One typically didn’t refuse either of the Schlumpf brothers when it came to Bugattis. The collectors amassed their collection of Molsheim’s best because they had essentially unlimited resources at their disposal, but Edmond Escudier didn’t care. Nor did he care that the paint flaked from it in spots or that it had lost all its (physical) luster. And decades later his appreciation of the car as it sat was finally rewarded with a FIVA Preservation Award.
Escudier, who had owned the Bugatti for more than 50 years, had good reason to appreciate his Bugatti, though he didn’t know it at first. At first, he bought it for a mere 120 Francs from a tax sale, knowing little of its history, though as time went on, the reason for the Schlumpfs’ persistence in buying the car became clear: He owned the 1928 Type 35B, serial number 4914, that had won the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix.
It won other races too. Built in February 1928 as a works car, Bugatti entered the supercharged racer in the Marne Grand Prix at Reims in July of that year with Louis Chiron at the wheel to take the overall win. Spotty records indicate at least another couple of race entries that year before Bugatti sold off all of its works cars save for 4914, leaving it the only car in the Bugatti stable to enter when organizers announced the Monaco Grand Prix for April 1929.
This time, Bugatti turned to British racer William Grover-Williams, a newly minted Grand Prix racer who learned to drive on the streets of Monaco and who won the previous year’s French Grand Prix. Curiously, of the eight Bugattis entered in that race, Bugatti itself only entered one – 4914 – and painted it British Racing Green rather than Bleu de France. Whatever the color, Williams spent the latter half of the race flinging the 2.3-liter Bugatti around the course and fending off Rudi Caracciola in a more powerful 7.1-liter Mercedes SSK, pulling out a win with a minute and 17 seconds to spare.
Following the win, Bugatti sold 4914 for 110,000 Francs to Ernest Friderich, the Bugatti sales agent in Nice, France, who then sold it to Albert de Bondeli a couple months later. Bondeli bought it for his racing protege, Rene Dreyfus, who finished fifth in that first Monaco Grand Prix in a Bugatti Type 37A. Dreyfus almost immediately took another win with 4914 in the Dieppe Grand Prix and then, following a repaint back to blue, spent the next several months placing with it in a number of other grand prix races.
Dreyfus also apparently owned it for a brief time before selling it on to Aristide Lumachi of Marseille in February 1932. While Lumachi raced other Bugattis, he apparently decided not to compete with 4914; rather, he painted it red and converted it for street use. He also decided to send it back to Friderich’s showroom in Nice for the duration of World War II, a decision that very well kept it from destruction or from falling into Nazi hands. After the war, he sold it to a wine merchant from Var of note in this story only for sake of completion and for allowing the Bugatti to pass into relative anonymity in the barn from which Escudier bought it in 1954.
Escudier learned of 4914’s provenance about a decade later, as did the Schlumpfs, who encouraged Escudier to name his price for the car. Whether Escudier knew it or not, 4914 was one of just three Type 35Bs to survive and perhaps the only pre-war Grand Prix racer to survive in unrestored condition. Sure, it acquired another coat of blue paint – now chipping to reveal red, blue, and green layers beneath – and new tires at some point, but nearly all of the car remains as Williams drove it.
Monaco’s Prince Rainier appreciated the car so much, he not only had it on display in his personal museum starting in the mid-1990s, he also commissioned a life-size bronze statue of it for public display.
An attempt to sell 4914 at auction in 2005 reportedly resulted in a top bid of £1.8 million against an estimate of £2 million and likely led to a subsequent sale, reportedly for €2.7 million, or about £1.87 million. That new owner, like Escudier, has spent the last decade maintaining 4914 in its unrestored state, to the approval of the FIVA representatives at this month’s Chantilly Concours d’Elegance.
“Chips of the paint were subjected to a sophisticated analysis by experts at Glasurit to document the colour of each layer of paint, while almost all the engine and mechanical components are those originally fitted to the vehicle,” the organization noted in a press release. “Amazingly, the leather straps on the bonnet and seats are all believed to be original – as are the Bugatti alloy wheels.”
Photos courtesy Bonhams.