The racing accomplishments of the Bugatti Type 35 led to the production of the Type 43. The idea was to power road-going cars with the Grand Prix motor. As competition continued to grow, Bugatti introduced the Type 51. The new Grand Prix car featured the same inline eight-cylinder, now powered by double overhead camshafts plus a supercharger.
The Type 43 was replaced in 1931 with the new Type 55. The Type 47's twin-cam eight-cylinder engine was used to power Type 55. They had cast aluminum wheels from the Type 51, with brake setup and gearbox from the Type 49. The performance was impressive, with zero-to-sixty taking just 10 seconds.
By 933, Bugatti had built just 38 examples of the Type 55. Jean Bugatti designed two factory bodies: a roadster and a coupe known as the 'Faux cabriolet.' 14 examples received the works coupe body and only one factory cabriolet was built. The 14 remaining cars received coachwork from other coachbuilders. 11 were bodied by Vanvooren or Gangloff and the remaining three by other outside firms.
One of the original owners of this Type 55 was Dr. Jacques Kocher. By 1938 he had owned at least 14 Bugattis. He had purchased a Type 35, a Type 37, a Type 44, two Type 43s, three Type 57s, a Type 57C, the 1936 Paris Show Type 57S Atalante, a Type 50, and a Type 57C Atalante. On February 2nd, 1932, chassis 55206 was offered to him. It was given engine number 6 and invoiced on March 4th of 1932 who took delivery of the chassis from Dache & Pic. Dache & Pic was a small Bugatti agency in Valence and sold about two dozen Bugattis in the 1930s.
Upon delivery, Dr. Kocher commissioned Billeter & Cartier (a Lyon-based coachbuilder) to build a special two-seat cabriolet. Much of their work had been for the Rochet-Schneider brand cars, which were also based in Lyon. Billeter & Cartier bodied a number of five-liter Bugatti chassis and at least one Type 46S chassis.
The coachwork was completed in roughly six weeks. The Cabriolet body featured long, sweeping fenders similar to that of the Super Sport Roadster and dual rear spares. It also had outside exhausts, the only Type 55 with this specification. It also was given a fold-flat windscreen that opened forward when vertical, as well as roll-up windows. It also was given plated irons on top, plated accents on both doors and plated strips on the rear deck for additional baggage. The inside was finished in black with a dark green leather interior. The interior was offset by green accents along with the fenders, a green leather top boot, and green painted wheels with a polished surface.
This Bugatti Type 55 is the only Bugatti known to be specified with the brake drum and wheel castings predominately painted.
The Type 55 was used regularly, even competing in the 1933 Rallye des Alpes. In January of 1935, the Type 55 was purchased by Emile Sambuc, who had owned several other Bugattis. Mr. Sambuc retained the Type 55 for two years before replacing it with a new Type 57 Gangloff. Laurent Biancotto of Marseille purchased the Bugatti and kept it for an additional two years. In November of 1938, the car was sold to Marseille resident Alexandre Oliva. On June 2, 1939, the Cabriolet was registered by Department du Nord as '3252 MD 6' to Paul Lefevre in the town of Lille. In 1947, the car passed to another Lille resident Pierre Gerard. On April 21 of 1949, the Type 55 was re-registered as '7626 NB 1' in the name of Ghislain Gengembre, who kept the car until his death.
The next owner was Yves Garnier who purchased it in 1970. Mr. Garnier rebuilt 55206 entirely by himself and in 1978 he bought a spare engine (no. 36, ex-55236) from M. Mulnard. During the restoration, the original crankshaft was replaced with the original crank of engine number 36. The work took more than a decade to complete and was finally finished around 1980. In 1987 the car was purchased by German dealer Hans Bitterwolf who in turn sold the car to Peter Agg, then living in Sussex, England. During Mr. Agg's ownership, the car received further restoration including a new paint scheme of black wings with a blue body and grayish-beige interior. It was later brought to the US by Mr. Agg, where it participated in several major events including the Colorado Grand. After Mr. Agg's seven-year ownership, ownership passed to Ruedi Schmid of Basel, Switzerland, who retained the car for 16 years. Mr. Schmid drove the car in the 1998 Klausen Hillclimb and the 1994 International Bugatti Rally.
In 2007, the car was given a significant mechanical overhaul which included the installation of a new Brineton cylinder block. A year later, the car participated in the Bugatti Owner's Club Prescott Garden Party.
The current owner purchased the car from Mr. Schmid in November of 2010. A thorough restoration soon followed. The car retains its original frame in addition to its brass chassis tag mounted to the original aluminum bulkhead. The original lower crankcase is stamped 'No. 6'. The upper crankcase bears the assembly number '72', which is believed to originate from the factory service of the car after some sort of crankshaft failure. The original supercharger and the original gearbox are stamped '6'.
This is one of the most (if not the most) original Type 55s in existence. The Billeter & Cartier coachwork is original and solid. Body no. 2238 is stamped on several panels and timbers. Original interior fabric materials were found. The interior and exterior finishes were matched to the original specifications.
In January of 2012, the car was Bugatti's sold exhibit at Retromobile in Paris. It was displayed in its original black and green livery.
Powering the car is a 2262cc dual overhead cam inline 8-cylinder engine fitted with a single Zenith 48K Updraft Triple-Diffuser carburetor. With the assistance of the Roots-Type supercharger, it produces 135 horsepower. There is a four-speed non-synchromesh manual gearbox and four-wheel mechanical drum brakes.
In 2012, the car was offered for sale at the Pebble Beach auction presented by Gooding & Company. The car was estimated to sell for $5,000,000 - $6,500,000. Unfortunately, a buyer willing to satisfy its reserve was not found. It would leave the auction unsold.By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2012