1932 Bugatti Type 55

Roadster par Vanvooren

Summary

  • Year of manufacture 
    1932
  • Car type 
    Convertible / Roadster
  • Chassis number 
    55204
  • Engine number 
    5
  • Lot number 
    31
  • Drive 
    LHD
  • Condition 
    Restored
  • Interior colour 
    Red
  • Interior type 
    Leather
  • Number of doors 
    2
  • Number of seats 
    2
  • Location
  • Exterior colour 
    Grey
  • Gearbox 
    Manual
  • Drivetrain 
    2wd
  • Fuel type 
    Petrol

Description

French title

- Exceptional history
- Winner of the 1st Lyon-Charbonnières Rally
- Chassis, engine, gearbox, axle : matching numbers
- 70% of wooden frame and bodywork original
- Totally restored to the highest standards

Towards the end of 1931, the Parisian Bugatti agent Dominique Lamberjack junior, the friend and contemporary of Jean Bugatti, asked the factory for the semi-exclusive rights to all 2.3-litre Type 55 chassis delivered to the capital. Every second chassis would be delivered to Lamberjack, with the others going directly from the factory to private clients. For a deposit of 500 000 francs, he reserved for himself what he thought would be an attractive market for the Alsatian marque's new flagship model : " The Super Sport twin cam ".
Lamberjack confided to the author that in March 1932, as he had not taken delivery of any chassis, despite the first five clients having received their cars, he called the factory and was told by the accountant that Ettore Bugatti, as soon as he'd got the money in his pocket, had gone to an auction sale and squandered nearly all of it on tapestries. The accounts were back in order by the end of March 1932... Lamberjack was a close friend of Robert de Prandières, the dynamic director of the coachbuilding firm Vanvooren in Courbevoie. They agreed between themselves that the majority of the Bugatti chassis delivered to the Lamberjack dealership of 68 rue Bayen would be dispatched to rue Pierre Lhomme in Courbevoie to be bodied. Of the six Bugatti Type 55 chassis delivered to Paris, five were bodied by Vanvooren and one by Figoni. No other Parisian workshop would lay their hands on one of these rare Super Sport Type 55s.

CHASSIS 55204, CABRIOLET VANVOOREN TWO SEATER

I. Life in Paris with Vladimir de Constantinovitch (1879 - 1942 ?)

Chassis 55204 was the first of five chassis of this new model ordered and paid for by Lamberjack between March and November 1932. The order appears to have been dated 8 February 1932. The chassis was loaded and transported by train from the factory on 3 March 1932 with a Type 49 faux-cabriolet destined for the showroom. 55204 was billed to " Lamberjack fils - Paris " for 72 000 francs. The four other chassis of the same model destined for Lamberjack were all the same price. We have photos of these four cars, all bodied by Vanvooren. As arranged with Prandières, 55204 was sent to the Vanvooren workshop in Courbevoie to be given a very pretty two-seater cabriolet body. We are not certain of the name of the first owner, but we know he lived in Paris because the original registration number for the car was 9762 RF 5, corresponding to the department of Seine in the Spring of 1932. However, cross-checking has allowed us to ascertain that the car belonged to an enthusiast known as " The Admiral ", as told by Lamberjack Jr to the owner from Burgundy in 1946. The same Lamberjack confided to us in 1990 that one of his clients was the son of General de Constantinovitch, known as " The Admiral ", who lived on Boulevard Haussmann.
Vladimir de Constantinovitch was born in Trieste in June or July 1879. His father, the General Alexandre de Constantinovitch, related to the Obrenovic dynasty, was in charge of the Serbian Royal Guard. His marriage to a wealthy Serbian by the name of Opuich made large areas of Serbia available to him, as well as a family home in Trieste. Vladimir fought in the Legion in France during the 1914 conflict. Assigned to the air force in September 1916, he became naturalized in France on 4 September as a second lieutenant in the aviation school in Pau. He fought in the 73 Spa squadron with his friend Albert Deullin. In the staff records for the Air Ministry in 1916, Vladimir's contacts in case of an accident were listed as a friend in Paris and Her Majesty, the Queen of Italy...who was the sister-in-law of his sister Nathalie !
Vladimir had graduated from the military school in Belgrade. He married a wealthy American, Anne Heyward Cutting, from New York, whose family had made their fortune in the railroad business. Through his love for her, he converted to Protestantism. Following the premature death of his wife in November 1921, he remarried a French woman from the North, and they moved between her apartment at 170 boulevard Haussmann and his château " La Dûne aux Loups " in la Somme, and le Touquet Paris - Plage.
Vladimir conscientiously frittered away the family fortune, aided by his mistresses, Bugatti (37A, 57C) and Hispano (32CV 10403 and a Type Sport 12056). Constantinovitch bought his cars new, as evidenced in the Hispano and Bugatti sales registers. It is logical to assume that he bought chassis 55204 new and had the car transported to Courbevoie by his friend Lamberjack. The subsequent owner recalls that our 55 was originally grey with burgundy stripes. At the time it was sold to him, Lamberjack spoke of " The Admiral " as the previous owner of the car.

