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Original Owner, Paris, France (acquired via Bugatti Paris in 1922)J. William Theze, Bordeaux, France (acquired from the above in 1928)Claude Knoerr, Saint-Jouvent, France (acquired from the above in 1933)Max Diederieck, Douai, France (acquired from the above in 1934)Jean Paul Villemagne, Aude, France (acquired from the above in 1937)Jacques Liscourt, Toulouse, France (acquired from the above in 1960)Jean-Jacques Bajol, Toulouse, France (acquired from the above)Philippe Salvan, Toulouse, FranceClaude Renel, Viriat, FranceUwe Hucke, Gloucestershire, UK (acquired from the above in 1968)Christoph Grohe, Féchy, Switzerland (acquired from the above)Julian St. John Eckersley, Farnham, UK (acquired from the above in 2006)Nicholas Benwell, Farnham, UK (acquired from the above in 2013)Brad Baker, Oshawa, Canada (acquired from the above)Current Owner (acquired from the above)
Zoute Concours d’Elegance, Knokke-Heist, Belgium, October 2014 (Most Exciting Design)
With an eye to the future, Ettore Bugatti knew well the importance of perfecting prototypes for a robust eight-cylinder engine suitable for the rigors of racing. In March 1921, the carmaker developed a paired eight-cylinder, three-valve-per-cylinder, overhead-camshaft engine designated the Type 29. By 1922, this engine would evolve into the Type 30 two-liter. The new engine would forever change the course of his company, ultimately leading to Bugatti’s unprecedented dominance in Grand Prix racing.
The Bugatti company’s first series of eight-cylinder cars were the 16 two-liter Type 29/30 vehicles. The cars, numbered 4001 through 4016 and built in 1922 and 1923, are also referred to as the pre-production Type 30s, and are thus separate from the Type 30 and 30A models that would soon be manufactured. Eleven of the cars were built on the Type 22, 2,400 mm wheelbase chassis. Three cars – including chassis 4008, the example offered here, utilized a modified Type 23 chassis, 2,550 mm in length, and two were built atop a much longer 2,850 mm wheelbase chassis.
At the 1922 French Grand Prix, four Bugatti Type 29/30 cars, numbered 4001–4004, competed at Strasbourg, while it is believed that 4008 was shown at the racetrack to spectators and potential customers. Results of the race were promising, with three of the four cars finishing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Shortly after the race, the November edition of La Vie Aérienne et Sportive magazine featured a photographic illustration, believed to show 4008, accompanied by an article written by Ettore Bugatti. “My new two-liter cars are undoubtedly the fastest cars in the world,” Ettore boasted.
Argentine driver Martin de Alzaga Unzue took notice. He led a team that campaigned three two-liter Bugattis (cars 4014, 4015, and 4016) at the 1923 Indianapolis 500 wearing unusual aerodynamic bodies, achieving speeds in excess of 100 mph.
Despite success on racetracks, and notwithstanding the importance these early cars would later prove, only two of the 16 examples of the 29/30 are known to survive, including this car, 4008.
According to factory records and the exhaustive research of esteemed Bugatti historian Pierre-Yves Laugier, as well as historians David Sewell and Mark Morris, the body of 4008 was finished with in-house coachwork, referred to as Reservoir Ovale, which featured gently tapered metalwork pulling tautly from the grille, blanketing the cowl, and terminating at the rear-mounted, oval profile fuel tank. The body was further adorned with long front fenders and unique cycle-type rear fenders that flowed forward, creating blended running-board surfaces.
Chassis 4008 has a position of great importance in Bugatti history, as it was the very first eight-cylinder sporting Bugatti delivered, having arrived at the Paris dealer on November 16, 1922. But even more important, this car, due to its two-seater configuration, is the oldest known example of Ettore Bugatti’s vision of his company’s future, and his unprecedented success in Grand Prix racing.
During the first decade of this Bugatti’s life, early owners or registration agencies assigned an incorrect chassis number and varied taxable horsepower ratings to its paperwork. By 1933, the car was owned by Claude Knoerr, who asked Ettore Bugatti himself to correct the record. Ettore issued a signed letter identifying the car as 4008, Bugatti Type 30A (as he often referred to his cars built from 1922–1926), with December 22, 1922, noted as the first road registration date, making it the first of just two such cars delivered within the calendar year.
In 1937, the Bugatti was acquired by Jean Paul Villemagne, a reclusive collector with a penchant for disassembling his cars. Chassis 4008 was disassembled as well, but fortuitously, it remained largely complete under his care. After 4008 passed among a series of owners, esteemed Bugatti expert Uwe Hucke acquired it in 1968, still substantially disassembled. Mr. Hucke worked tirelessly to sort and reunite the correct parts, preserving as many original components as possible. Photos from this period show the car with the original bulkhead, firewall, floorboards, pedals, dashboard, Zenith carburetors, instruments, and switch panel. While the coachwork had been lost, the engine is thought by Mr. Sewell to be a proper, very early Bugatti-sourced replacement. As it should, it features the integrally cast steering-box housing, which is exclusive to the early straight-eight engines. After reassembling the drivetrain, Mr. Hucke fitted the car with torpedo coachwork replicating cars from the Strasbourg Grand Prix, and periodically he would exhibit the Bugatti at events in the 1990s.
During the time of Mr. Hucke’s ownership, Pierre-Yves Laugier was engaged to research and chronicle the unprecedented history of the 4008’s life. In addition to documenting numerous formerly unknown prior owners and their residences, M. Laugier discovered what he believed to be 4008’s original fenders, which had been retained by a former owner. The fenders were reunited with the car, but were not installed on the coachwork at that time.
After Mr. Hucke divested his collection and sold 4008 to a new caretaker, M. Laugier issued his report in 2001, stating that “4008 is both the first and the oldest surviving eight-cylinder Bugatti… .” Based on the report, its new owner, noted Bugatti enthusiast Nicholas Benwell, commissioned a detailed photo-analysis of the earliest racing cars, and from those photos re-created the Reservoir Ovale racing-style body that 4008 had originally. The car made its concours debut at the 2014 Zoute Grand Prix Concours d’Elegance in northern Belgium, where it was deservedly awarded Most Exciting Design.
Under its current ownership, 4008’s original fenders were installed, revealing what the car must have looked like when new, over 90 years ago. Beautifully composed with clean and pure coachwork, this surviving artifact is the very foundation of the Bugatti legacy, which manifested itself in an unprecedented string of racing victories with the legendary Type 35 and its variants.
Bugatti 4008 is accompanied by numerous documents, including extensive reports by M. Laugier and other marque experts, multiple factory reference materials, a copy of the 1933 letter from Ettore Bugatti, and a 1922/23 Bugatti sales catalogue depicting what several experts believe is 4008. As M. Laugier documents, this Bugatti has emerged proudly from a lengthy journey and has been confirmed as the earliest surviving eight-cylinder, two-seater sport Bugatti.
Visually delightful and sensitively finished with correct detailing, proper mechanical care, and beautiful patina, this unique and historic motorcar delivers a commanding presence, enriched by the passion of Ettore Bugatti and preserved by the dedication of thoughtful enthusiasts.