Some of the world’s most evocative Grand Prix cars are those originally manufactured during the 1920s, not necessarily for racing team use but primarily for sale to private customers, providing them with the equipment necessary to take the plunge – and to go motor racing upon their own account potentially at the very highest level.
Of course it was the marque Bugatti from Molsheim, Alsace, which most prominently provided that service, and most notably with its magnificent family of compact, light and powerful straight-8 engined Bugatti Type 35s. This much loved, neat and nimble design was introduced at the Grand Prix de l’ACF in 1924, and manufactured in a series of subsequent variants for customer sale.
Bugatti Type 35 chassis No ‘4450’ here was the nineteenth such Grand Prix Bugatti to be manufactured, as reflected by its chassis frame number ’19’. The order for the car was numbered ’21’. Its construction was completed in January 1925 and it was entered into the factory production book with the annotation: “o.d.f. (ordre de fabrication) 10.1.25”. These early cars are known as the ‘Type Lyon’ and they differed in detail from later Type 35s. As delivered, they lacked a rear-view mirror and an engine driven air pump for the fuel tank. Since a riding mechanic was still mandatory for Grand Prix racing, his duties included maintaining fuel pressure while also acting as the driver’s lookout to spot any imminent overtake from behind. On the dashboard the gauges, including the revolution counter, were mounted with screws through the front of the bezels.
The new car was delivered new via Jarrott & Letts (London) Limited to former Brescia Bugatti owner Lieutenant Glen Kidston, RN. It seems that he collected it from the Molsheim factory, where it had been French-registered on February 14, 1925, with the temporary number ‘1768WW5’. This was granted for ten days only, which enabled Glen Kidston to drive his new acquisition home to London, where the car was UK road registered ‘XW9557’. Lt Kidston promptly returned to France with the car and drove it down to Marseilles where he achieved a fifth-place finish in the 1925 Grand Prix de Provence at Miramas Autodrome, also finishing second overall in the 2-litre class, sandwiched between the sister Bugattis of class winner Vidal and third placeman Cozette.
Photographs taken on Lt Kidston’s journey south show that the car, like preceding Type 35s, lacked retaining clips for the forward bonnet strap. This omission allowed the strap to slide forwards onto the radiator. While in Provence the car was garaged at Ernest Friderich’s celebrated Bugatti dealership in Nice. While there, front bonnet-strap clips were added, together with bonnet-lifting handles. The clips used were actually Brescia electrical wiring clips which remain on the car to this day. The bonnet lifts serve to identify the car in early photographs. In accordance with the regulations, the bonnet had a yellow band painted on it to identify it as belonging to the GP de Provence 2-litre class. The car proudly wears a similar band today.
At Easter 1925, Lt Kidston ran the car at Brooklands. His was the second GP Bugatti to appear in England and the first Bugatti Type 35 to compete at the legendary Weybridge Motor Course. In consequence it attracted considerable interest. In the Private Competitors’ Handicap race Lt Kidston finished third with a fastest lap of 103.97mph and later that day won the 90mph Short Handicap race after lapping at 104.63mph.
The Whitsun Brooklands Meeting saw the dashing and bold Naval officer unplaced in one race despite lapping the bumpy Outer Circuit bankings at 109.46mph but in the Hundred Miles per Hour Short Handicap race he finished second, lapping at 110.68. An account of Kidston’s driving explains that he “…was in his first season of motor sport, and tended to favour win-or-bust tactics”. In a lurid but undeniably spectacular ascent of Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, Glen Kidston’s “…lovely blue Bugatti clouted the bank by the Kennel Bend and then went into an almost broadside skid on the first corner of the Esses, showering grit and loose stones over spectators in the members’ enclosure….”.
Following further race appearances at Brooklands in June and August 1925, Lt Kidston’s short and spectacular racing career was put on pause as he announced his engagement to “the bewitchingly beautiful”‘ Nancy Soames, undertaking to give up motor racing. Or, as ‘Motor Sport’ put it, the gallant officer “…sacrificed his Bugatti before the altar of Hymen”. This undertaking lasted until 1929 when he re-entered the sphere, this time as a successful Bentley works team driver.
Meanwhile, George Duller, equally successful as racing driver and horse racing jockey, took over ‘4450’, achieving a fastest lap of 111.17 mph during the Autumn Brooklands meeting in mid-September. In the subsequent ‘Summer 1927 Sporting Life 100 Mile Handicap’, Duller both finished second and set a new Brooklands Class E 100-mile record at an average of 109.52mph from a standing start; impressive for a 2½-year-old 2 litre car.
By that time, the car had been fitted with black-painted wire wheels, small brake drums and hefty knock-on hub nuts – all of which were still on the car when purchased by the current vendor. One suspects that the reason why many GP Bugattis raced at Brooklands had their standard cast-aluminium wheels replaced by more conventional wire wheels is that the cast-type were cracking due to the high-speed pounding meted out by the frost-heaved, much-patched and bumpy concrete of the Outer Circuit.