1946 Bugatti Type 73C Grand Prix Monoposto

1946 Bugatti Type 73C Grand Prix Monoposto

Ettore Bugatti's death on 21st August 1947 - his son Jean having perished in a testing accident in 1939 - effectively signalled the beginning of the end for this once-great marque. By the early 1930s Ettore Bugatti had established an unrivalled reputation for building cars with outstanding performance on road or track; the world's greatest racing drivers enjoying countless successes aboard the Molsheim factory's products and often choosing them for their everyday transport. And although the coming of World War 2 would see the Molsheim factory reduced to ruins, it did not stop work on the development of new models, one of which - a supercharged four-cylinder - had been hinted at by Jean Bugatti in 1939. That car was the Type 73, a 1½-litre model to be built in a variety of forms for both road and track use.

The Type 73's all-alloy engine featured wet cylinder liners, a five-bearing crankshaft, and a detachable cylinder head, the latter a first for Bugatti, two camshafts and 16 valves, while the gearbox was an all-synchromesh four-speeder in the 73C(as the racing version would be named), it was initially planned to fit the road version with an automatic transmission designed by Ettore Bugatti himself. Although no road car was ever fitted either with this gearbox or the twin-camshaft engine, the realities of attempting to productionise the design dictated it would be fitted with a single camshaft engine and a Cotal gearbox. Writing to The Motor magazine in September 1945, R A Bouchard of Automobiles E Bugatti revealed that some 20 examples of the racing version were planned, though this ambition would prove impossible to fulfil in the difficult economic conditions of the immediately post-war years. Nevertheless, production got under way at the old La Licorne factory in Levallois, Paris, the Molsheim site being still unusable.

At the 1947 Paris Motor Show, held at the Grand Palais in October, an engine-less Type 73 chassis was displayed together with examples of both the single-cam and twin-cam engine. But with Ettore Bugatti already dead, the project lost its impetus and the stock of Type 73C parts remained in storage at Molsheim until 1960 when one set of components - chassis '73C 001' - was acquired by Jean de Dobbeleer, the Brussels-based Bugatti agent.

De Dobbeleer fitted a monoposto body based on proposals for Type 73C coachwork made in 1945 by Bugatti designer, Antoine Pichetto. The car was quickly sold on and de Dobbeleer then returned to Molsheim and acquired a second Type 73C. That car - '73C 002' - was sold in rolling chassis form to an American buyer and remained in the USA until 1973 when it was purchased by Tom Wheatcroft for his Donington Collection of Grand Prix cars. In fact, all five Type 73Cs survive: '73C 001' is in the Haruda Collection in Japan; '002' is back in the USA in private ownership; '003' is in the Cité de l'Automobile Museum in Mulhouse (formerly the Schlumpf Collection); '004' is the car presented here; and '005' is owned and raced by Tom Dark.

Descriptions & pictures by bonhams & motor1

Production Start 1946
Country of origin Italy