1927 Bugatti Type 43 Grand Sport

The Bugatti Type 43, introduced in early 1927, epitomised a high-performance four-seater sports tourer. Ingeniously harnessing a detuned variant of the successful Type 35B Grand Prix car’s 2.3-litre eight cylinder, supercharged engine. Its distinctive features included a straight-eight engine with roller-bearing crankshaft, single overhead camshaft, 24 valves, and a supercharger paired with a single up-draft Solex 46 or Zenith 48 carburettor.

Originally delivering around 115-120bhp at 5000rpm, Bugatti’s four-speed gearbox, seamlessly complimented the powertrain. Like its Grand Prix counterpart, the 43’s suspension, utilised a beam front axle with half-elliptic springs and a live rear axle with reversed quarter-elliptic springs, to ensure a balanced ride. The braking system was cable operated to large drums on all corners, pulling up against the Type 35 Grand Prix wheels. Notably, the Type 43 showcased all the performance and elegant engineering, that was making Bugatti very much the marque to beat at that time.
Priced, ten percent more than its Grand Prix counterpart, the Type 35B, the 43 found a niche as a top-tier offering, thanks to its outstanding performance and unique chassis frame. Drawing inspiration from the touring model Type 38, the Type 43 shared components such as the radiator, steering, gearbox, front and rear axles. The factory-supplied steel-panelled Grand Sport coachwork defined the majority of Type 43s, though some were sold as chassis for custom coach-building which wasn’t unusual in this time. Over its production span of 1927 to 1931, 160 units were built, with a small number of later examples designated Type 43A, featuring the popular two-seat roadster style with a rumble seat in the tail.

The Type 43 also earned its place on the racing circuit, participating in various major sports car events from Brooklands to the Ulster Tourist Trophy and the world renowned Mille Miglia, of which three cars were entered for in 1927.

This Car Chassis 43219:

This car Chassis 43219, Engine No. 67, left the factory fitted with the sporty Grand Sport coachwork painted in blue. Completed in November 1927, 43219 was first registered 6936 J4, in the Bugatti factory’s name, on April 24 1928. According to Pierre-Yves Laugier, it appears 43219 was retained and undoubtably used by Bugatti until October 1928 when it was delivered by road to its first owner Mr. Robert Thomson Jameson, an American industrialist, living at 54 Avenue de Neuilly, Neuilly sur Seine. This is evidenced in the Factory Delivery Book with the car being issued temporary registration number 1762 WW5, on 27th October 1928, for delivery to Jameson / Paul – Neuilly and invoiced 87,500 French Francs.

For a period, there was speculation that 43219 might have been one of the Type 43 cars entered in the 1928 Mille Miglia, however, recent confirmation from registration records have dispelled that theory.

It’s essential to note that not all factory-registered cars were built for competition use. Currently, there’s no evidence to suggest that 43219 was a factory competition car, except for its gearbox, which features a hole in the top of the passenger side mounting arm for a hand-operated oil transfer pump. This detail could imply that the car was initially designed with sporting competition intentions, but it can not be said at this time.

In December 1929 Chassis 43219 was taken back by the Bugatti Factory to be resold on Mr. Jameson’s behalf, as a second-hand car, to the Hackelor-Kobinghoff company in Berlin for 62,000fr. This transaction apparently “included 5 new tyres, polishing of tie rods and front axle”. The Bugatti Factory records note: “43219 Touriste” left with the registration number of 1647 WW5, assumed to be a trade plate which was fitted between for delivery to Belin on the road, issued from 11th – 15th of December 1929.”

The exact whereabouts of 43219 for the next few years can not be confirmed for certain at this time, but during 1930, a J Zemlicka in Czechoslovakia registered a Type 43 Grand Sport with the distinctive number S-14727. According to the David Sewell report that accompanies the car – “that number cannot be attributed to another car of this make and model at that time – so by deduction it is possible that the car may have been 43219 – but we cannot be 100% certain at present.”

According to David Sewell, during the War 43219 is believed to have been disassembled and hidden away in several places. The trail then picks up again with the appearance of the car in February 1947, entered in a winter rally in Czechoslovakia, organised by the “Autoklub Karlovy” piloted by Antonin Sperlik, with Co – Driver Jos Novak. This is reported in the esteemed motoring magazine Svet Motoru, accompanied by a photo (as seen above), of the car still on its aluminium wheels sporting a late pre-War style drop head coupe body, very similar to a BMW 327 or 328.

In the next issue of Svet Motoru, the car is mentioned as: “(Sperlik – Bugatti 2300) in the over 2000cc class for the Panorama Hill special stage with a time of 6:02.8”. The pairing would receive a silver plaque in this event for only obtaining 6 penally points. In this event, 96 cars were entered and 80 were to finish.