II. A racing life with Pierre Daligand (1907 - 1987)

The cabriolet 55204 arrived in Mâcon at the start of summer 1946.
It was driven around on the garage plates 6009 W 5 for at least one or two months. The new owner was a personality from the motoring world in Lyon. Pierre Daligand was a dental surgeon and also the manager of the Renault dealership Garage Continental in Mâcon. He started racing motorcycles with the Moto Club Lyonnais (M.C.L.) in 1929, having some success that year on a Magnat-Debon 350 cm3. In 1932 he took part in various races including at the Ain circuit on a Motosacoche 500 cm3. It was not until 1936 that he turned his hand to racing motor cars, both on the circuit and in rallies. The year 1936 marked the start of his Bugatti period, driving in turn a Type 37, a 43 roadster, a faux-cabriolet Type 49 followed by a Ventoux.

- The IXe Rallye des Alpes Françaises (from 12 to 15 July 1946)
Our car took part in this rally, the first held in France after the war. Covering 3 000 to 4 000 km, the trial crossed the French Alps to Germany, travelling through Italy, Switzerland, Yugoslavia and Austria. The difficulty of the course and the time restrictions meant that few competitors were able to finish having kept to the rules. Pierre Daligand, at the wheel of his Type 55, recorded the best time of 34.2 seconds for a start-stop trial in Annecy. The car wore the race number 80, and the number plates of his garage. It performed brilliantly until fuel-supply problems forced its retirement at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.

- The first Lyon-Charbonnières Rally (From 21 to 23 March 1947)
This competition was set up by Dr. Daligand and sponsored by the eponymous Casino. With two colleagues from the M.C.L., he devised the route and the regulations, and advertised his project with the Association Sportive de l'A.C.R (Automobile Club du Rhône), adding " I am no longer involved and declare myself a competitor" !

For this new race, the dentist asked a certain Monsieur Molla, a metal worker employed at his Continental Garage, to modify the body of his Bugatti Type 55, and make aluminium panels to fit onto the wooden structure of the Vanvooren cabriolet. The central section of the metal body remained unchanged. The doors were cut down and sports wings replaced the original longer wings. The race took place in three stages in a loop :
- The first 506 km stage was Lyon-Clermont-Ferrand and back at night on difficult roads.
- The second stage was 307 km Lyon-Grenoble-Aix-les-Bains through the Porte, Cuchero and Granier passes, where snow was forecast.
- The final 312 km stage on Sunday 23 March towards Oyonnax and on to Charbonnières, with a small hillclimb en route. 51 teams arrived at the finish despite the rain, snow and nocturnal trials. Pierre Daligand won the race at the wheel of his Bugatti Type 55, and the March 1947 edition of L'Actualité Automobile produced an extensive report on the event.

