A virtual magazine for a true passion!

Editor: Jaap Horst

Volume 2, Issue 4
Labric and Veyron's T57G "Tank" at the start of the 1937 24 hour race.

Bugattis racing at Le Mans

The Type 13, driven by Friderich

From 1923 to 1994

Author: Jaap Horst

The Le Mans circuit has been very important to Bugatti, ever from July 23, 1911, when his little "Type 13" driven by Bugatti's mechanic Ernest Friderich, was to finish second after a large Fiat driven by Hemery, after all the other cars had dropped out. At this stage Le Mans was not a 24 hours race, the race in question being the French Grand Prix, held on a circuit different from the later 24 hours one.

Later, from 1928 to 1930, Bugatti organised a special, purely Bugatti race for his clients, the "Grands Prix Bugatti". These of course were open only to Bugattis, and were held on the Le Mans circuit. Obviously he liked the circuit, but why did it last him so long (until 1931) to enter officially in the 24 hour race??

Probable answer for this has to be sought in what Le Mans really was in the beginning. Of course it was a good idea, but, not so much of a true race as well as a kind of public test for constructors and their clients. Ettore might want to enter his mythical Type 35 only in the more prestigious races.
The two Brescia's before the start


The first year that the Le Mans 24 Hour race was held, two type 13 Brescia Bugattis were entered. Until 1930 private entries were not possible, only factory entries. The cars were driven by private pilots though! The rules were not well established yet, only stating that the cars should be "conform to the descriptions in the constructors catalogue". Apart from this, all cars with more than 1100 cc should offer 4 seats, and 60 kg per seat! Not really an advantage for the small Brescia, having to carry 180 kg on top of its own 610 kg. 33 cars had been entered, 25 of which of over 1500 cc capacity, 5 of less then 1100, and only 3 in the 1100 - 1500 cc class. Only a Corre La Licorne was opposing the two Bugattis.

The Brescia of de Pourtales and de la Rochefoucauld
During the race it rained all day, and also the night, but the two Brescia's apparently went very equal, although no official records of times were kept! Afterwards the Bugattis received their classification, which wasn't all that exact!


Years went by, without Bugatti competing at Le Mans. The year which saw the minimum competitors ever, only seventeen, also lived a very novel feature! Two young ladies entered a Bugatti Type 40, Marguerite Mareuse was the owner of the car, and she was accompanied by Odette Siko. This wa the first year that private entries for Le Mans were possible.

The T40, driven by one of the ladies.
Since 1923 many things had changed, the minimum distance had been almost doubled to 2131 km, corresponding to an average of 89 km/h. The ladies, having no one in their class to compete with, could try to improve the class record, set at 2286 km (95.3 km/h) by the Alvis of Harvey and Purdy in 1928.

Of course many asked themselves if the "poor ladies" are capable here, but time showed they were. At the background of the great Duel between Caracciola's Mercedes and five Bentleys officially entered, the little "Bug" followed her way with grace and constancy. Although the record of the Alvis wasn't attained, "class victory" and the best classification of a Molsheim product ever at Le Mans, would convince Ettore that his cars could achieve something here!


The black T50 of Varzi and Chiron
So the next year saw an official Bugatti team appearing at Le Mans. Following the general trend of increasing engine capacity and horsepower, Bugatti had come up with a novel 8 cylinder, double overhead cam 5 litre supercharged T50, an absolute, 250 hp, weapon to attack "Le Mans". The dohc by the way was inspired by the American Miller cars (not to say copied), of which Ettore acquired two, in trade for three T43's. These Millers were finally brought back to the USA by Griffith Borgeson.

The three Bugattis, all painted black, had some excellent drivers also, and the opposition would come only from a Mercedes, one Bentley (private), two Talbots and a Alfa Romeo.

The T50 after Rost's accident
Jean Bugatti, present at the Pits, had asked the drivers to keep calm in the beginning. It is hot, the tires suffer, especially for the more heavy automobiles, and the Bugattis, due to their weight penalty, were 2 tons! The Bugattis do reasonable in the beginning, and all important competitors keep within the same lap. Towards 18h30, Rost in the T50 has a tire blown at the left rear, his brakes block and the T50 goes off the track, kills a spectator and injures three others (in a zone forbidden for spectators!) and turns over. Rost is severely injured and is taken to a Le Mans hospital. Chiron, who had already ordered to keep the speed on the straights below 185 km/h, abandons the race, and the 3rd T50 is also retired. Frankly, the chassis of the T50 was not capable of taking all the power, resulting in bad handling, and early tire wear-out. As far as the factory was concerned, this was the end to the T50S. The engine was tuned down using a lower compressor pressure, and put into the longer T46 chassis, to make a luxurious, powerful sportive automobile, the T50T.

