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*Please note that this vehicle is sold on a Bill of Sale.
Formerly the Property of Wallis C. Bird and Henry Austin Clark | One of the Most Original Grand Prix Bugattis in Existence | Only Three Owners from NewWallis C. Bird, Brookville, New York (acquired new in 1925)Henry Austin Clark Jr., Southampton, New York (acquired from the estate of the above in 1962)Current Owner (acquired from the above in 1981)
ARCA Roosevelt Raceway Grand Prix, September 25, 1937, Bird, No. 26 (DNF)
VMCCA Auto Meet, Thompson Racetrack, Connecticut, circa 1964Prescott Speed Hill Climb, Bugatti Owner’s Club, Cheltenham, England, 2004Bugatti Club Italia Rally, Sicily, Italy, 2005Czech Republic Bugatti Rally, 2007The Bugatti Trust, Cheltenham, England, 2007
Unveiled at the Grand Prix of Lyon in August 1924, the Bugatti Type 35 was immediately hailed as an automotive marvel, combining state-of-the-art engineering with masterful aesthetic design. Equipped with an overhead-cam eight-cylinder engine, the original Type 35 produced 95 hp, an impressive figure for a two-liter machine. The chassis was extremely light and featured Bugatti’s revolutionary hollow front axle and cast aluminum wheels, with integrated brake drums. This chassis was clothed in a streamlined aluminum body that was both elegant and purposeful.
With this new car, Bugatti dominated racing throughout the 1920s, capturing over 1,000 wins in a variety of competitions. The most notable achievements include winning the Grand Prix World Championship in 1926, the Monaco Grand Prix three times, and the Targa Florio five times.
The Bugatti Type 35 Grand Prix presented here, chassis 4487, is widely regarded among Bugatti authorities as one of the finest original specimens in existence. Factory production records confirm that this car was completed in August 1925 equipped with engine number 43.
An early example of the Bugatti Grand Prix car, 4487 is a Lyon model, named for the location of the Type 35’s debut. Lyon GPs are the original Type 35s, the first and purest expression of Ettore Bugatti’s Grand Prix concept that ultimately evolved into the Type 59. Identified as a Lyon GP by its narrow radiator and wheels, this car features a two-liter normally aspirated engine, with a roller-bearing crankshaft and Solex carburetors.
When new, 4487 was delivered to the Bugatti agent in Paris, located on the Champs Élysées. In this glamorous setting, in November 1925, Wallis Clinton Bird, an American honeymooning in Paris, discovered the new Grand Prix car. Mr. Bird paid FF 69,654 for his new Type 35. Though it cost more than three times the price of Bugatti’s most expensive Brescia model, it was but a pittance for Mr. Bird. A few months earlier, the 25-year-old Mr. Bird bought one of the largest homes in New York for $1,000,000. It was a gift for his bride Marjorie Winifred, a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer.
Farnsworth, Mr. Bird’s new home, was a 65-acre estate in Locust Valley, built in 1915 for C.K.G. Billings. Even in Long Island’s exclusive Gold Coast, Farnsworth stood apart. The main residence was a 50-room Neo-Georgian mansion; the property contained horse stables, a flower conservatory, a 27-car garage, a vast train layout, a movie theatre, and a two-story music hall.
Mr. Bird attended Princeton University, but left after a year to become a cadet at the Unites States School of Military Aeronautics. He was a skilled aviator, and he owned a WWI-era Italian trainer and participated in a New York-to-Miami air race.
He also loved fast automobiles and bought examples from the most prestigious marques, often while traveling in Europe. His stable included an Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Isotta Fraschini, Mercedes-Benz, Hispano-Suiza, and two Duesenbergs. The only car that Mr. Bird did not acquire new was his Bugatti Type 43, for which he made an exception because his friend Maurice Béquet, the famous French aviator, had owned it.
Though Wallis Bird owned this beautiful Type 35 Bugatti, he was not a committed racing driver. After attending the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup, however, he was persuaded to join the Automobile Racing Club of America, an organization of sports car enthusiasts that introduced European-style road racing to the US.
On September 25, 1937, Bird entered his first and last races – the ARCA Roosevelt Raceway Coupe Sport and Grand Prix. His Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS had clutch trouble in the Coupe Sport and the Type 35 suffered a cracked steering box while leading the Grand Prix. Repaired after its competition debut, the Bugatti was not raced again. At some point, it was equipped with a generator and lighting for road use.
In 1940, Wallis Bird was killed when his Beechcraft exploded during a storm and crashed in the Catskill Mountains. Mrs. Bird had the wreckage of her husband’s plane crated and stored in the sub-basement of Farnsworth. Inconsolable, she eventually left for Europe, abandoning the grand Long Island property and its extraordinary contents. Marjorie Winifred Bird never returned home and died in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1960.