- The Xe International des Alpes Rally (from 11 to 15 July 1947)
The event took place over 1 050 km, with the traditional start at the Vieux Port in Marseille and finishing at Cannes. Of the 61 competitors who lined up to start at the Vieux Port, just 27 were classified. The race was won by Gaston Descollas, the Bugatti dealer from Marseille, who was accustomed to receiving laurels at this event. He drove a different Bugatti Type 55, with racing number 112 and chassis 55201. Pierre Daligand, race number 111, was leading at the start but burst a tyre approaching a bridge which put an end to the sporting career of our car. The car was sold at the start of 1948 " to some youngsters from Beaujolais " (sic) in the words of Pierre Daligard as recounted by his son Gilles, who never put the Bugatti in their name.

III. Bernard Roche, Château de Milly

The car was sold again on 12 June 1958 and registered with the number 6271 AX 69. Bernard Roche was an eccentric character who travelled from the Rhône valley to the Dordogne, from château to château, searching for treasures. He collected Bugatti and other cars from the 1920s. In his Château de Fénelon in Dordogne, he had an eight-valve Bugatti, a Type 44 and a Type 49 tucked away. He remembers the Type 55 " sold to some people from Paris, complete, with its aluminium wheels, for the sum of 150 000 old francs. " For some unknown reason, the Type 55 was only registered in his name in 1958 although the car had already been with its next owner, Monsieur Liandier, since April 1955. It must have been a rather belated case of regularisation... which the facts and photos confirm.

IV. Pierre Proust in Montrouge : exchange of registration documents between 55204/55202

From at least 1955, the cabriolet 55204 was driving around with the registration documents for the coupé 55202 and vice versa. An inspection of the ex-Michel Bouyer Type 55 faux-cabriolet Jean Bugatti in the Mulhouse museum, and the ex-Pierre Daligand cabriolet belonging to C. Robert in 1986 leaves no room for doubt about the identity of the two vehicles.
The Mulhouse car is chassis 55202, complete with its original engine and body, coupé Jean Bugatti. Just two numbers 55204 were re-engraved over the original 55202 on the engine, and the chassis plate for 55204 was screwed onto the firewall, an operation carried out to make the car conform to the registration document 55204 that Pierre Proust had put in his name on 3 July 1958 with the number 5838 HD 75. And so, both cars found themselves in Pierre Proust's garage on 41 rue Racine, a cavern dedicated to Bugatti, where Henri Novo, a defector from the Teillac garage, was in charge. We know of a photo of the coupé 55202 with the number plate 5392 CL 75. This corresponds to the registration document :" Bugatti Type 55 CI 2 places châssis 55202 ". A little later, this number and the corresponding paperwork was passed to 55204. The registration document was put in the name of Pierre Proust on 11 February 1954. Pierre Daligand remembered seeing his car " under a pile of scrap metal " in this garage during this period.

It is worth noting that the repair notes of Henri Novo told of a first intervention on the Type 55 during the period it was registered by Proust. We can deduce that Liandier had already bought the car :
- 15 January 1954 : " Type 55 Liandier, dismantled, changed the pistons, the seals to replace. ".
- Then on 25 October 1954 : " 55 Liandier, crankshaft serviced by the factory. Cylinders 60m/m5 piston height ".
Born to a father of independent means and a mother who taught art, the young Maurice had always lived in a privileged environment. He had a string of Bugattis, from the 1920s through to his return from the Second World War, from which he returned with the Médaille Militaire and the Légion d'Honneur. He enrolled to study Fine Art but took on a career managing the fur factories for the company " C et E Chapal Frères et Cie, Teinturerie de Pelleterie et Fourrures ". His father had sold land in Montreuil, in rue Kleber, where " Chapal " had built one of its many factories. Maurice lived in Sen, at 20 boulevard du 14 juillet, near one of the five French factories and was responsible for the company's machinery. Jean Bardinon, a former pilot, had married a Chapal daughter. He was the godfather of José, Maurice Liandier's son, and the father of the great collector Pierre Bardinon. Liandier was a long-standing Bugattiste, having owned a 1924 Type 35 Grand Prix de Lyon and a Type 30 Indianapolis, before the war. Liandier kept his Type 55 for nearly ten years. It was serviced by Novo at Teillac in 1954-1955, as noted in the latter's records. Liandier took his Bugatti to his property " L' Escapado " that he bought in Chateauneuf-de-Grasse in 1962. The car was parked there next to a Type 57 with a Simca 5 coupé body.

