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Editor: Jaap Horst

Volume 21, Issue 2

Ron Kellogg’s Bugatti Type 57/59 Roadster Special

By: Gary D. Smith. Top picture: Gray Counts’ finished rendering.

The finished car and Dave Holls original rough sketches of the car that Gray Counts used as a guide for his rendering.

All I did was answer an ad for a Alfa GTA.

So I drove down to Scottsdale to see an Alfa GTA that was for sale. The man that had the car was selling it for a friend. He took me behind a rather large, impressive shop to where the car was parked along with the remains of several project cars and various other pieces. I decided that the Alfa was too big of a project for me, but in the course of conversation I mentioned that I had worked at GM Design staff. My host asked me if I knew Dave Holls who I had worked for indirectly, since he was a director over several studios.

That seemed to be all the credentials I needed to get a tour of Chuck Rahn’s shop. He had several very interesting car projects going on, and eventually we sat down in his office. There on the wall was a print of a very unusual painting.

In the late ’70s I was assigned to Buick Exterior Production Studio, and sat next to an extremely gifted designer, Gray Counts. He had developed a reputation for exceptional renderings, and Dave Holls asked him to illustrate a design that he had roughly sketched similar to a 1937 Type 57 Bugatti. Bob Shaw, a friend of Dave’s in Florida had a Bugatti chassis and an engine, but no body. So it was decided that Dave would design a body similar to what Jean Bugatti might have done originally utilizing T59 Grand Prix racing wheels and a left hand drive seating position. Dave’s rough sketches ended up on Gray’s drawing table to refine and illustrate. There were very few prints made of that illustration, and I had one framed on my wall

Fast forward 30 years later. There was one of Gray Counts’ prints on the wall in Chuck Rahn’s office. I was really surprised to see it, and told Chuck my story. He floored me by telling me that the unfinished car was in his other garage. The car had the start of an aluminum body, but it wasn’t right. The engine was at an engine builder, and chassis and other parts were in his shop. There also had been fabricated a set of unbelievable banjo wire wheels for the car. Cost, apparently, was no object.

The unfinished car stored in Ron’s garage.

Left: Dave Holls, Bob Shaw (I think), Chuck Rahn, and Ron Kellogg.

Ron Kellogg bought the stalled project. The project being resurrected, Dave Holls paid Chuck Rahn a visit armed with a full-size line drawing of his vision of the car, did some studio arm waving, and left Chuck to figure it all out.

I visited Chuck a few times, and I could see he was struggling to interpret what he was seeing in Dave’s sketches and translate that into 3D in the form of a foam model over the chassis. So I offered to help, and Chuck gave me the opportunity to give Ron Kellogg a presentation to try and get involved with the project. I demonstrated what was wrong with the body they had and proposed a practical process to design the body that would lead to a spectacular result. Ron subsequently hired me to come up with the body design based on Dave’s rendering. The problem with Dave’s sketches and rendering is that while they gave a sense of gesture and stance, there wasn’t enough information that would define the forms and shapes, and work out all of the transitions and surface development necessary to complete a car.

Sketches used to convey to Ron what needed to be done to the car to get it right. The side view is showing the differences between the body currently on the car and gesture lines showing that the profile of the car needed to get from the hood to the tail in one curve instead of being fractured by the cockpit.

I got in touch with Larry Brinker who was then Chief Sculptor at Nissan Design International in La Jolla, California. We came up with the strategy that had several stages. First, we leveled the car (without the body) and used a transit to pick hard points on the car and plot them in 3D space using X,Y,Z coordinates. Then I took that information and turned it into a 1/5 scale, four-view surface development drawing with sections and profiles, along with sketches of different ways to handle the transitions and other details. Larry built a 1/5 scale model, and he and I got together several times with the model to go over and refine it. We kept Chuck and Ron in the loop with photos.

The four view, 1/5 scale development drawing that was derived from the points taken from the actual car’s chassis. I created enough profiles and sections to give Larry enough information to build the clay model armature and start the model.

A montage of shots of Larry’s model.

The finished clay model as presented to Ron Kellogg at Nissan Design.

Ron and Sonya Kellogg with the finished clay model.

The finished model was presented to Ron and Chuck at Nissan Design on a Saturday. Ron approved the design, and the model was sent out to be digitized. The digitized surfaces were then enlarged to full size and a drawing was produced from the information. Chuck Rahn built a stringer buck of the design to give to the body fabricator who made the body from aluminum.

Left: 3D wireframes of the digitized surfaces. Right: Chuck Rahn’s wooden stringer buck used by the fabricator to build the finished body.

Photos of the car being constructed at Andy Palmer’s Palmer Coachworks in Bellflower, California.

The car was eventually finished, and I saw it for the first time at the Great American Roadster Show in Pomona, California in 2006.

The author and Larry Brinker at the Great American Roadster Show. The process that Larry and I used to create Ron Kellogg’s Bugatti is adaptable to a variety of projects.

By way of footnote, according to the Motor Sports Center’s pictorial essay on the car: “The Kellogg project required climbing special challenges. Not the least of which was getting the approval of the Bugatti Trust for permission to go ahead with the program. So the Kellogg Bugatti has a legitmate historical production chassis number. This is no small accomplishment. Assigned the number #128, year 1937.” It’s difficult to imagine what a brand new 1937 Bugatti could possibly be worth. If there is only one, that’s the very definition of rare. It’s a very special car indeed.

Originally published in www.deansgarage.com

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