This Bugatti Type 51 Coupe was originally built as a Bugatti factory team Grand Prix racer that was driven to great success by legendary French racing driver Louis Chiron. Chiron won the Monaco race in April 1931 and following the racing season, Bugatti gave the car to Chiron. Chiron sold the car and it was acquired by Parisian playboy Andre Bith who drove the car in rallys and sporting events. In 1937, Bith commissioned Louis Dubos to build an exciting and stylish aerodynamic coupe body for the Type 51. Bith was so pleased with the new body, he entered it in the 1937 Bagatelle Concours d'Elegance and scored a 2nd overall. Bith sold the car and lost track of it during WWII.
The car changed hands several times until located by the present owner who, with the help of 90-year-old Andre Bith, was able to restore it with its original Grand Prix racer body with a replica body by renowned Bugatti authority O.A. Phillips.
The car is powered by a dual-overhead-cam, 8-cylinder, 2.3L (136.5 cubic inch) engine, developing 185 horsepower.
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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