And all the ill-fate adds up, also to the privately entered Bugs: The T43 breaks it transmission, the ladies Mareuse and Siko, so successful last year, are disqualified in 12th place, at an average of over 100 km/h. The little T37, being in 12th/13th place for a long time, has to retire the beginning of the Sunday afternoon, because of problems with the ignition.


The next year sees two official entries from Bugatti, two types 55 are entered, of only 2.3 litre capacity these are far smaller than last year's T50S's, but are much lighter as well. These cars do not have the famous "SuperSport" Roadster body, often associated with the T55, but has a more simple body, really a sports version of the T51, as the T43 was the sports version of the T35.

Jean Bugatti, still young and enthusiastic even after last year's mishap, had seen to the preparation of the cars. Apart from the factory entries two small private entries are present, a T37 and a supercharged (!) T40. Opposition comes mainly from the Alfa Romeo 8C's, a Mercedes, an American Stutz and an old Bentley.

Bouriat in the pits, after his fuel tank has been damaged
From the beginning, the Bugattis mix with the Alfa Romeo's, but this doesn't last long! Bouriat comes to an early stand-still, as his fuel tank was pierced by a stone. However, Czaikowski and Friderich continue in the other T55. They kept ahead of the Astons and a Talbot, but half-way, they are 12 (twelve) laps (160 km) behind the Alfas of Cortese - Godotti and Sommer - Chinetti. What happens? Problems or tactics?

In the early morning the T55 comes back however, at a lap and a half per hour! At twelve, the T55 is only four laps behind the leaders Sommer and Chinetti, who suffer from brake-problems. This seems a possible task! However, the miracle will not take place, Friderich has to stop the car at 12h20, because of the collapse of an oil line. Sommer will win the race.

There is some compensation though, as the T37 of Sebilleau and Delaroche, beaten in their class by a lap and a half by the Aston of Newsome-Windegren, at least beats the other Aston of Bertelli-Briscolli. Never at Le Mans had a Bugatti finished in such a high position (6) and covered so great a distance.


Six cars had been officially entered for the 1933 event, of which 3 T50S, although only two actually appeared at the start. Some explanation for this can be found in the mortal accident of Guy Bouriat, the 21st of May that year. However, count Stanislas Czaikowski, after having set the World record for the hour at 212.8 km/h at the wheel of a T54 six weeks before, was present with a small T51A. The other Bug is a big T50S, ex factory car and still painted black, although now fitted with Dunlop tires. This car was entered by Jean-Luis Tarante, who shortly before the start was called for service in the army (he was an officer). Busienne took therefore the wheel, accompanied by Mrs. Duprez.

Opposition came from a giant Duesenberg of almost seven litres, and from some 7 Alfa Romeos, of which 5 8C2300, one of which was driven by Sommer, accompanied by a Tazio Nuvolari, new at Le Mans.

Bussienne, in the big T50, takes nicely his place after the untouchable Alfa Romeo's. Never much further than 7th place, the Bugatti, at the middle of the race, is in 5th place. Okay, Sommer and Nuvolari are 14 laps ahead. Mrs. Duprez, beautifully wristed but heavy-footed, keeps her place perfectly, the beauty tamed the beast. However, it is her who, at six in the morning, has to come to the conclusion that her efforts are fruitless. The radiator of the big 8 cylinder has given away, and she has to give up.

The T51A of Czaikowski already had to capitulate long before that, at the height of the duel with the Aston Martins, at the 9th position towards the end of the first day, he had to stop with a broken battery.


