There’s something about the words ‘unique’ and ‘Bugatti’. Whenever they’re seen together you know that you are guaranteed to be witnessing something very special. Meet the unique Bugatti Type 59/50 BIII …
Although it first appeared as a Type 59/50 in 1938 at the Cork Grand Prix (and ever since has been referred to as the ‘Cork Car’), the first appearance of the chassis was as a Type 59 at Monthlery in June 1935. Bugatti had crammed in a mighty 4.9 litre motor from a Type 54, which was unexpectedly revealed to onlookers in dramatic fashion when the bonnet tried to peel itself away from the car and the driver – Robert Benoit – caught it!
Its next appearance was at Monaco in April 1936 and with an alloy-block ’50B’ motor fitted which, like the German and Italian competition had been funded by the French government. Sadly though, as at Monthlery the car failed to finish. It resurfaced at the Cork Grand Prix in April 1938 with single-seater bodywork very similar to what it wears today and with an even more powerful 50BIII engine. Despite reaching a staggering 147mph along the Cork course’s two mile straight, again it failed to finish.
Appearance number four for the chassis came at Reims in July 1938 at the French Grand Prix. Jean-Pierre Wimille was at the helm, but had to start at the back due to arriving at the track too late to qualify. Wimille reportedly managed a scorching start and was even closing in on the Silver Arrows when one of the German machines spun, causing him to take avoiding action. In successfully doing so he brushed the car against a bank and dislodged an oil line, causing another non-finish.
Of course it wasn’t long after this that World War Two interrupted all racing activities. The monster 50BIII motor was removed from the car and the factory moved to Bordeaux to help stave-off unwanted interest from the Nazis (the Molsheim premises being very close to the border with Germany.) The car didn’t resurface again until the Fifties when it was acquired, piece-by-piece by US Bugatti enthusiast Ray Jones. Jones’ task was an arduous one; gathering all the correct parts (including the engine) over the next four decades.
By 1995 he had the car in one piece once again and it was displayed for the first time since 1938 at a Bugatti event in Vermont. In the early Noughties an Austrian buyer was found for the car who wanted it built for competition, which is where British expert Tom Dark (who drives the car on-event) comes in. However, the owners had set him an extremely tight schedule which meant 5am starts in order to get the job done. But get it done he did, and after much setting-up the car was ready for competition once again at the Goodwood Revival.
Today the car is a star attraction at any historic festival and will be raced by Mr Dark (who’s a very handy driver, by the way) at the 73rd Members’ Meeting, where it will be among the favourites to win the Bira Trophy.