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Please note that this vehicle is titled 1932.
Formerly the Property of Dr. Peter Williamson | Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance® French Cup WinnerDuc Louis VI Jean Marie de la Trémoille, Paris, France (acquired new in 1931)André Couston, Nice, France (acquired by 1946)Gaston Descollas, Marseille, France (acquired from the above in 1947)Paul Alex Blanchet, Marseille, France (acquired from the above in 1948)Auguste Grail, Marseille, France (acquired from the above in June 1949)Fernand Méric, Marseille, France (acquired from the above in July 1949)Dominique Lamberjack, Paris, France (acquired from the above in February 1952)Eywin Bartels, Paris, France (acquired from the above in March 1952)Christian Prevost-Marcilhacy, Paris, France (acquired from the above in 1953)Francis Mortarini, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France (acquired from the above in 1956)Precision Motors, Los Angeles, California (acquired from the above in 1956)Mr. Odabashian (acquired circa 1957)Dr. R. Vann, Michigan (acquired circa 1958)Mrs. Bowers, Ohio (acquired circa 1959)Edsel Pfabe, Painesville, Ohio (acquired from the above in 1960)Dr. Peter and Susan Williamson, Lyme, New Hampshire (acquired in 1963)Current Owner (acquired from the estate of the above in 2008)
10th Rallye des Alpes, July 1947, Descollas, no. 112 (1st Place)
International Bugatti Meeting, Lenox, Massachusetts, September 2003Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, Pebble Beach, California, August 2012 (Third in Class, French Cup)American Bugatti Club Adirondack Rally, Lake Placid, New York, September 2014International Bugatti Rally, Montreux, Switzerland, 2016International Bugatti Meeting, Sardegna, Italy, June 2017
Ettore Bugatti, born in Milan in 1881 to a family of distinguished artists and craftsmen, revolutionized the world of high-performance automobiles. He was among the first to recognize that performance could be improved by reducing weight instead of simply increasing engine size. Bugatti also approached the manufacture of automobiles with an artist’s sensibility; each of his cars was designed and built with exceptional attention to detail.
Bugatti’s Type 35 caused a sensation when it debuted at the Grand Prix of Lyon in 1924. Weighing only 1,500 lbs. and powered by an overhead-camshaft straight eight, the Bugatti’s performance was astonishing. More than 2,000 race victories had been achieved by 1927. After studying Harry Miller’s advanced racing cars, Bugatti developed the Type 51, a supercharged 2.3-liter twin-cam Grand Prix that continued the company’s success well into the 1930s.
During this period, Ettore Bugatti’s son Jean, a talented designer and engineer in his own right, began to exert his influence. While his father was conservative, Jean Bugatti proposed many technical innovations, including the use of independent suspension, and also was responsible for creating beautiful new designs. It was Jean who had the idea to create the Type 55 “Supersport,” a world-class sports car that would appeal to Bugatti’s most demanding clients.
At its foundation, the Type 55 has the same chassis as the 16-cylinder Type 45 and Type 47 Grand Prix cars, also used in the 4.9-liter Type 54. This was mated to the Type 51’s supercharged engine, and most examples featured the four-speed gearbox from the contemporary Type 49. Unveiled at the Paris Auto Show in 1931, the Type 55 was an ultra high-performance machine, with a top speed in excess of 110 mph.
The Type 55 was available to purchase as a chassis, or it could be outfitted with one of three attractive factory bodies – a Coupe, a Cabriolet, and a splendid Roadster, all designed by Jean Bugatti. Since its introduction, the Type 55 Jean Bugatti Roadster has been coveted by enthusiasts the world over and the model has been described, by at least one knowledgeable Bugattiste, as “a Type 51 Grand Prix wearing an evening gown.”
As documented by factory records, this Bugatti, chassis 55201, was the first Type 55 built. It was completed in October 1931, equipped with engine no. 1 and fitted with the first Jean Bugatti Roadster body – the only one completed in 1931. As the prototype of the series, 55201 possessed several unique features not seen on any subsequent Roadster. These attractive details included a more raked windscreen and a Grand Prix-style hood, with louvers on the sides as well as the top.
Early photographs taken of 55201 show it in front of the Paris Bugatti showroom at 15 Rue du Débarcadère. Respected Bugatti historian Pierre-Yves Laugier notes that these photographs were taken in October 1931 and believes that the Type 55 may have served as a demonstration car while the Paris Auto Show was taking place at the Grand Palais.
On October 15, 1931, the Type 55 wa s sold to the 21-year-old Duc Louis VI Jean Marie de la Trémoille, a member of France’s oldest noble family. Factory records note that the invoice price was 95,000 francs, with a lightly used Type 43 Grand Sport taken in as part-exchange.
When the young Duc de la Trémoille was not serving with his regiment in the French Army’s Chasseurs d’Afrique, he was seen driving his new Jean Bugatti Roadster around Paris. He did not get to enjoy the Type 55 for long however, as he was killed in December 1933, after being trapped in a fire that broke out at La Héroury, an English manor house he was visiting.
