Editor: Jaap Horst
Details of the seven Bugatti motor cars owned by the 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley and his wife Sybil, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley.
The Bugatti manufacturing plant was established on Christmas Day 1909 when Ettore Bugatti took over rented premises in a disused dye works near Molsheim in the Rhine Valley in Western Germany. Production commenced in 1910 with a handful of cars being produced in the first year. The pre-First World War models are known as “eight-valve” cars having two valves per cylinder operated by a single overhead camshaft via banana-shaped tappets. Cars were available in different chassis lengths. The Type 13 was shortest with a 2 m. wheelbase, the Type 15 was 2.4 m. and the Type 17 was 2.55 m. The latter designations later became Type 22 and Type 23 and the vast majority of cars delivered to England were Type 22 which were normally fitted with sporting, open coachwork.
Two eight-valve cars were exhibited in Paris in 1919 and later delivered to the UK where they were displayed at the London Motor Show. The chassis numbers of these two cars were 773 and 777 and it seems certain that the Cholmondeley car was the latter. Registration took place in East Suffolk early in 1921. Factory records have survived and all deliveries to London are listed but there is no mention of the Cholmondeleys.
Only a few of these early cars have survived and it is safe to assume that this one was scrapped many years ago. An earlier car which has survived is currently on display at the Bugatti Trust in Gloucestershire, and is mechanically similar to the Cholmondeley car.
After the Armistice in November 1918, Molsheim again became part of France and production slowly recommenced towards the end of 1919. The eight-valve engine was upgraded to sixteen-valve and after a famous victory in 1921 it became known as the “Brescia”. This designation strictly applies only to the racing models but is in fact commonly used for any sixteen-valve car made between 1919 and 1926.
Ever ambitious to build bigger cars, Bugatti had introduced the type 29/30 in 1922. The chassis was closely related to that used by the “Brescia” range but the engine was completely different. “Breathing” was through three vertical valves per cylinder in a fixed cylinder head and the external appearance was radically different. Machined, squared-off components predominated and rounded cam-boxes and cylinder blocks became history.
The type 29/30 enjoyed limited competition success and, inspired by the 1923 Fiat, Ettore set to work on his iconic design; the Type 35. It’s engine benefited from a complex, but extremely effective, roller-bearing crankshaft, otherwise the engine was similar to its predecessor.
Introduced at the French Grand Prix at Lyon in August, 1924, the car soon found favour with dozens of aspiring amateur racing drivers. Ettore happily supplied replicas of his works cars at appropriately elevated premium prices.
The Cholmondeleys were favoured with early delivery of their type 35. It was the third car made for private customers.
Bugatti’s basic eight-cylinder design was used for racing and touring cars from 1922 until around 1932. The touring models were known as type 30, 38, 44 and 49.
Ettore capitalised on the success of the Type 44 when he introduced the Type 49 which had its engine capacity increased to 3,300cc. Another improvement was the fitting of a two-plug ignition system but otherwise, little was changed.
In the early thirties, Ettore’s eldest son, “Jean”, was becoming increasingly influential at Molsheim. He was more receptive to new ideas than his father and took the opportunity to acquire two American Miller track cars with significantly superior cylinder heads to anything Ettore had designed. The Miller engines were bench tested and then passed to the drawing office where their design was faithfully recorded. Before applying their two-valve hemi-head geometry to the Grand Prix range it was used for the new Type 50 which was basically an earlier 5 litre type 46 with the Miller-inspired twin-camshaft head replacing the obsolete three-valve design. All Type 50 cars were supercharged and produced in the region of 225 bhp. This was enormously powerful for its time and the London Bugatti agent, Colonel Sorel regarded the cars as unsuitable for importation into the UK. Customers for this model dealt with Jean or Ettore personally.
The influence of Ettore’s son Jean was demonstrated by the type 57 which was introduced in 1933 using the twin-camshaft two-valve cylinder head design which had been successfully utilised for the Type 50 and 51 models. Predictably, the Cholmondeleys ordered the most expensive type 57 variant ; a supercharged Type 57SC Atlantic. To many people this model is the most desirable Bugatti ever made. Its “gull-wing” doors, and bodywork made in two halves riveted together on the centre-line, are two memorable features of Jean’s most famous design.
A complication occurred which has caused confusion for the next 68 years ; the engine, gearbox, chassis plate and registration documents of the Atalante were swapped with those of a type 57 “Stelvio” (57679) supplied to Lord Howe in October 1938. Both cars survived and were both acquired by Dutch dealer and enthusiast Jaap Braam Ruben who has unscrambled the mechanical components and paperwork of the two cars.
The Atalante-bodied car had obviously whetted the appetite and a third type 57 was ordered in around the end of 1938.
The Cholmondleys had purchased Bugattis over an eighteen year period stretching from 1921 to 1939 and were amongst Ettore’s most loyal customers.
Jean was killed in the summer of 1939, and Ettore died of natural causes in 1947. Thus were the bonds of friendship extinguished.
Now, once again, the links between Bugatti and Cholmondeley have been firmly re-established !