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SNAPSHOT 150: 1938 Poole Park Speed Trials

A beautiful summer’s day in August 1938 at the seaside: Poole Park in Dorset.  So much so that the correspondent reported: “weather so magnificent that the greater number of the spectators were thankful for bathing suits.”

Waiting for their runs, in the foreground, we can see three Bugattis.  Remarkably, they belong to one man.  Motor Sport for September 1938 reports that: “The palm for the smartest cars of all must go to C. I. Craig’s three Bugattis, the ” 2.3 ” and the ” 4.9 ” once owned by the late L. G. Bachelier, and the 3.3-litre Grand Prix model once raced by the Hon. Brian Lewis – a bored-out “3.3.”  All were finished in black and white, and the Grand Prix job in particular looked a picture.”

Each of these cars has a fascinating history.  On the left is the Bachelier Type 54, now in the Louwman Museum in The Hague.  Only 6 or so of these supercharged straight-eight twin-cam 4.9-litre monsters were built. With the Monza race of 1931 approaching, and Alfa and Maserati fielding powerful 12- and 16-cylinder cars respectively, Bugatti needed something more than the 2.3-litre Type 35s that had dominated the race tracks up to then.  The result was the Type 54, with 300 bhp and a reinforced 3-speed gearbox to cope with this increased power.

These cars were difficult to drive and had only limited success.  In 1932 Earl Howe bought chassis 54205 as a new car, to drive in the French Grand Prix. He dropped out with a broken gearbox, was not satisfied with the car generally, and sold it to the English Bugatti enthusiast Bachelier. He built a two-seater roadster body on it, based on his own Type 55, but died soon after its completion.  The car duly passed to Craig, and was registered DPJ 5.

The Type 55 in our picture, chassis 55237 and registered DPJ 4, appears also to have belonged to Bachelier.  It was acquired by Craig and later belonged to Monkhouse, Young, Crowley-Milling and then Scher in the USA. It may possibly be one of the six Type 55s now in the Mulhouse Museum.

And finally to the car on the right.  This is the Type 59 racing car chassis 59124 with engine number 6, imported into Britain new in 1934 on French number plates for the Hon. Brian Lewis to drive. The car, with the other 3 factory Type 59s, was raced extensively all over Europe. It eventually returned to England and was rebuilt by C. I. Craig in the colour-scheme of black and white we see in our picture, and was used by him in sprints and hill-climbs.  The car was ultimately rebuilt and painted Bugatti blue, was registered LPG 211 and found its way to an American collector.  It is now back in Europe, but seen only rarely.

The history of the three cars in our Snapshot has had to be pieced together from scraps of information in Bugatti books and on the internet.  But on that gloriously sunny day in August 1938 their history was less important.  All painted in Mr Craig’s black and white livery, they must simply have been a sight for sore eyes.


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