By June 1934, 55201 had been sold to another Parisian owner. His identity is still unknown, as all pre-1950 Paris registration records have been destroyed. Around this time, the Roadster was updated in the popular “Figoni Style,” with fully enveloping, skirted fenders; external exhaust headers; and an extended tail section with a rear seat and integrated spare tire carrier.
In March 1946, 55201 was registered to André Couston, an exotic car dealer living in Nice, France. He sold the car in early 1947 to Gaston Descollas, the director of Midi Automobiles, the Marseille Bugatti concessionaire. In July 1947, Descollas entered 55201 in the Rallye des Alpes, a grueling four-day race from Marseille to Cannes. There, Descollas drove the Type 55 over a distance of 1,665 km to an overall victory, defeating 60 other entrants along the way.
In July 1948, Descollas sold 55201 to industrialist Paul Alex Blanchet, and it then passed through a succession of owners through 1956, when it was sold to Francis Mortarini, who ran a garage called Le Haras du Pur-Sang de l’Automobile. M. Mortarini’s business specialized in selling exotic European cars to the US, and he sold 55201 to Precision Motors in Los Angeles, the dealership owned by Otto Zipper and Bob Estes. While in California, the Bugatti was profiled in Motor Trend magazine, whose staff was amazed by the 25-year-old car’s performance.
From Precision Motors, the Bugatti was sold to a man known only as Mr. Odabashian and then relocated to the Midwest. Hugh Conway’s 1962 Bugatti Register notes 55201 as belonging to a Mrs. Bowers, though, by that time, the car had already been sold to Edsel Pfabe of Painesville, Ohio. Mr. Pfabe set about restoring the car, shipping the engine to Bunny Phillips, a well-known marque specialist in California and founding member of the American Bugatti Club. The work progressed slowly and, in June 1963, 55201 was sold to Dr. Peter Williamson. A longtime president of the American Bugatti Club, Dr. Williamson, along with his wife Susan, assembled the largest private collection of Bugattis in the US. At its height, the Williamsons’ stable included a magnificent Type 57 SC Atlantic, two Type 57 S Atalantes, and several other eight-cylinder Grand Prix and touring models.
Early in his ownership, Dr. Williamson decided that 55201 should be returned to its original Jean Bugatti Roadster form, and Ray Jones of Michigan was commissioned to carry out this task. Jones was able to inspect one of John Shakespeare’s Type 55 Roadsters in March 1964, just prior to the sale of his collection to the Schlumpf Brothers. He then removed the modified tail and fenders, and built a new body to the original design.
Over the next four decades, the Type 55 remained a fixture in the Williamson Collection. It was his go-to driver and the car he selected to run on the 2003 International Bugatti Meet held in Massachusetts.
When Dr. Williamson passed away in 2008, his Type 55 was sold at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach Auctions to the current owner, a discerning East Coast collector. He immediately entrusted the car to renowned Bugatti specialist Scott Sargent, who had maintained Dr. Williamson’s collection since the early 1990s at Sargent Metalworks in Vermont.
Between 2009 and 2012, Sargent Metalworks performed a complete concoursquality restoration, which included fabricating new steel fenders and a correct Grand Prix-style hood, as was originally fitted. As this work was carried out, Sam Jepson of American Speed and Custom rebuilt the engine utilizing the original numbered crankcase (No. 1) and a new roller-bearing crankshaft sourced from Brineton Engineering in England.
While the restoration was underway, 55201 was inspected by Bugatti authority David Sewell, who confirmed that the car retains its original frame, engine, and rear end, though the original three-speed gearbox was replaced long ago with an improved four-speed Type 55 unit, numbered 23.
Finished in a beautiful color scheme of claret and black, 55201 made its postrestoration debut at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, where it placed Third in Class (European Classic: Sports Racing) and was presented with the French Cup, a special award given to the most significant car of French origin. Since this successful showing, the Type 55 has been enjoyed during both the American Bugatti Club’s 2014 Fall Rally in Upstate New York and, most recently, the International Bugatti Meeting held in Sardegna, Italy, in June 2017.
In a recent conversation, Scott Sargent recounted his personal history with this marvelous car: “I have known and maintained 55201 since 1992, when I first met Dr. Williamson. It was always his favorite car to drive, one of the most beloved cars in the collection. I have, myself, enthusiastically driven this car thousands of miles – in ABC rallies, at Pebble Beach, and in Italy – and it has always been a great performer. It goes like the wind, handles extremely well, and has always been reliable. It really represents the best qualities of Bugatti, with its combination of a Grand Prix chassis and gorgeous open coachwork with elegant, flowing fenders.”
In total, Bugatti built just 38 Type 55s between 1931 and 1936. Of these, only 14 were completed with Jean Bugatti’s incomparable Roadster coachwork, one of the most attractive, influential, and recognizable designs of all time.
This particular car has the important distinction of being the first Type 55 built, and was the only Jean Bugatti Roadster originally outfitted with distinctive, sporting features. In addition to these special qualities, this car possesses a fascinating history and a rich, well-documented provenance. Prepared by one of the world’s foremost Bugatti specialists and offered today in impeccable condition, 55201 presents a rare opportunity to acquire an important example of the legendary Type 55 Roadster.