Sold for $1,045,000 at 2015 Bonhams
Bugatti's reputation as one of the foremost pre-war automotive builders is beyond question. But, like all the others in that elite class, Bugatti's reputation would have to become cemented at some point well before. This would happen with the Type 29/30.
Elegantly simple, the Type 29/30 chassis would not be encumbered by excess. Featuring an eight-cylinder engine with paired cylinders on a simple barrel crankcase, the twin rail chassis would boast of semi-elliptical leaf spring suspension and a four-speed transmission. Braking power would come via foot-actuated front brakes and a handbrake-controlled rear.
Destined for grand prix racing, Bugatti would have its first competent racer. Initially producing 16 examples of the chassis, four would end up being prepared for the 1922 French Grand Prix held nearby in Strasbourg.
Out of a field of eighteen cars, just a total of four would actually make it to the finish. A FIAT would cross the line victorious. The three that would follow would all be Bugattis. A third place in the Italian Grand Prix some time later would cause Bugatti's reputation to begin to swell.
Bugatti's reputation would lead to an Argentinean, Martin de Alzaga Unzue, to make plans to enter the Indianapolis 500. Bugatti would accept the proposition and would take the Type 29/30 design a step further removing one of the two seats and moving the driver's seat to the middle of the car. This would not only help with stability, but it would also help with aerodynamics as well.
A total of five cars would be prepared for the 1923 Indy 500. Two privateers and three factory cars would make up the fleet and the fleet would set sail around the 2.5 mile oval hitting average speeds in excess of 110mph. Certainly, moving the seat to the middle of the car would work, however, the simple, taught oval shape of the car's front end would also help in that endeavor.
This particular chassis, 4008, would be one of those sixteen built and one of just two known to still exist in the world today. If that isn't accomplishment enough, this car is now, as a result of exhaustive research, considered the oldest surviving 8-cylinder two-seater car in the world.
Unlike the single-seater counterparts that would be specifically designed for Indianapolis, this particular chassis started out life as a two-seater and would later be adapted into a single-seater. Already bearing the distinctive Bugatti body line with the oval tank, chassis 4008 would be completed and delivered, it is believed, some time in the middle of November of 1922 right alongside its sister-car 4010.
Found to be recorded for racing, 4008 would be one of just two so noted. Upon completion, the car would be delivered to Paris then, in 1934, sold to another owner living in Lille. The car would change hands again a few years later, and then, would remain with that owner until 1968 when it would become the property of P. Salvan.
Just prior to the 1970s, the Bugatti would end up in the hands of Uwe Hucke, a well-known Bugatti collector. Though missing some elements, the car, even by this time, would be remarkably intact. Still with its original number 6 engine, it would be impressive the originality of the car after so many years.
Nonetheless, Hucke would determine to restore the car using replica bodywork styled in the fashion of the famous torpedo 'cigar' bodies that had taken part in the Strasbourg Grand Prix. In this form, the car would become a regular attendee to displays and salons throughout the Paris area during the 1990s.
Unfortunately, age would cause Hucke to begin parting with elements of his collection. Christoph Grohe would end up buying the car. He would take steps to turn the car into a tourer but would end up selling the car to a British enthusiast, and then, to the current owner.
It would be around this time, as a result of exhaustive research conducted by Pierre Laugier, that 4008 had the distinction of being the oldest two seater that had been built for racing. This piece of history, when put into context with the high originality of the Oval Bugatti only make the car a captivating early piece of automotive art.
Now made available for sale as part of the 2015 Bonhams Quail Lodge auction, the 1922 Bugatti Type 29/30 Resevoir Ovale Course would receive an enthralling reception. Spirited bidding would ensue and the result would be a final sale price of $1,045,000.By Jeremy McMullen