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Significant Bugatti Type 35 Grand Prix Racing Car to Sell at Scottsdale Auction

By Steve Natale: Both technologically and historically, the Bugatti Type 35 is one the most remarkable race cars of the Pre-War era. The Type 35 achieved an incredible race record that includes winning 351 races and smashing 47 records in 1924 and 1925 before winning the 1926 Grand Prix World Championship. It also won the Targa Florio five times in a row from 1925 to 1929. In its prime, the Type 35 took the checkered flag for the win 14 times a week on average! Overall the Type 35 won over 1,000 races in its day.

Bugatti Type 35 bird racing car 1

  • Bugatti Type 35 Grand Prix, all photos by Brian Henniker courtesy of Gooding and Company.

This highly original example was first sold to Mr. Wallis Clinton Bird, an American automobile enthusiast who purchased it while on his honeymoon in Paris in November of 1925. This early model (chassis no. 4487) is similar to the first Type 35 unveiled at the Grand Prix of Lyon on August 3, 1924. It has a 3-valve 2.0 L overhead cam straight-eight engine that revs to 6000 rpm and produces an impressive 95 horsepower.

Bugatti Type 35 bird racing car 2

Records show that Mr, Bird paid $11,323 for his new Bugatti Type 35, which was more than triple what a top of the line Brescia model sold for. Cost was no object for Mr. Bird who had it shipped back to his recently acquired, 65 acre, 50 room estate on Long Island, a gift to his new wife, Marjorie Winifred, a former dancer with the famous Ziegfeld Follies. The estate was perfect for a car collector, having a 27 car garage. His collection of cars included an Alfa Romeo, Isotta Fraschini, Hispano-Suiza, Mercedes-Benz, Bentley and a pair of Duesenbergs.

1925 Bugatti Type 35 bird racing car 3

The Type 35 was designed to be a Grand Prix race car, but it was only raced once in 1937 at the ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) Roosevelt Raceway Coupe Sport and Grand Prix. He held the lead in the Grand Prix until a cracked steering box forced him to retire from the race. The steering box was replaced, and the car was never raced again. A generator and lights were added at some point for use on the road.

1925 Bugatti Type 35 bird racing car

Mr.Bird was also an aviation enthusiast and sadly was killed when his Beechcraft went down in a storm over the Catskill Mountains in 1940. Grief-stricken, Mrs. Bird had the wreckage of the plane crated up and stored in the basement of the estate. She would later abandon the estate and all its contents, moving to Switzerland, never to return. She passed away in 1960.

Bugatti Type 35 bird racing car 6

An auction was held in 1962 to liquidate the assets of the estate, including the fabulous cars left behind. The event caused quite a stir in the car collecting world and was even reported in Road and Track magazine.

American collector and founder of the Long Island Automotive Museum Henry Austin Clark Jr. assisted with the appraisal of the cars. He fell in love with the Bugatti and returned on auction day, winning the car with a high bid of $1,750. Clark kept the car for the next twenty years, enjoying it and sharing it with others at various events and at his museum. Clark closed the museum in 1981 and sold the car to its current owner who treated it to a sympathetic mechanical and cosmetic restoration during 2003-2004. It has been used very little since and has been rarely seen outside of two Bugatti rallies and the Prescott Hill Climb.

1925 Bugatti Type 35 bird racing car 8

The fact that this race car has only had three loving owners was only raced once and never crashed accounts for its exceptional originality today. It still wears all its original aluminum bodywork and runs beautifully. Even Wallis Bird’s original ARCA membership plate is still attached to the dashboard.

A new chapter in this remarkable car’s history will be written later this week when it rolls across the auction block at the Gooding and Company auction is Scottsdale, AZ this weekend.

11 responses to “Significant Bugatti Type 35 Grand Prix Racing Car to Sell at Scottsdale Auction

  1. It is an early one for sure but not the oldest. Chassis #4325 which was one of the four original factory entries at the 1924 Lyon Grand prix survives. It has quite the discovery story behind it. It was found in pieces on a Spanish Farm and hauled to England in the back of a station wagon. It was then painstakingly restored in the late 60s by Peter Giddings. Do a google search and you can find more info at Peter Giddings racing.

    • To me the remarkable thing is paying only $1,750 for it in 1962. The average cost of a new car that year was around $3,000 and a VW was going for about $1,500! Even though the Bugatti was “used”, I think the extra $250 over a VW was well worth the investment.

  2. The price seems aligned with high-end sports cars of today.

    Having been to the Monterey Historic Races several times, I’ve experienced the thrill of seeing a number of Type 35s both up close and at speed. I never use words like this, but I’m sure just about anyone who has seen one of these cars run will agree they are *glorious* machines.

    History has produced a few exceptionally brilliant, eccentric, single minded designers over the years. Ettore places very high on the list.

  3. I really love the 35 and all the derivatives, however I feel this article implies that the T35 won the 26 championship. That is not quite correct as it was the 39 that took that honor. Of course I am being a bit “pernickity” in that a 39 is really a 35 with the 1.5 litre engine, and a number of other modifications.

    • Rhys,

      You are correct – for 1926 the engine capacity was lowered from 2-litres to 1.5 litres, so Bugatti used the Type 35 body with the smaller engine to create the Type 39.

      The news regulations caught Delage and Talbot out, with the result that the 1926 French Grand Prix at the Miramas Autodrome near Marseille had only three starters – all Bugatti Type 39s.
      That would have been incredibly boring to watch!

  4. Rhys:

    One cannot be too persnickety when it comes to historical accuracy. Or pernickety, for that matter. However, it’s easy to slip when considering the races won with either the 35B or the 39A, since they were almost identical in appearance.

    This whole backstory of a Long-Island millionaire, his Ziegfeld Follies bride, a stable of significant cars in a massive garage – now, that’s a story!


  5. I had the trill of riding in one of these early Buggati’s in the 1980s. The owner had just gotten it back from a restoration in Europe. He stopped by my house and took me for a spin. Didn’t offer to let me drive though. Noisy and unforgettable!

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