1925 Bugatti Type 35 Grand Prix, Chassis no. 4450, Ex-Glen Kidston
Just as the Jaguar XJ6—Series 1 car displayed previously in the rotunda was described at the time as a pinnacle in design and engineering for that company, so the same level of praise is regularly levelled at Bugatti’s Type 35 Grand Prix racing model. Svelte, spartan and sophisticated, in many quarters it is idolised as the ‘most aesthetically beautiful racing car’ of its era (and perhaps any other).
The Type 35 was launched in 1924, in the middle of the golden Molsheim manufacturing period of Ettore Bugatti. It is the model that truly epitomises ‘le Pur Sang des Automobiles’ slogan (‘the thoroughbred of motor cars’). The Type 35 had a straight 8-cylinder, 2-litre engine and four-speed gearbox. Two distinct features stand out. The iconic horse shoe shaped radiator is one: in Ettore’s words, the rest of the body was ‘subservient’ to it. The other great innovation was the cast light-alloy, aluminium wheels which created a stir when they first appeared and were integral to Bugatti racing cars until 1934. Whilst the T35 dominated international motor racing during the Roaring Twenties, it had been designed from the start to go into series production. The original Type 35 spawned later derivative models (with various engine specifications): Type 35A (‘imitation course’ with similar looks but a less exotic specification), 35B (supercharged), 35C (supercharged), and 35T (named for the Targa Florio, with increased displacement). For very wealthy owners, the flexibility of the production design made use on the road quite practicable. Even the Type 35A, the base model, was capable of easily exceeding 90 mph.
The famous chassis number on display here is one of the original Type 35 Grand Prix models. Built for 25-year old Commander Glen Kidston, RN, of Mayfair, London W1, it was collected by him directly from the Bugatti factory and driven home by road in February 1925. Period photographs show it parked en route with no windscreen, rear mirror, wings or headlights, which presumably made for an interesting mid-winter drive. Kidston’s first race with the car was at the Grand Prix de Miramas, finishing 5th overall and 2nd in class, followed by the Brooklands Easter Meeting, the inaugural appearance of a Type 35 at the circuit where ‘it attracted considerable interest’. Kidston finished third in the Private Competitors Handicap with a 103.97 mph lap and won the Short Handicap race after lapping at 104.63 mph. In the Whitsun Brooklands Meeting Kidston lapped the bumpy track at 109.46 mph and came second in the Short Handicap at 110.68 mph. A contemporary magazine wrote that he “was in his first season of motor sport and tended to favour win-or-bust tactics”.
Later that year Glen Kidston was engaged to society beauty Nancy Soames and undertook to give up motor racing (a hiatus which lasted as long as the marriage). He sold the Bugatti to fellow driver (and later ‘Bentley Boy’) George Duller, who maintained its success at Brooklands. By the mid-1930s the tired car was languishing in a Fulham workshop, and in 1937 it emigrated with a young enthusiast to Australia, an Anzani engine having by now replaced the original. In 1964 Bugatti enthusiast Bob King bought the car, restoring it over many years to its original specification. Finally in 2015, it was acquired from King at a Monaco auction by the Kidston family. Its appearance in the RAC rotunda is the first time the car has returned to London since the Second World War.
Displayed courtesy of Simon Kidston from Monday 19 November to Friday 30 November
Further information is available in the library display cabinet on the first floor rotunda.