Rare 1929 Bugatti 37A/35B, built in France as a four-cylinder Grand Prix model used exclusively for competition could fetch €1,5-1,8 million ($2-2,5 million) at the Bonhams Grand Palais Sale on 6 February 2014. The car has envitable history. It was first owned by Briton Jack Lemon Burton – founder member of the Bugatti Owners’ Club, whose father gave it to him as a 21st birthday present in 1932 and, having subsequently tuned the engine, he towed the car to races around the country. Three years later it was bought by solicitor Alan Bainton who left the engine beyond repair at a race in Brooklands in 1935. As a result his mechanic, Louis Giron, installed the engine of Bainton’s Type 43 into the Type 37A, producing what was effectively a Type 35B Bugatti. Later, Lady Mary Grosvenor, daughter of the Duke of Westminster, puchased the car from Blake Brothers of Liverpool, adding to the car’s colourful history. As a keen racing driver, she set the ladies’ Bugatti race record at Prescott in June 1947 driving Chassis 37371 with a time of 52.79 seconds – a record that stood for 35 years.
In 1948, the Bugatti was acquired once again by the Blake Brothers, who were forced to sell it four years later to Robert Estes of California when its director, Peter Reece Blake, was killed in a car crash. His death caused the British company to go out of business.
Following the tragedy of the Blake Brothers, Chassis 37371, was destined to spend the next five decades in America. There it competed in West Coast events after display at the Briggs Cunningham museum for 15 years during the 1950s and 60s and is thought to have made its last race appearance in 1977 under the ownership of the Estes family.
Philip Kantor, Head of Bonham's Motor Cars Europe, said: “This Bugatti has a history that is comprehensive and fascinating but, most importantly, continuous and fully documented. Owned by Jack Lemon Burton and subsequent well-known car enthusiasts, we look forward to being able to offer it at auction back on home soil in France.”
In 2007 the car was given a complete rebuild by Gentry restorations and is now in superb condition.
Note: This is for Jane, who would like someday to design cars and is now learning to drive. She finds Bugattis fascinating, both as art and engineering. I think she will someday find the story of Lady Mary Constance Grosvenor (pictured in third position above and also below driving the actual car being auctioned while winning the 1946 Liverpool Motor Club Jeans Gold Cup Trial event) fascinating and inspiring also. Daughter of the Duke of Westminster, one of the world’s richest men, and descendant of Mary Davies, whose London Five Fields fortune enriched Mayfair/Belgravia/Knightsbridge dynasty founder Sir Thomas Grosvenor, Lady Mary was a no-nonsense road and rally racing pioneer about whom it was written:
“Blessed with a commanding presence and plenty of common sense, Lady Mary had no time for pretension or pomposity. Although shy with strangers, she could be very direct when she felt a situation required it; she could deliver a devastatingly well aimed rocket - but would always then offer shaken recipients a drink. She had a keen sense of humour, and in spite of her extraordinary background succeeded in living a straightforward and happy life. She never married, but was held in great affection by all who knew her.”
The comedian and automobile collector Jay Leno discourses about the Bugatti 37A below, telling a rather passionate story filled with authority and detail. A good friend of mine believes that automobiles have destroyed civilization. His reasoning is sound and I cannot argue with it. But I can’t blame Ettore Bugatti. He made very beautiful cars.