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Driven by Achille Varzi in the 1932 Mille MigliaAutomobiles Ettore Bugatti, Molsheim, France (retained until 1933)Georges Metz, Orleans, France (acquired by 1946)Jean-Baptiste Altieri, Paris, France (acquired in 1951)Nicolas Seydoux, Paris, France (acquired from the above in 1983)Peter Livanos, Gstaad, Switzerland (acquired from the above in 2008)Current Owner (acquired from the above)
Mille Miglia, April 1932, Varzi/Castelbarco, No. 102 (DNF)
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, in 1910, to recognize that performance could be improved by reducing weight instead of increasing engine size. A lightweight sports car provided better acceleration, roadholding, and braking, as well as a welcome reduction in fuel consumption. 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.
Predicated on these principles, Bugatti’s Type 35 Grand Prix caused a sensation when it debuted at the Grand Prix of Lyon in 1924. Weighing only 1,500 lbs. and powered by a magnificent overhead-camshaft straight eight, the Bugatti’s performance was astonishing. Over 2,000 race victories had been achieved by 1927. After studying Harry Miller’s advanced racing cars, Ettore Bugatti developed the Type 51, a supercharged 2.3-liter twin-cam Grand Prix that continued the company’s success story 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. He was also a man with exquisite taste who 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. This model was a spiritual successor to the Type 43 Grand Sport, which combined the mechanical underpinnings of the Type 35 B with sporting coachwork, creating a Grand Prix car for the road.
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 the four-speed gearbox from the contemporary Type 49. Unveiled in Paris in October 1931, the Type 55 was an ultra high-performance machine, with a top speed in excess of 110 mph.
In Bugatti tradition, 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 the splendid Roadster, designed by Jean Bugatti. Since its introduction, the Type 55 Jean Bugatti Roadster has been coveted by enthusiasts the world over, and the model’s elegance has been noted, with one knowledgeable Bugattiste calling it “a Type 51 Grand Prix wearing an evening gown.”
As documented by factory records, this Type 55, chassis 55213, was completed in April 1932. It was originally equipped with engine no. 10 and fashioned with Jean Bugatti Roadster coachwork, making it the second example ever built and the first completed that year.
On April 6, 1932, the factory invoiced 55213 to Bucar S.A., the official Bugatti agent in Zurich. Though never officially imported into Switzerland, the Type 55 Roadster was issued a temporary registration in Basel and made its first public appearance at the Mille Miglia that started in Brescia, Italy, on April 9, 1932.
No. 55213 is unique among Type 55s, as it is the only example to compete in the Mille Miglia, perhaps the most famous and romantic open-road race. Wearing race no. 102, the Type 55 was entrusted to Achille Varzi, the legendary Bugatti factory driver, and co-driver Count Luigi Castelbarco, an established voiturette racer. The other Bugatti factory entry was a Type 51 Grand Prix, driven by Carlo Cazzaniga and Archimede Rosa.
For the Mille Miglia, the Type 55 Roadster, finished in a red and black livery, was outfitted with road equipment, a leather hood strap, central driving light, and distinctive headlamp covers. The Bugatti was also fitted with special “sport wings,” which were lighter than the standard Jean Bugatti Roadster fenders.
The Bugatti team did not find much luck in the 1932 race, despite a great record of success in the Italian event since 1927. After a close start, with Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo maintaining a small lead over Varzi, a rock punctured the Bugatti’s fuel tank, and it could not be repaired.
Following the Mille Miglia, 55213 was registered in Strasbourg, France – approximately 15 miles from the Bugatti factory in Molsheim. According to records sourced by marque historian Pierre-Yves Laugier, the Type 55 was registered to Carlo Cazzaniga at the address of the Bugatti shop in Strasbourg. These facts suggest that 55213 was kept in company ownership and retained for Jean Bugatti’s personal use, and he was pictured next to the car at Monza in September 1932. A photo taken at Molsheim in 1933 shows 55213 equipped with standard Roadster wings but still fitted with its unique central driving light and other distinguishing features.
