1920 Bugatti Brescia

The Ex – Bob Sutherland 1920 Bugatti Brescia

The Bugatti Brescia has to be one of the most exhilarating and usable Bugatti of all time. Derived from the 8-valve model introduced in 1910 and uprated to carry Bugatti’s characteristic reversed quarter-elliptical springs in 1913. The 16-valve version of this model was designed and built for an important international Voiturette race scheduled to be held at Le Mans on the 16th of August 1914 but canceled due to the outbreak of war. With the war thankfully behind them production began alongside the 8-valve model in February 1920.

Production built up slowly but, as would become characteristic of the great marque, it was bolstered by racing success.  On the 29th of August 1920 works driver Ernst Fridrich took victory at the Coupe des Voiturettes at Le Mans. On the 8th of September 1921 Bugatti entered a team of four cars into the Voiturette Grand Prix held at Brescia in Italy. They took the first four places with Fridrich taking overall victory at an impressive average speed of over 70mph. From this point on these fabulous little racing cars have been affectionately known as the Brescia.

These early race cars with their 2m wheelbase were designated the Type 13. Although the Type 13 was the most famous, the majority of the models were either the Type 22 with its 2.4m wheelbase or the Type 23 with a 2.55m wheelbase. Fitted with a variety of striking and elegant sports as well as more conventional touring bodies they were a huge success. When production of the 16-valve model came to an end in mid 1926 a total of just over 2000 examples had been built.

With their potent and remarkably torquey 1,496cc four cylinder, single overhead camshaft, 16-valve engine, Zenith updraft carburettor, Bosch magneto, wet multi-plate clutch and wonderful 4-speed gearbox, the performance is quite astounding. Over the years the Brescia have stunned and excelled on hill climbs, the circuit, fast open road touring and remain unmatched on the very popular VSCC trials circuit.

The first documented record of this fabulous example is in Hugh Conway’s 1962 Bugatti Register. Listed as a Type 22 of unknown chassis number and fitted with engine number 598 (formerly of Chassis No. 1035). It was acquired in 1946 as an incomplete chassis by its owner Andrew Heib of Bury near Manchester. Unregistered and without its body the frame had been cut in half. Other Bugatti parts included the engine, clutch, gearbox, prop shaft, back axle, radiator, peddles and brake linkage. It was noted that the front axle was non-standard and it had four wheel brakes.

Andrew Heib sold the car in in 1964 to Tony Oldham of Rochdale for £30. Ownership then passed to Harry Horsfield of Halifax, Paul Richfield and subsequently Alan Wragg in 1972 for £1,300. Alan, a highly capable restorer known for Brescia Bugatti, completely restored the car before selling it to well known Bugattist Bob Sutherland in 1975.

Alan repaired and shortened the chassis frame to that of the Type 13, all of the mechanical components were fully restored and a new racing body was built to the correct specification. A copper bolster tank, wings, period instruments and lighting added the finishing touch. Bob Sutherland was an immensely well liked and highly regarded collector. Larger than life and a pleasure to spend time with he was a ‘bon viveur’ and a true enthusiast. He loved this car and owned it for 24 years until his untimely death in 1999. In his ownership he used it on numerous rallies, including his own rally the Colorado Grand; he raced it regularly at Laguna Seca and he even showed it on the hallowed lawn of the Pebble Beach Concourse. I have known this car since I was six years old and it is the first ever Bugatti I drove.

Fellow Colorado resident Ron Hetherington purchased the car from the family estate and in 2003 had Jim Strandberg’s High Mountain Classics comprehensively restore it. It was owned by Mr. Hetherington for a number of years before it was purchased and relocated back to the UK in by Nigel Williams who lavished a great deal of time, money and effort on this fabulous little car. Maintained by leading marque specialists Tula Engineering, where the company director Charles Knill-Jones is an avid, highly respected campaigner and aficionado on these stunning little Brescia. They set about building the luggage rack with its beautifully designed leather gun case insert, perfect for carrying tools. Mr. Williams went on to compete at the Prescott hill climb a number of times, with a class win at La Vie en Blue and he and I also competed in the Flying Scotsman, London to Edinburgh endurance rally.

In September 2011 the car was purchased by Mr. Peter Roberts, well known in Frazer Nash circles and an avid campaigner of vintage cars. The car continued to be maintained by Tula Engineering with the same level of attention to detail. The seating position was lengthened and an attractive full width removable screen was fitted. Keen to continue campaigning, racing and hill climbing the car, Peter’s plan was always to build a separate engine for racing to conserve the original components. When the original crank case was damaged, he commissioned Tula Engineering to build him a new bottom end of the engine, to the highest specification, breathing through twin Solex carburettors and utilising the original cam box. The original upper and lower crank case was then fully rebuilt with a new counterbalanced crank shaft by Tula and accompanies the car to this day.

In his ownership the car has been raced in the prestigious Williams Trophy and has successfully completed the Paris To Madrid Rally (as seen above).

In December 2015, BOC 1035 was purchased by its current owner. He, like its previous owners, has continued to carry the mantle left by Bob Sutherland and has enthusiastically used the car. Driven on the road as well as in competition. He has competed in VSCC hillclimbs and the Brooklands Sprint, the Manx Classic hillclimbs and this year’s popular with Solo Brescia rally in the Isle of Man. In his ownership he has had a new clutch plates fitted by Tula Engineering.

Accompanied by its UK V5, VSCC Buff Log Book, original upper and lower crankcases built up with a new counterbalanced crankshaft, two old cylinder blocks, two extra beaded edge wheels, the single carburettor and manifold and a strong history file; this continues to be an  ideal entry to the wide array of Bugatti rallies and events worldwide.

With events like the Solo Brescia going from strength to strength and fabulous Bugatti rallies now regularly held across the globe, this is an extremely usable, exhilarating car to drive and you will struggle to find a better prepared and finer example. This car continues to put a smile on ones face and will always have a special place in my heart being the first of many Bugatti I have been lucky enough to drive.

It is getting increasingly hard to find such good examples of the ever popular shortened Bugati Brescia. As such this is the perfect opportunity to pick up the gauntlet laid down by Bob to have as much fun as he and its subsequent owners have had with this most character-full of cars.