Unseen in public for more than 20 years, a 1931 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix two-seat racer, originally owned by Lord Earl Howe and driven by Tazio Nuvolari has been consigned for Bonhams’s annual Quail Lodge auction during Monterey car week in August.
Never previously offered for public sale, the car has had only two owners since the 1950s. Its current owner has had the car for more than 30 years.
The Type 51 raced four times in the Monaco Grand Prix.Nuvolari, Howe (right) and Brooklands scrutineer Hugh McConnell
Francis Curzon, the fifth Earl Howe, was the first president of the British Racing Driver’s Club. He was a long-time Bugatti client and his Type 51 was one of the first to be delivered and carries the first chassis number in a series of only 40 cars, Bonhams said. That number is 51121.
The car was raced at various European tracks, including Brooklands, Donington, the Nurburgring, Montlhery, Monza and Reims, and in hill climbs including the Klausenrennen and Shelsley Walsh, where it set fast time of the day in 1932.
It also was entered four times in the grand prix race at Monte Carlo, where it finished fourth in 1932. Its drivers included Nuvolari and Piero Taruffi.
The car was campaigned in British Racing Green with Howe’s blue-and-silver stripes on the side of the body. It also featured very large fuel filler caps, presumably for faster pit stops.
Bugatti’s Type 51 cars have a link to American engineering and racer Harry Miller. The story goes that Ettore Bugatti was so impressed by Miller’s twin-cam engines that he traded three of his Type 43 cars for two Miller 91 cars. Bugatti had the cars dismantled to study their technology, then built his own version, the Type 51.
“As ever with Bugatti, the aesthetics in every form compliment the incredible power of this American-inspired, Franco-Italian supercharged 2.3-liter twin-cam racecar,” Bonhams said in its news release. “The result is a highly dynamic and potent sculpture of beauty capable of producing 160hp and a speed of 130 mph.”
Bonhams’ annual Quail Lodge Auction is scheduled for Friday, August 19 in Carmel, California.