by Graham Little and Keith Mountain.
Details of the seven Bugatti motor cars owned by the 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley and his wife Sybil, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley.
1: A 1919 “Type 22” eight-valve sports tourer - BJ 5166 – chassis 777
There are four pictures of this car, probably taken around the time it was delivered to the family. Most Bugatti sales in England were transacted by the London agency of Jarrott and Letts; however, it was not unknown for Ettore to deal directly with aristocratic customers.
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.
2 : A 1924 Type 35 – chassis no. 4394
Tyre problems had prevented the type 35 from showing its full potential at Lyon in August 1924 but by the end of the year, Ettore had cars ready to sell to favoured customers. The Cholmondeleys were esconced at the Villa Caldana, near Cannes in the South of France and the Marquess took delivery of his car on the 2nd January 1925 returning home using a temporary registration (1782 WW 5). It was issued with a permanent registration (7997 M5) on 15th January, 1925. Two months later, on 15th March, 1925 Cholmondeley won the prestigious La Turbie hill-climb event. The car had several non-standard features, no doubt fiited by special arrangement with Ettore. Unusually, the car was adorned with a pinstriped colour scheme and after the car was transported to the Cholmondeley estate in Norfolk it was again repainted with a lighter colour scheme. Several pictures have survived showing the car at Houghton Hall, however, the car was soon disposed of to the London Bugatti dealer Malcomb Campbell. The pictures survive, the Hall survives, but not the car.
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.
3 : A 1929 type 44 four-door saloon - chassis no. 44879
Around 1929 the Cholmondeleys took delivery of a Bugatti more suited to the English climate. The type 44 was a three-litre car regarded by many as the best touring Bugatti. It was fitted with a four-door “Berline Fiacre” body manufactured by Gangloff in nearby Colmar and based on the patented Weymann system of construction. The body’s style was derived from the horse-drawn carriages favoured by Ettore and the Cholmondeleys. The Marchioness was said to have been involved with the design of the coachwork fitted to her cars and to have specified the “canée” (wickerwork) applied to the sides of the car.
Ettore capitalised on the success of the Type 44 when he introduced the Type 49 which had its engine capacity increased by to 3,300cc. Another improvement was the fitting of a two-plug ignition system but otherwise, little was changed.
4: A 1930 Type 49 four-door saloon – chassis 49175 - UK registration GP 847
This Type 49 was fitted with coachwork very similar to that which had been fitted to the preceding type 44. The main visual difference between the two cars was the fitment of “turbine” alloy wheels to the 49. These were decorated with unusual artistic patterns. The car’s registration was issued in London, but its ultimate fate are at present unknown.
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.
5 : A 1930 Type 50 “Fiacre” – chassis no. 50116 with engine no. 1
The Cholmondeleys took delivery of the first type 50 on 12th December, 1930. This was possibly the most exotic Bugatti owned by the family. It was hugely expensive to buy, run and maintain : a top of the range car for one of the elite families of Europe. It is almost inconceivable that such a car should ever be scrapped, and indeed, it has survived in immaculate condition, albeit fitted with a new body by Peter Agg.
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 1938 type 57SC with “Atlantic” coachwork – chassis no. 57612
A car of stunning beauty and outstanding performance it might have been, but the 57SC “Atlantic” was not the most practical Bugatti ever made! A chassis number was allocated to the car which the Marquess had ordered but, following a letter from Jean in February, 1938 the order was cancelled and the chassis number remained unused. One can speculate as to the reason for the cancellation. Possibly Ettore used Jean to steer his friend away from what he might have regarded as one of the wilder excesses of his son? The order was replaced by one for a rather more practical version of the type 57; a supercharged 57C Atalante coupé.
6: A 1938 type 57C Atalante coupé – chassis no. 57698 with engine 37C
On 1st July 1938 an invoice was issued for 130,750 French francs for the car which the Bugattis thought Cholmondeley should have against his better judgement! It was a long, elegant car with the traditional flat Bugatti radiator and was painted black with gold coach-lining. Several pictures of the car taken at Houghton Hall exist taken after the delivery of another type 57 (57739). 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.
7: A 1939 type 57 rolling chassis no. 57739
On 7th February, 1939 an invoice was issued for a rolling chassis which was then fitted with sumptuous Figoni and Falaschi pillarless saloon coachwork. The car was registered as FUW 180 on 1st May, 1939 and remained with the family until it was eventually sold to a gentleman named Turner.
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 !
Vive La Marque.
Graham Little (with help from Keith Mountain and David Sewell). 5/06/2009.