VI. In the famous Pierre Bardinon collection

The vehicle was sold on 9 June 1965 to Pierre Bardinon, the famous French collector who, in Mas du Clos in Limousin, was a tireless collector of the most important Ferrari in the history of motor racing as well as models of key sporting marques like Bugatti. Monsieur Liandier's son has photos of the car and the invoice addressed to Pierre Bardinon. It was indeed the old Vanvooren cabriolet 55204, in its 1947 Lyon-Charbonnières configuration.

La Bugatti 55204, tired but complete, made its way from Grasse back to Paris in the spring of 1965. Pierre Bardinon subsequently asked Henri Novo to take out the twin-cam engine to put in an original, unidentified, Grand Prix car, that the mechanic was assembling for him in 1965. Since this period, the ex-55204 engine has been in the ex-Bardinon, ex-Frédéric Chandon de Briailles " Type 51 ", that is part of a French collection today. Chassis 55204, without its engine and belonging to Pierre Bardinon, remained with Novo waiting to be resurrected. This would happen 40 years later.

VII. An elite collector, Charles Robert

Robert was a regular visitor at the Novo garage, from where he bought a Type 57 chassis that had been lying about in Montrouge, during the same period as chassis 55204. We were able to examine the Type 55 in the basement of his villa in Nogent, in around 1986. The car was as it had been abandoned by Bardinon at Novo's in 1965. All the mechanical elements remained on the car: the front and rear axle and gearbox were, and still are, the original ones. The frame is undoubtedly that of 55204. The central section, in sheet metal, a remnant of the Vanvooren body, and the wood trim behind the seat, are a reminder of the handsome two-seater cabriolet that was modified by Daligand in 1947. We showed Charles Robert photos of his cabriolet in its original configuration and, quite rightly, he decided to have a body constructed with doors in the style of the 1932 coachwork.
Cabriolet versions of the Bugatti Type 55 are now very rare: one bodied by Figoni, one by Gangloff, another by Billeter et Cartier and two Vanvooren cabriolets are the only other examples in collections.
Charles Robert spent a lot of time driving his Bugatti and other Ferrari. With a view to taking part with his wife in various rallies, he asked Laurent Rondoni to build a powerful and reliable engine for 55204. The renowned mechanic, who ran the " Ventoux Moteurs " workshop in Carpentras, built a highly competitive engine that produced close to 200 bhp. This new engine was duly installed and run in by Laurent Rondoni who was also responsible for restoring the entire car, from the chassis up. There is no better guarantee ! Charles Robert saw the finished engine but sadly passed away before witnessing the car scale Mont Ventoux at full speed on its first trial run.

VIII. In search of the origine

When the car was offered in our Retromobile auction in 2015, there was one enthusiast who wanted it more than the others. He was the owner of the Bugatti type 51 that had been rebuilt during the 1960s for Pierre Bardinon by Henri Novo, fitted with engine 5 from 55204. In order to reunite the engine and chassis, our enthusiast bought the car at the auction and reinstalled the original engine. Also, having learnt that the 1947 Lyon Charbonnières shell was for sale, he also bought that. It will be supplied to the new owner.
He decided to restore this car to its exact original configuration, including the colours : the 1932 2-seater Vanvooren Roadster. He noted that the bonnet, the bulkhead, the wooden frame of the body and a large part of the bodywork (including the lower part of the doors to seat level) were original. This made it possible to re-create the rear body exactly as it had been when it left the Vanvooren workshop in period.
Extensive research and study of photos of the car in its 1932 configuration resulted in the faithful reconstruction of the body from the bulk of its original frame.

Pierre-Yves Laugier

Full set of pictures available on our online catalogue: https://www.artcurial.com/fr/lot-1932-bugatti-type-55-roadster-par-vanvooren-4058-31