Labric and Veyron's T50
Oficially, no factory car was entered this year, but the T50S, ex Chiron-Varzi, received a special preparation, thanks to Jean Bugatti. She was driven by Roger Labric, driver, writer, historian and friend of "le Patron", assisted by Pierre Veyron. Apart from this there were two T55's, a T44 with a special body and a very fluent tail, and a mysterious vehicle, being a T37 chassis with a 4 cylinder engine, but not of 1494 cc, but of 1351! The specialists say this must have been a Ruby, with engine increased from 1100 to 1350 cc, and fitted with a compressor.

This hybrid played no role whatsoever in the race, as did the T55 of Fourny and Decaroli, which was out of the race very soon due to external help. Luckily, the other three cars did draw some attention. The beautiful and powerful T50, painted sky-blue now, did spoil a bit the party of the alfa's. Having started carefully, she was in sixth position at the end of the evening, but would readily go to second position, only four laps behind the later winners Etancelin and Chinetti. However, it wouldn't last. The Sunday had only just begun, when the car came to a standstill at the other and of the circuit.

This loss was even harder when, only a small time afterwards, the T55 of Brunet and André Carré (formerly thought to be Zehender) , superbly driving in 4th place disappeared, also because of an accident.
The T44 Special
In trying to avoid an MG, he hit a Tracta. Brunet has only some superficial wounds, but the car is heavily damaged.

The photographs above are of Carré / Renaldi / Inlander in the 1934 Le Mans Race, photographs © Famille Carré

Bruno Carré comments the following about the 1934 Le Mans race, and the participation in the race of the Type 55, chassis 55028. According to Bruno, it was not Zehender who accompanied Brunet in the Bugatti, but his father: André Carré was a French racing driver who took part in several Grand Prix between 1933 and 1936 e.g. Dieppe 1933 (Charles Farroux wrote an article on what was JR first race and in which he made 6th in La vie automobile) , La baule 1933, Cherbourg 1933/34, Grand Prix de l'Union Motocycliste Française 1934-1935, Grand prix de France Monthlery 1935 etc. in various Bugatti, e.g. a 35c 2L supercharged (à compresseur) bought from Marcel Lehoux.

He raced under the aliases "Jean Renaldi" and later “Inlander” because he did not want his parents to know about him racing, most unfortunately sometimes confused with Goffredo Zehender. He took part with Robert Brunet in the 1934 Le Mans 24h race in the No14, 2.3 L Bugatti T55 supercharged. At 2 am. while in 2nd position Brunet spun the car into the ditch and had to retire. Carré retired from racing in the late 1930’s even though his last race was the Le Mans older pilots rally in 1964 which he won with his co-pilot José Rosinski, himself a well-known pilot in the sixties. Carré was a founder and the treasurer of the Le Mans racing drivers club for many years and his factory premises used to host "Lofty" England and the Jaguar team during their Le Mans visits.

There was one Bugatti left to save the Alsacian honour, the T44 ended in 9th place, only little consolation.


Villeneuve and Vagniez's T51A, the only Bug out of seven to finish
Among the 58 cars at the start, there are seven Bugattis! Again one finds the T50S, driven by Veyron and Labric. An other T50 would accompany her, but was damaged in one of the last tests. There are two T55, Fourny's one having been present the previous year as well. Also present are a T44, T51A, T57 and a T35? like care, with strange wings (picture), according to "Pur Sang" a T51, from the Ecurie Argo. This car already made itself seen in starting at 16h20 (normally the 24 hours always start at 16h00)

Opposition come from a big Duesenberg SJ, driven by Prince Nicolas of Rumania. Two 6 cylinder, 4.5 litre Lagondas, Talbot and Alfas. It rains, but equally Sommer (Alfa) takes the lead at high speed. He has nothing to lose, because, not being with an official team, he just wants to enjoy himself for as long as possible. Behind him the opposition begins
The strange "T35" of the Ecurie Argo
to organise. Little by little the Alfas are starting to loose their glamour, and at the middel of the race the T50 is chasing the best of the Alfa's, driven by Howe and Lewis. The second half will be decisive, but Howe and Chinetti (also Alfa) have to give up, as does the T50 with a broken suspension, finally Hindmarsch and Fontes drive their Lagonda to victory. The six other Bugs can not do much, only the T51 takes 14th place, however, with a new record for Bugattis. The others all drop out, the best being the beautiful T57 of Teillac de Souza, which was 8th on Saturday evening, and 12th Sunday morning when the gearbox gave way.