43219 was seen sporting a late prewar-style Drop Head Coupe body, the origin of which cannot be confirmed for sure. In Pierre Yves-Laugiers report on the car he writes that according to recollections related by people who knew the car at that time, to the director of the Prague Technical Museum, Peter Kozise, it may well have been the work of a small coach builder in the city using the basses of a BMW body with Alfa Romeo wings, but he could not say for sure.

Photographic evidence captures the car in different phases, showcasing its evolution with both Type 35 wheels in the late 40’s and as well as BMW-style 327 pressed steel wheels. After a period of obscurity, the car re-emerges in the Opava region, northern Czechoslovakia around 1955-60, registered as OP-55-07.

In a notable transformation around 1965, the original Bugatti engine and gearbox are believed to have been removed, replaced by BMW units, and the braking system is converted to hydraulic operation. This BMW-powered configuration persists until the car’s eventual dismantling in 1970. Luckily the original engine and gearbox were safely stored, later to be reunited with the car.

In the 1970s, Dr. Kunze from Stuttgart and Mr. Vavra dismantled the car still featuring the BMW 327 style body. The car was then found by German Bugatti enthusiast Dr. Heiner Lohrer of Burghausen. Dr. Lohrer embarked on a meticulous restoration journey, requiring over 100 trips spanning a 15-year period to retrieve and reassemble original, relevant components between 1976 and 1990.

Dr. Heiner Lohrer confirmed this in a letter the current owner in March 2022. According to Lohrer, the discovery and repatriation of chassis number 43219 from East to West unfolded in a fascinating manner :

“In 1977 I found the unrestored front axle rear axle, and two halves of the chassis frame on the border with Czechoslovakian. In 1978 at Dr. Kuntze’s house I found the steering box and the two rear crossmembers as well as two photos of a car resembling a BMW that Dr. Kuntze had disassembled around 1975 in Czechoslovakia. Its engine and gearbox were no longer Bugatti but BMW’s. The frame was number 66 and the rear deck number 69, corresponding to 43219.

I then received the address of a certain Mr. Vavra, who had dismantled this car with Dr. Kuntze. Mr. Vavra took me to Rostov, south of Bruno to Mr. Panacek. He was a Bugatti Collector and had the original dashboard (firewall and dashboard) as well as the original number 67 engine. The chassis plate was not longer on the firewall. Around 1980, I found gearbox number 68 at a Bugattiste, Mr. Schmalbach in Munich.”

According to David Sewell a Grand Sport body was located in Switzerland and Dr. Lohre goes on to say that the rear wings were made by Feireabend and the front wings by a craftsman in Burghausen. He also notes the wheels came Helmut Schellenberg, a former Bugatti driver. The original crankshaft was restored by the Jaberg Company in Switzerland before a new crankshaft was manufactured by Crosthwaite & Gardiner in the UK.

The chassis still shows signs of drilling for a secondary body, possibly the BMW-style body and traces of the BMW engine assembly and the hydraulic braking system were evident in photos from when Dr. Lohrer acquired the car. Most parts are identifiable in the photos, including a complete engine before disassembly, the original engine crankcase engraved 43219/67, cam box, blocks, front and rear axles, steering link, and water pump.

It is worth noting, according to the Laugier report, the firewall underwent a 10 cm reduction in height to accommodate the BMW-style body in Czechoslovakia. To bridge this modification, an aluminium strip was skilfully welded, visible in photos on the passenger compartment side. This alteration aligns with the historical context, suggesting that chassis 43219 originally sported the BMW-style body associated with Antonin Sperlink. The engine-side partition exhibits traces of additional holes, visible in pre-restoration photos and subsequently sealed. Similarly, the passenger compartment side of the firewall reveals blocked holes, affirming the authenticity of the original aluminium plates.

With the restoration finally finished, Dr. Lohrer was seen using 43219 on a rally in Ferrara in 1989 and on the 1994 International Bugatti Rally in Italy.

In 2000 43219 was sold to well known German Bugatti collector Helmut Pende. He then entrusted Malcolm and Stephen Gentry of Gentry Restorations to restore the car again. The car was inspected by David Sewell at this time.

43219 was then purchased by the current owner through Christies in August 2003. Prominent members of the Bugatti Club, since owning 43219, it has been a regular feature on numerous Bugatti rallies and events as well as the Mille Miglia.

Well documented in all of the relevant Bugatti registeres and Jack du Gan’s Type 43 register, and meticulously restored to its original configuration as a Grand Sport; the chassis frame, engine, gearbox, rear axle, and, in all likelihood, its front axle (though lacking a discernible number), share component correlations traceable back 43219, making it an exciting example of one of the ultimate ‘Grand Tourers’ of its time. Equally at home on hill climbs and events like the Mille Miglia as it is on the open road of the wide array of international Bugatti Rallies and events, this is a great opportunity to take on everything 2024 has to offer.