1931 Bugatti Type 51 Boattail Roadster / 51121 Chassis Information

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 51 photograph

1931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 511931 Bugatti Type 51
Boattail Roadster
Chassis #: 51121
Engine # 2
Sold for $4,000,000 at 2016 Bonhams : Quail Lodge.
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

2016 Bonhams : Quail Lodge

Sale Price :
$4,000,000

2018 1
2016 1
2008 1

YearAvg. SaleHigh Sale# of Sales
2018$3,740,000$3,740,0001
2016$4,000,000$4,000,0001
2008$907,500$907,5001

Recent Sales

(Data based on Model Year 1931 sales)
1931 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix
Chassis#: 51132
Sold for $3,740,000
  2018 Gooding & Company : Pebble Beach
1931 Bugatti Type 51 image  1931 Bugatti Type 51 image  
1931 BUGATTI TYPE 51 GRAND PRIX RACING TWO SEATER
Chassis#: 51121
Sold for $4,000,000
  2016 Bonhams : Quail Lodge
1931 Bugatti Type 51 image  1931 Bugatti Type 51 image  
1931 Bugatti Type 51
Chassis#: 4654
Sold for $907,500
  2008 Gooding & Company
1931 Bugatti Type 51 image  1931 Bugatti Type 51 image  

Vehicles That Failed To Sell

1931 Bugatti Type 51's that have appeared at auction but did not sell.
VehicleChassisEventHigh BidEst. LowEst. High
1931 Bugatti Type 51 Pur Sang Mono Posto5370B02014 Russo & Steele Scottsdale   
1931 Bugatti Type 51 Works Grand Prix Racing Car511322010 RM Auctions Sports & Classics of Monterey$2,750,000$3,500,000$4,500,000
1931 Bugatti Type 51511322008 Gooding & Company   
1931 Bugatti Type 51 GP Race Car 2002 Monterey Sports and Classic Car Auction$220,000  

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Vehicle Profiles

Chassis information for the Bugatti Type 511931 Boattail Roadster
Chassis Num: 51132
Engine Num: 15
Chassis information for the Bugatti Type 51 Coupe1931 Coupe
Coachbuilder: Dubos
Chassis Num: 51133


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