For the 1936 race four Bugattis had been entered, among which a hybrid of T57S chassis, T50B engine with capacity decreased to 4 litres, and a "Tank" body. Probably this is the same as the T57S40 tank which raced in 1937 at the 1937 Monthlery Grand Prix of the Automobile Club de France. The race in 1936 was cancelled however.

The winning car of Wimille and Benoist
For 1937, the "factory" attacks again. Again Labric and Veyron are present, but now in a T57G "tank", with T57S chassis (chassis is lowered by leading the rear axle through big holes in it) and 3.3 litre engine. A second "tank" is driven by Wimille and Benoist. They take the first two places at the start, before a Lagonda 4.5 litre, a supercharged Alfa Romeo of 2.9 litres, and a Talbot 4 litres. It has been questioned if the Bugattis were supercharged, but most experts say they weren't

Accompanying the two "tanks" were a T57S of d'Edrez and Leoz, and a T44 of Kippeurt and Poulain. The recent French GP rules, which stated that the Grand Prix should be driven in a sports like car, and not in a real GP car, resulted in the Le Mans race having the same rules as the GP. Apart from eliminating the German and Italian state-financed teams from the French GP (which the Bugatti T57G was to win in 1937), the result of this was a high number of, mainly French, competitors at Le Mans. There were two Talbot's, a Delage Coupe, seven Delahaye and only one Alfa 2.9 litre (Sommer and Guidotti) and the Lagonda of the winners of 1935.

Towards the end of his shift, at 18h30 Jean-Pierre Wimille had already lapped everybody, including his friend Sommer in the Alfa. Robert Benoist also did his best, setting a new lap-record, which Wimille later on would improve, and finally take to 155.2 km/h. Bugatti finally got it right, and takes all records, and for the first time a Win!

Of course there is always a dark side, the other T57G doesn't make it, suffering, again, from a leaking fuel tank (and Araldite still didn't exist!), the T57S has gearbox problems, but Kippeurt in his T44 ends up in an accident involving six cars, and he loses his life.


The T57C Tank during the race, compare with the 1937 model above
After the 1937 victory, Ettore Bugatti stated that he wouldn't return, until his record of that year would be improved. In 1938 a Delage took the victory, however, at a lower average. Jean had to convince his father, but Bugatti would participate only under the following condition: Only one car was to be entered: "As there is never more than one winner, one car only must be enough."

One car only, against all the others, doesn't seem much. There were six Talbot's. three of them of 4.5 litre, 8 Delahaye's (six 135MS), two Delage 3 litres, a majestic Alfa 2500SS coupe driven by Sommer, and two Super Lagonda V12 4.5 litres, designed by a certain W.O. Bentley.

Entered was a Type 57C, different from the 1937 model, although similar in appearance. This time it was a supercharged car, based on a normal touring frame (not on a T57S chassis.). Although the frame was a classic one, the body, weighing not more than 60 kg, was improved still, together with the Piano-wire wheels of the T59 a very beautiful combination. The brakes are hydraulics and amply ventilated, behind the bonnet there are air extractors, at the sides of the body.

However, in the beginning of the second practice session, the engine breaks down. Wimille, Veyron and Jean Bugatti are thinking about giving up. Not Robert Aumaître though, the chief mechanic. Molsheim is called, and 8 new pistons are brought to Paris, with an Autorail (of Bugatti design, naturally). Here Le Grand Robert is waiting in his T57, to take them to Le Mans. With the help of a local metal worker the block is made ready for the new pistons. On Saturday all is cleaned, the pistons mounted and all is ready for the start!

During a rapid test, the engine doesn't seem to good, the competition is going to take advantage of that. Louis Gerard in his Delage takes the lead, Sommer is out, and Wimille and Veyron follow, not without problems though, the engine overheating. Even the inside wings had been removed, risking disqualification. A wheel breaks, and Wimille goes from 4th place back to sixth! Sunday, at the end of the morning, Gerard is 5 laps ahead of the Bugatti. However, at the beginning of the afternoon all is going to change. The Delage is making more and more bizarre sounds, and has at least two valve springs broken. At 13h00, the Bugatti is two laps ahead! There is another one won! Although Mazaud in a Delahaye has taken almost a second from Wimille's 1937 record.

Jean Bugatti claimed afterwards that the bonnet was never opened during the race, and that a top speed of over 255 km/h was attainable.