On May 12, 1962, O’Reilly’s Plaza Art Galleries conducted an auction at the Bird Estate. The event made headlines and caused a stir among automobile enthusiasts who had been waiting two decades to get at Bird’s cars.
Don Rosedale, reporting for Road & Track magazine, described the scene at Farnsworth on the day of the auction.
“The whole situation had the musty aura of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, sloe gin and fast cars, Lindy and the stock market crash. We drove down a narrow country lane on the shoulder of Long Island that might have been the ‘East Egg’ of Gatsby, turned into the Wallis Bird estate, and then into the gravel courtyard.
“A row of vine-covered brick garages faced out onto the open courtyard, and inside the open doors we could dimly see the glistening German silver of a Mercedes radiator, a Duesenberg Model J Speedster and an 8-liter Bentley, the biggest Bentley ever made. At one end stood a brace of Bugattis, one with the number 26 still on its sides from the one time it was raced. The cars seemed ready and waiting for Wallis Bird to return to fire them up once again for a run at Roosevelt Raceway or Briarwood.”
The Bird Estate auction drew enormous crowds and serious car collectors, including Dieter Holterbosch. In just 35 minutes Bird’s nine classic cars were sold for a total of $37,950.
Henry Austin Clark Jr., the pioneering American collector and founder of the Long Island Automotive Museum in Southampton, had assisted with the appraisal of Bird’s cars and, in so doing, developed an affinity for 4487. He purchased the Bugatti at auction for $1,750.
During Clark’s two-decade ownership, 4487 was recommissioned, displayed at his museum, and infrequently exhibited during club meets at Bridgehampton and Thompson Raceway. In a recent exchange, Mr. Clark’s son Jim recalled his experience with the Type 35: “It was my second-favorite car in my Dad’s collection, and for a while it was first. I fondly remember driving it on the roads near Miles Coverdale’s home in Brookville, Long Island, during a Bugatti Club meet there in the mid-1960s.”
In 1981, the current owner acquired 4487 directly from Henry Austin Clark when Mr. Clark closed his museum. A connoisseur of Bugatti automobiles, the consignor did not use the Type 35 until it underwent a sympathetic mechanical and cosmetic refurbishment, undertaken by marque specialist Robin Townsend of Jarrot Engines Ltd. in England. This meticulous process was completed between 2003 and 2004 and is documented by invoices and correspondence on file.
Since 2004, 4487 has successfully participated in two European Bugatti rallies and the Prescott Hill Climb in England. Beyond these events, it has been sparingly used and rarely exhibited, except for several months when it was displayed at the Bugatti Trust.
Bugatti specialist Scott Sargent of Sargent Metal Works in Bradford, Vermont, has known and maintained 4487 over the past decade. It is a car that he holds in the highest regard, for both its exceptional originality and performance. Mr. Sargent states that this Type 35 is “very light on its feet and smooth as glass in every aspect of its operation. This is a beautifully maintained, low-mileage original that runs as if it was delivered from the factory yesterday. It’s an amazing Bugatti.”
Today, this 91-year-old machine remains in remarkably original order, a testament to the limited use that it has enjoyed from new. The frame is original and stamped number 83, appropriate for its August 1925 build. The original engine number, 43, important to identifying Grand Prix cars, is stamped on the lower crankcase, crankshaft, and cambox; it is also written in pencil and chalk on a wooden cross member of the seat structure. The front axle is stamped 90 and the aluminum differential housing has a special finish pattern that several leading Bugatti experts say they have never seen before. Chassis 4487 is a generally excellent and unmodified example, equipped with the correct narrow wheels, a Bosch FH8 Magneto, and other desirable equipment.
The aluminum bodywork is all original and stamped with the correct number, 60, which is, according to marque authority Pierre-Yves Laugier, the lowest number found on a surviving Grand Prix Bugatti. He reports that “even if a few earlier Type 35 or 35A exist in the world, none seems to have an identified body number.”
Even Wallis Bird’s original ARCA membership plate is still affixed to the dashboard. It dates from 1937, the year of the car’s only competition outing, and records its race number: 26.
Accompanying 4487 are several important original components and spares, including the original fuel tank, the rare original leather cover for the gearbox, and road equipment installed during Mr. Bird’s ownership. The Type 35 is also offered with a remarkable historical file that includes copies of Bugatti factory records, numerous articles and newspaper clippings, archival photos, invoices, and a written statement from Pierre-Yves Laugier.
Mr. Laugier, who inspected 4487 during the Czech Republic Bugatti Rally in 2007, reports that it was “a good surprise to discover a very original early Type 35 from 1925, preserved in [the] US… with only three owners since new, the car is as it left the Bugatti showroom in November 1925.”
Presented here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire an exceptional early-production Bugatti Type 35 with tremendous originality and a rich, fascinating history. Gooding & Company is honored to offer 4487 on behalf of its third long-term owner and knows that its fourth caretaker will be acquiring a truly special automobile.