1929 Bugatti Type 37A
- One of the 76 supercharged Type 37A Grand Prix cars built
- Period competition history, including races at Montlhéry and Reims
- Bought new in France by noted cyclist Jean Brunier
- Researched and documented by noted Bugatti historian Pierre Yves Laugier
- Already entered into the 1000 Miglia in May this year
The Bugatti Type 37A
The Bugatti Type 37 was introduced in November 1925, and it proved to be one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable racing cars to leave Ettore Bugatti’s facilities in Molsheim, France. Like its predecessor, the Type 35, the Type 37 provided enough performance for even the most demanding customer, whilst also offering an excellent level of practicality for events and rallies. The inline four-cylinder engine proved itself to be very reliable, providing a huge amount of excitement to the individual behind the wheel. Not only could the Type 37 be driven hard all day, it also proved reliable enough to be driven home when the sun set.
Compared to its siblings, the Type 37 relied on mechanical simplicity, finesse, and light weight for its performance. With a compact yet powerful 1.5-litre engine, the whole package was quickly identified as a potential race winner amongst serious drivers on the international racing scene.
Even though the Type 37 was competitive, racers always asked for more power, and Bugatti delivered. Around 18 months after the Type 37’s initial introduction, Bugatti introduced the Type 37A, with the major improvement being a Roots-type supercharger. Performance was massively improved over the naturally aspirated model, and the car was capable of reaching a top speed of 122 mph. The updated Type 37A proved to be successful, and it saw action in some of the world’s greatest endurance races, including the Mille Miglia, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Targa Florio. Whilst Bugatti produced 286 Type 37s, only 76 were supercharged by the factory.
This Bugatti Type 37A
With assembly completed in May 1929, this Type 37A departed the famous Molsheim factory with engine number 282, making it one of the final 37As produced. The original order for the car, placed via Bugatti factory Grand Prix driver Guy Bouriat, fell through. Bouriat was supposed to pay 55,000 francs, with payment due in October 1929, but the car was never delivered. Instead, this 37A was purchased on Christmas Eve 1929 by Jean Brunier, for 60,000 francs. Jean Baptiste Brunier‐Coulin was born on 5 September 1896 in Paris and suffered an early tragedy, as his father died when he was just 18 months old. Further adversity was to follow, when, fighting in the First World War, he was captured and sent to work in the Silesian mines. Following the war, Brunier went on to become a renowned sportsman, setting cycling records, including a speed record of almost 121 km/h behind a motorcycle on 1 November 1925 at the Montlhéry circuit. Famous in France, postcards were published detailing his feats.
With his passion for speed, it’s unsurprising that Brunier immediately put his new acquisition to work. Within a week of taking delivery of Type 37A 37374, he took to the track at Montlhéry in a practice session, displaying licence plate 7544 W1, whilst Brunier’s first official race in his new 37A took place in March 1930 at the Argenteuil Hill Climb, displaying race number 103. Brunier went on to finish 2nd, setting a new independent lap record. His next race was the Reims Grand Prix on 29 June 1930. On the 10th lap, Brunier was behind leader Doré, in Type 37A chassis number 37373, and ahead of Auber, Gaupillat and Fourny, all driving type 37As. However, he was forced to retire on lap 13, and it appears that this is where Brunier’s race career came to an end.
In a picture taken in the paddock at Montlhéry during 1938, the car displays its 1930 registration plate 7576 RD 7 and it was thought to be owned by another Parisian sportsman. During 1946, 37374 was seen, and again photographed, in a Parisian garage, sitting alongside a Bugatti Type 57 and still displaying its 7576 RD 7 registration. On 16th August 1948, 37374 was sold to another Parisian, who retained the car until 31 March 1955, when it was sold to Charles Jean Despalles, of Saint Cloud. Despalles owned a garage called Rapid Moto and 37374 was registered on licence plate 5242 BH 78. He owned the car for just three months, selling it on to Gerard Vitrac, also of Saint Cloud.
Vitrac was from the eponymous jam family Confitures Vitrac, hence his ability to afford such an impressive car as a student. Between 1956 and 1957, he and his friends Bernard Gaymard and Francis Muel, who all went to the same school, regularly used the car. On a trip to Le Mans during Easter 1957, the fuel tank leaked, causing a fire. Pictures at the time show 37374 and friends stood at the side of the road. Pictures of the car taken in Muel’s garage later in 1957 show some damage on the left side of the bonnet, the dash panels and the tail.
Muel decided to purchase 37374 from Vitrac and with whom it resided alongside another Bugatti, a Type 37, chassis number 37363. During Muel’s ownership, the original chassis plates were swapped between the two cars, most likely during mechanical or restoration works.
In 1961, Claude Martin, son of the Amilcar dealer, found the two cars on the Muel property. He bought them for 10,000 new francs. Jean Michel Cerede intended to purchase both cars from Martin but could not afford them. In the end, he acquired the unblown 37363, with the 37374 chassis plate, on 28 December 1961.
Martin retained 37374, wearing chassis plate 37363, and it was sent to Henri Novo in Marolles-en-Hurepoix for a restoration. However, no progress was made over the next six or seven years, and when Martin visited Novo’s workshop, he was shocked to discover the lack of work. The car was listed in Hugh Conway’s Grand Prix Bugatti book during 1968.
In 1969, Claude Martin decided to sell 37374 to another enthusiast. On 27 April 1969, the car was registered under 37363’s identity, with registration number 8583 VM 75, in the name of Martin Negre. Negre retained the car for almost 20 years, at which point (March 1988), it was acquired by Claude Afchain, who registered it with the licence plate 618 NF 28. Previous owner Martin Negre clearly missed this 37A and wanted to experience it post completion, so he reacquired it on 20 July 1989.
After retaining this 37A for a further 11 years, Negre sold the car to English collector William Cakebread on 1 July 2000 — the first time in more than 70 years that this historic car had resided outside of its native France. On 29 May 2003, Cakebread sold the 37A to Neil Perkins, who sent it to Gentry Restorations to be prepared for vintage racing. On 31 January 2005, the 37A was issued with its VSCC eligibility document, with its first race at Donington Park in September 2005. This would be the first of many, as Perkins would campaign the car at various events, including Silverstone, Oulton Park, Cadwell Park and Donington, until 2008, when the 37A was acquired by Jonathan Proctor.
Proctor also sent the car to Gentry Restorations in preparation for his own use, which was to include the first La Baie de Somme: Alfa Romeo and Bugatti and the International Bugatti Meeting at Maremma in Tuscany, Italy. Proctor also renewed the 37A’s VSCC eligibility document prior to his own extensive race and rally programme, which took in such events as the Prescott Hill Climb, The Bob Gerard Memorial Trophy Race at Mallory Park, races at the Bugatti sulle Dolomiti and an entry in the International Bugatti Rally in California, as well as other rallies around Europe.
William Cakebread then reacquired 37374, and during his second period of ownership, he contacted noted Bugatti historian Pierre Yves Laugier about pairing 37374 with its original chassis plate. This was successful and both 37374 and 37363 now retain their original chassis plates, which had been changed decades earlier.
With an extensive race history, both past and present, this rare Bugatti Type 37A — which still retains its original front axle, number 424; its gearbox, number 458; engine, number 282 CP; and chassis — truly encompasses the Grand Prix character of the Type 35. Very useable and eligible for a huge range of events, this car offers its new owner a vast range of options for future enjoyment. It is not ready to retire to a quiet life just yet.
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