The victorious Wimille and Veyron after the race


So, what can we say about the love of Bugatti for Le Mans? It may be there for the circuit, but not so much for the 24 hour race. Having entered in 1931 the T50S's, their failure prevented him from coming back soon officially, and later it was Jean Bugatti who had to convince his father of the importance of the race. It was he also, who leaded the factory teams, and gave special support to some "private" drivers. After the T50's fiasco, a T55 was to do the job for Bugatti, but also failed (there was some bad luck here and there as well, as one could read!). Finally it were touring car - based racers, the T57G and C, which managed to receive all honours, mainly due to their aerodynamics. Apart from making the cars faster (especially on the straights), the fuel consumption was reduced, leading to less stops in the pits. And pit stops in those days were not the same as nowadays in Formula 1! That Ettore really didn't like the 24 hour race shows in his strange idea not to go to Le Mans in 1938 (but of course Ettore had more strange ideas, that's why we love him so much!), and the fact that Jean had to convince him to enter in the 1939 race. Maybe he did not trust the reliability of his cars, and therefore was against these trials?

Luckily quite some private racers entered their Bugattis, not being able to do much in the general race, but at least good enough to take some class wins! And of course, the Bugatti record for Le Mans was only improved from year to year. Never a Bugatti arrived at the finish at a lower average than the years before!

Only a few weeks after Wimille and Veyron's win, Jean Bugatti dies after an accident in the same car, the evening of August 11, 1939. Shortly after that the terrors of war put Europe in darkness, the world itself and racing changes. And Bugatti was never to come back again, but will be famous forever, for introducing aerodynamics in racing! It is not until 1994, when we see again one single Bugatti competing against many. A class win had been possible, hadn't it been for that accident almost at the end of the race.

If you are convinced that the EB110 is not a real Bugatti, you can go on to the overview of results directly


It was in 1994 that Bugatti was to appear again at LeMans, after their last appearance (and win) 55 years before, with the famous T57G "tank".

1994 was the year that Le Mans would be made more popular, the specially designed race monsters would be banned, and only "normal" productions cars would be allowed to enter. However Porsche found a way out of these regulations with the "Dauer Porsche", effectively a Porsche 962 purpose built car, converted for road use, and then converted back to race. This was quite some faster than the rest, and would eventually win. Of the real GT class, the Bugatti proved fastest in training, in the GT1 class (engines up to 600HP). In the same class competed MVS Venturis, De Tomaso Panteras, Dodge Vipers, Porsches Carrera RSR (and the famous
The EB110 during the race
Dauer Porsches). Apart from this were the GT2 class (up to 450HP) and some others.

In this training, a month for the race, the Bugatti was fastest in class, looking and sounding gorgeous, and going quickly, despite the weight penalty of the four-wheel-drive. It was only just faster than the MVS Venturis, and 25 seconds slower than the Dauer Porsches.

For the race itself, I quote from Autosport:
"Leading the way in the GT class should have been the Bugatti EB110SS, driven by touring car oldtimer Alain Cudini and French young guns Eric Helary and Jean-Christophe "Jules" Bouillon. The Italian supercar looked set for a top-six finish despite a very slow start...

One hour before the race, the local Synergic team, which was running the car for publishing magnate Michel Hommell, discovered a fuel leak. The only solution available to mend the car in time for the race was a tube of Araldite.

This allowed the car to do the first couple of shifts with its fuel tank half full. Once
The EB110 in the evening
the Araldite had dried and the car was able to take on a full load of fuel, the Bugatti quickly moved through the field to take up a place in the top 10. But just as it had established itself ahead of the Larbre RSR Porsche as the leading GT car (not counting the Dauer cars), the Bugatti suffered turbo problems. All four turbos were changed, and one of them even twice for good measure. The team's ambition to finish the race came to an end in the dying laps when the car turned left into the barriers on the Mulsanne straight, a tyre failure was suspected to be the cause. The best of the rest in the GT1 class, proved to be the Dodge Viper RT/10, driven by Rene Arnoux, Justin Bell and Bertrand Balas.


Gildo Pallanca-Pastor, owner of the Monaco Racing team attended at the pre-qualifying for the 1996 Le Mans 24 hours with a Bugatti EB110 SS. Without much success, though. The car was later wrecked in testing by co-driver Patrick Tambay, and therefore did not appear at the race.

