatti was flown to the States and into the stable where it has resided for the last three decades.

During the early period of the current owner's care, the car was exercised, with occasional appearances at Bridgehampton. In later years, it was laid up in its stable and has not been seen publicly for many years.

By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2016
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
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Type 101
Type 13
Type 23
Type 35
Type 37
Type 38
Type 39 and Type 39A
Type 40
Type 46
Type 50
Type 51
Type 55
Type 57
Type 59

1932 Type 51 Image Right
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