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Bugatti Type 51 Coupe by Louis Dubos, #51133, 1931

  • Chassis #51133 began life in the hands of the Bugatti factory racing team, being that the Type 51 is at heart a grand prix car. A twin-cam update of the Type 35, this supercharged straight-8 cylinder car could top 140 miles per hour in racing guise. But the tale of #51133 isn't so serious as it is vexing. At the close of the '31 season the car was given to factory driver Louis Chiron—namesake of the modern incarnation's latest hypercar—possibly in lieu of wages. Chiron then campaigned #51133 privately but sold it in 1932, whence Paul Morand and René Dreyfus were named among drivers for the new owner. The Bugatti turned up a new owner almost every year until 1936, when one André Bith took possession following the death of whichever number owner had at that time unfortunately perished in the Deauville Grand Prix while driving a Maserati 8CM.
  • Monsieur Bith was 26 and had inherited a fortune. Let us not be too wrapped up in the how and why of his bon vivant lifestyle, (mostly because that part is less convenient to research and less important for this feature), and just say he raced and rallied #51133, but gradually changed its character from that of a pure racer to a road-worthy sports car. In a year or more, Bith added cycle fenders, larger headlamps, and a spare tyre kit. He also cut out a passenger door to accommodate guests alongside, namely ladies.
  • Bith was also a friend of Jean Bugatti, and had been fascinated by the sweeping Atlantic Electron Coupe Jean devised for the Type 57. He was also of a mind to drive his car in colder seasons, and so conceived of a baby Atlantic body for his Type 51. Bith's friend, André Rolland, sketched the design and approximated the proportions, then Bith engaged Carrossier Louis Dubos to complete the coachwork. The coachwork took 14 weeks to deliver and was finished on July 20, 1937, and it remains the lone example of its kind.
  • Bith kept the Bugatti for only a short time. Now less suited for racing than for gallivanting about, the car's official exploits were limited. He entered the Paris to Nice rally in '37, and his then-girlfriend and then-Miss France, Jacqueline Ganet, entered the car at the Bagatelle Concours d'Elegance, winning her class and placing second overall. And so after a brief jaunt into rallying and the social scene, Monsieur Bith sold #51133 the following year, in 1938.
  • An American aviator kept the car during the War, and in 1946 sold the car on to racing driver Maurice Trintignant, who'd purchased it for spares. Trintingant salvaged what he could use and sold the car onward.
  • In the post-War era, #51133 came to the United States where the Dubos coachwork was removed. Little is known of the chassis' history in this time, up until 1959 when it was purchased by J.B. Nethercutt of California as a rolling chassis. Nethercutt then fashioned a new grand prix body for the car. Meanwhile, the Dubos coachwork survived independently, being fitted to a series of different chassis. It's history in this timeframe is also hazy, but the coachwork eventually wound up with Bob Sutherland of Colorado, a former Bugatti club president, who fitted it to a reproduction chassis. Neither Nethercutt nor Sutherland knew of the missing half to his car.
  • After Sutherland's death in 1999, the reproduction Bugatti with Dubos coachwork went to auction in 2000. Nethercutt and his staff had only just discovered that his chassis was in fact the original claimant of the Dubos coachwork, and when it appeared at auction Nethercutt was naturally excited to make the acquisition.
  • Remarkably, when chassis and coachwork were reunited, Monsieur Bith was still alive—then 91 years old—and provided guidance prior to its restoration. Shortly after, chassis and coachwork were reunited after being separated for 50 years, and the fragmented pieces of a fantastic history were all put into place.

 

Last Updated: Jun 25, 2017