Overview of results

                                                 classification    in class
Type          cyl./cc   drivers                 place - km,average  (place, cc) 

1923 Circuit - 17.2 km
Chenard & Walcker       Lagache, Leonard        1st,  2201, 91.8
T13 Brescia   4-1495    M de Pourtales          10th, 1795, 74.8   1st, 1.1-1.5l 
                        S de la Rochefoucauld
T13 Brescia   4-1495    R Marie, L Pichard      22nd, 1415, 59.0   2nd, 1.1-1.5l

1930 Circuit - 16.3 km
Bentley 6 speed         Barnato, Kidston        1st,  2921, 121.7
T40           4-1496    Miss M Mareuse          7th,  2165, 90.2   1st, 1.1-1.5l
                        Miss O Siko

1931 Circuit - 16.3 km
Alfa Romeo 8C2300       Howe, Sir Birkin        1st,  3008, 125.3
T50S          8-4972C   A Varzi, L Chiron       retired
T50S          8-4972C   A Divo, G Bouriat       retired
T50S          8-4972C   M Rost, C Conelli       accident
T43           8-2261C   PL Dreyfus, Schuman     transmission breakdown
T40           4-1496    Miss M Mareuse          disqualified
                        Miss O Siko
T37           4-1496    S Sebilleau             clutch
                        G Delaroche

1932 Circuit - 13.6 km
Alfa Romeo 8C2300       Sommer, Chinetti        1st,  2944, 122.8
T37           4-1487    S Sebilleau             6th,  2327, 97.0   2nd, 1.1-1.5l
                        G Delaroche
T55           8-2262C   L Chiron, G Bouriat     fuel tank 
T55           8-2262C   S Czaikowski            lubrication
                        E Friderich
T40?          4-1496C   C Druck, L Virlouvet    accident

1933 Circuit - 13.6 km
Alfa Romeo 8C2300       Sommer, Nuvolari        1st,  3134, 130.6
T50S          8-4972C   P Busienne              radiator
                        Miss Duprez
T51A          8-1493C   S Czaikowski            electric circuit
                        J Gaupillat

1934 Circuit - 13.6 km
Alfa Romeo 8C2300       Chinetti, Etancelin     1st,  2877, 119.8
T44           8-2992    NJ Mahe, D Desvignes    9th,  2585, 107.7   1st, 2-3l.
T50S          8-4972C   R Labric, P Veyron      transmission
T55           8-2262C   C Brunet, J Carré       retired after accident - Pseudo for Carré: Inlander        
T55           8-2262C   M Fourny, L Decaroli    disqualified
T37 special   4-1351    A Bodoignet, F Vallon ?

1935 Circuit - 13.6 km
Lagonda M45R            Hindmarsh, Fontes       1st,  2996, 124.9
T51A          8-1493C   L Villeneuve            14th, 2633, 109.7  8th, 1.1-1.5l
                        A Vagniez
T50S          8-4972C   R Labric, P Veyron      suspension
T57           8-3257    B Souza Dantas          gearbox
                        R Teillac
T44           8-2992    R Kippeurt, E Neubout   lubrication 
T55           8-2262C   B Chaude, M Fourny      ignition
T55           8-2262C   P Merlin, G d'Arnoux    compressor
T35?          8-1991    P Vallee, A Blondeaux   engine

1937 Circuit - 13.6 km        
T57G          8-3266    JP Wimille, R Benoist   1st,  3288, 137.0  1st, 3-5l.
T57G          8-3266    R Labric, P Veyron      fuel tank
T57S          8-3257    R D'Edrez de Sauge      gearbox
                        G Leoz
T44           8-2992    R Kippeurt, R Poulain   Mortal accident of Kippeurt

1939 Circuit - 13.6 km
T57C          8-3251C   JP Wimille, P Veyron    1st,  3355, 139.8  1st, 3-5l. 

1994 Circuit - 13.6 km, with chicanes on Mulsanne straight
Dauer Porsche962LM      Dalmas, Haywood         1st,  4671, 194.6
EB110SS      12-3498T   A Cudini, E Helary      accident
                        JC Bouillon


Back to the Bugatti revue

Vive La Marque !!