While it cannot be confirmed definitively, the first private owner of 55213 may have been Andre Derain, the famous French artist and noted Bugattiste. M. Derain, who, along with Henri Matisse, is credited with founding the Fauvism movement, owned at least 11 Bugattis during his life, the first a Type 35A and the last a Type 57S. It is likely that the Type 55 Roadster M. Derain owned was 55213 or possibly 55229, which was also in France during this period.
Little is known of 55213’s whereabouts until 1946, when it was owned by Georges Metz, a Bugatti enthusiast whose family owned a candle factory outside Orleans, France. M. Metz and Jean Bugatti both attended college in Strausbourg, and they remained lifelong friends. He purchased many Bugattis secondhand and had a particular affinity for the sporting models, though the Type 55 was surely his most exciting car. In April 1950, M. Metz advertised the Roadster for sale in Action Automobile et Touristique and then sold it to a garage in Paris, likely Hauswald in Levallois.
In May 1951, the car was registered in Paris to Jean-Baptiste Altieri. A young lawyer, M. Altieri purchased his first Bugatti (a Type 43) in 1950 and kept both supercharged models for many years. In fact, during his holidays in Corsica, M. Altieri frequently drove the Type 55 and had it registered on the island in July 1962 with the plate “1 AR 20.” By the late 1970s, M. Altieri was using the car infrequently and, in 1983, was approached by a gentleman interested in purchasing 55213.
This gentleman was Nicolas Seydoux, a respected French collector who earned a reputation for buying any quality Bugatti. Nicolas, along with his brother Michel, assembled a comprehensive stable of Bugatti automobiles, with their Paris garage containing more than 20 important examples during the height of their collecting in the 1980s.
The car remained in the prestigious Seydoux collection until 2008, when it was sold to Swiss connoisseur Peter Livanos. Under Mr. Livanos’ ownership, 55213 was completely restored by Bugatti authority Laurent Rondoni of Ventoux Moteur Ingénierie in Carpentras, France. As documented by photos and invoices, the Type 55 Roadster was completely disassembled, painstakingly restored from the frame up, and refinished in blue and black nitrocellulose, as it is presented today.
Toward the end of the restoration process, Rondoni built a new engine and gearbox for the car, exact replicas of the original components. The current owner recently entrusted the car to Jim Stokes, who installed the new components, road-tested the Bugatti, and carefully crated the original matching-numbers components for safekeeping. The original engine and gearbox, as well as all restoration invoices, photographs, and records, accompany 55213 at auction.
Prepared by two of the foremost Bugatti specialists and presented today in impeccable condition, 55213 presents an opportunity to acquire one of the very best examples of the legendary Type 55 Roadster. Here is a motorcar that will be a star at any leading concours in the world, from Pebble Beach to Villa d’Este, as well as a spectacular – and rewarding – entry into the most exclusive tours, including the International Bugatti Rally and the Mille Miglia.
In total, Bugatti built just 38 examples of the Type 55 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. Of the 13 surviving Roadsters, it is accepted that five or six retain their original coachwork and major mechanical components.
Noted Bugatti historian David Sewell inspected 55213 in 2006 and produced a report that concluded: “Overall this is a truly outstanding example of the highly sought-after Type 55 Jean Bugatti roadster. It retains most if not all of its original component parts with matching numbers throughout, including that of its coachwork…. Accordingly this car must surely rank amongst the very best of surviving Type 55 Bugattis, indeed it may well be the finest of them all.”
Since that time, Pierre-Yves Laugier’s research has confirmed that 55213 was the sole Type 55 to have raced in the Mille Milgia, where it was driven, in 1932, by the most famous Bugatti pilot, Achille Varzi. That it was also a factory car, retained by the works and likely driven by its creator, Jean Bugatti, only adds to its mystique and appeal.
With its competition pedigree, impressive provenance, faultless condition, and spectacular Jean Bugatti-designed coachwork, 55213 truly embodies the spirit and traditions of this great marque, “Le Pur-Sang des Automobiles.”