1935 Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux
The Bugatti Type 57 is arguably the ultimate touring Bugatti, bringing together Ettore’s years of engineering experience with the flair for design and styling of his talented son Jean. By the time of its launch in 1934, Bugatti was one of the most reputed and revered names in the automotive industry. Dominant on the glamorous race circuits of Europe and the sports and touring car of the rich and elegant, the Type 57 would give us some of the most stylish and iconic coach-works of all time.
The Type 57 broke cover in early 1934 and was shown at the Salon in Paris in October. Although work had started on the car the year before, efforts at the time had been directed towards the new twin-cam 3.3-litre Type 59 Grand Prix car, the engine of which has close links with the Type 57. Some of the early drawings for the Type 57 were even dated 1932.
Much of the credit for the Type 57 is down to Ettore’s talented son, Jean. By now an integral part of the company he had already demonstrated his flare for design with his work on the Royale and Type 55. He designed four bodies for the Type 57 the Ventoux, Stelvio, Galibier, Atalante and the iconic Atlantic. He was also an accomplished engineer with the first two prototypes of the Type 57 featuring his independent front suspension designs. A feature that was vetoed by his father who was more of a stickler for the traditional and insisted ‘a Bugatti was to have a proper front axle.’
Powered by a straight-eight cylinder, twin-overhead camshaft, 3.3-litre engine, which in standard un-supercharged form produced 135 bhp. This, combined with its strong and light chassis design, equated to about 100 bhp per ton allowing the Type 57 in standard four-door saloon configuration to achieve a mean top speed of 95mph, a maximum of 105mph and to accelerate from 10-60 mph in 14 seconds. Bearing in mind that Motor Sport at the time deemed the performance of the Humber Snipe as ‘highly satisfactory’ with its top speed of 77mph 10-60 mph in 25 seconds; it is easy to see why Sir Malcom Campbell, who himself owned a Type 57 wrote: ‘If I was to be asked to give my opinion as to the best all-round super-sports car which is available on the market today, I should, without any hesitation whatever, say it was the 3.3 Bugatti … it cannot fail to attract the connoisseur or those who know how to handle the thoroughbred. It is in a class by itself.’
The Type 57 featured an integral gearbox with a ball change and constant-mesh helical gears for silence. The chassis was Bugatti’s time proven tapered ladder style, with full springs at the front and the Bugatti trademark quarter elliptical at the rear. The brakes were large with cable operation, although the third series cars featured hydraulic brakes. The 57 was built in three series the first series from 1934-1936, the second from 1936 and the third and final from late 1938.
Chassis 57271, this car
This stunning First Series example, chassis number 57271, engine number 172, left the factory with the Bugatti built two-door Ventoux body it still carries to this day. The design was named the Ventoux after Mt. Ventoux which was the scene of so much early competition success for the marque. It was sold by the Bugatti agent Groslambert of Grand Garage Carnot, 18 Ave Carnot, Besançon, to a Mr. St. Martin on the 25th of April 1935. Little is known at this time about its Pre-War history. Reputedly it was bought by the French Embassy in London in 1939 and stored throughout the war.
On the 19th of December 1946, 57271 was sold to Kenneth Bear and was registered JKX 767 in the name of his mechanic Stafford East. Kenneth Bear was known within early Bugatti circles. One of the founding members of the Bugatti Owners Club, he owned and raced the Ex- Charlie Martin Type 59. Sadly he was killed racing the car in 1948 in Jersey, where the ownership of the Type 59 passed to Stafford East.
As for 57271, ownership passed to BRDC member Roy D Dunster, of Bushley, Hertfordshire. He apparently only used the car once a year and by 1954 ownership had passed to Mr. Edward P. W. Stebbing of 40 Markham Street, Chelsea, SW3. The current owner has been in touch with Peter Marshall, Stebbing’s nephew, who told him the car was used as his wedding car in 1951.
In May 1971, 57271 was entered into Sotheby’s auction at Earls Court. Painted pale grey with blue wheels it was sold to none other than John Coombs. John needs no introduction, a household name in the motor racing world in the 1950s and 1960s. Famous for his racing Jaguars and his integral part in the careers of drivers such as Graham Hill, Mr. Coombs had the car comprehensively restored. The mechanicals were entrusted to Louis Giron. Louis served his apprenticeship at the Bugatti factory in Molsheim and was part to the team building the early ‘Lyon’ Type 35 Bugatti. He went on to work for Duncan Hamilton, when he was still racing, before running the restoration department at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.
The bodywork was entrusted to Prestige and the upholstery to Mr. Thomas Fields. The car was painted black with burgundy door panels to match the burgundy interior. The current owner has been in touch with Philip Giron, Louis’ son and Peter Prove who worked with Louis and subsequently has obtained a number of photographs of the chassis and engine in restoration in October 1979, as seen below.
John Coombs kept the car until 1992, winning prizes at a concours in Holland and at the Louis Vuitton Concours (best interior), before selling the car through Coys to Dutch Bugattist Jaap Braam Ruben. The car subsequently went to Holland. From 1998 to 2001, 57271 was owned by Mr. J Tseliki of Aviatech Ltd., 10 Kempton Place, Brighton, painted black. He entered the car in Coys Rockingham auction on the 27th of May 2001 where it was bought by the current owner’s father who is a long standing Bugatti enthusiast and collector of over 40 years and is an integral part of the Bugatti Owners Club.
Throughout this family’s ownership the car has been very much driven and enjoyed by all, along with their other cars. The car won the Jack Browning Trophy for the best Type 57 at the Bugatti Owners Club annual concours in 2002, 2004 and 2018, as well winning the Bugatti Class at Salon Prive in 2011. They have used the car on the Swedish, British, and Ardennes Bugatti International rallies, as well as numberer trips to Prescott where it won both the Jack Browning and Schade Trophies at this year’s BOC Garden Party.
Over the last 18 years 57271 has been constantly maintained, a close record of which is in the history file that accompanies the car. The brake linings were replaced in 2001 and 2002, Tula Engineering rebuilt the back axle and prop-shaft in 2002, a new exhaust system was fitted in 2005, Ivan Dutton Ltd. rebuilt the gearbox and dash assembly in 2007, Tula Engineering rebuilt the carburettor, fuel pump and adjusted the valves in 2008 and the car was treated to a bare metal repaint in 2016.
Elegantly presented in black with the striking red interior, it is not every day that the opportunity arrises to acquire such a beautifully presented, wonderfully original and well known example of Bugatti’s stunning early Ventoux. This cars history, combined with the obvious love that has been bestowed on it over the years is evident, well documented and clear to see. An ideal entrant to the wide array of International rallies as well as prestigious concours lawns around the globe. 57271 is very much part of its current family and it is time for a new patron to enjoy it as much as its current owners.
A Motor Sport quote of May 1939 sums up the Type 57 nicely: ‘The car sped along at 80mph with comfort and quietness one associates with the Type 57… We were quite willing to believe that Jean Bugatti has achieved the 435 Kilometres to Paris in just under 3 1/2 hours in the Type 57 – an average speed of 77 mph….’ A true thoroughbred of its time, the Type 57 remains so to this day.