1924 Bugatti Type 35 prototype, chassis number 4323. Photo courtesy Bonhams.
The Bugatti Type 35, introduced to the world at the Grand Prix of Lyon in August of 1924, was the most successful racing car ever constructed by the storied French marque. Racking up more than 1,000 victories (reportedly at the rate of 14 per week in its most competitive years), Bugatti Type 35s dominated in Grand Prix racing (accumulating 351 wins in 1925-1926 and setting some 47 records in the process) and at the Targa Florio, where the Type 35 earned victories from 1925-1929. Six Type 35 prototypes were initially constructed, and one of these prototypes, chassis 4323, will cross the block at Bonhams’s upcoming Quail Lodge sale.
Though all variants of the Bugatti Type 35 are valuable collector cars today, at one time most were little more than used race cars. The Type 35 prototype to be sold in Carmel passed through a string of owners over the years, including Sir Robert and Lady Bird, Colonel G.M. Giles (founder of the British Bugatti Owner’s Club), American Del Lee (who once supervised a young car salesman by the name of David E. Davis at a Jaguar/Mercedes-Benz/Austin Healey/Bristol/Rolls-Royce dealership), and Chevrolet designer Henry Haga.
Lee imported the car into the United States in 1951, ultimately campaigning it as an ice racer in northern Michigan until a fateful slip on the ice reportedly caused him to blow the engine while cranking it. The car then sat in a Michigan barn until Henry and Ellie Haga acquired it (for $3,600) in 1966. In 1974, Henry Haga was named Director of Design at Opel in Russelsheim, Germany, a role he would occupy until 1980. During the Hagas’ time in Europe, the couple contacted Bugatti expert Hugh Conway to assist in the car’s restoration. It was during the disassembly of the Bugatti that Conway began to notice irregularities between this car and other Type 35s he had consulted on.
At Bugatti’s Molsheim factory, Conway noticed erasure lines on the original blueprints for the Type 35, only visible after copying. The original lines of the blueprints, prior to their modification, matched those of the car Conway had in his possession, proving the Bugatti was a very early prototype for the Type 35. Subsequent research revealed images of Ettore Bugatti posing with this specific car, which was later revealed to be the back-up car for the 1924 Grand Prix of Lyon.
Though Henry Haga died in 1988, the Bugatti has remained in the family’s possession. In 2010, Richard Haga (Henry’s son) campaigned the car at the Monterey Historics, finishing in 25th place in the Bugatti Grand Prix. Ellie Haga, Henry’s widow, also drives, races and helps to maintain the French masterpiece.
Whatever reserve price is set on the Type 35 prototype (which was once incorrectly identified as a Type 37A, allowing Del Lee to buy the car for £400, or roughly $1,600), it’s certain that the Haga family is likely to see a significant return on their $3,600 investment.
Bonhams’s Quail Lodge sale will take place on Friday, August 16. For more information, visit Bonhams.com .