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This rare 1951 Bugatti Type 101 Guilloré Coupe was one of the marque's last models, which could never recreate its pre-war glory days
Ettore Bugatti never recovered from the tragic death of his 29-year-old son Jean, shortly before WWII in 1939. Neither did his company. The war and its aftermath left the Molsheim factory devastated, and then on August 21, 1947, Ettore Bugatti died, leaving six heirs to the estate.
In September 1949, the Bugatti factory manufactured a batch of 16 further examples of its pre-war Type 57/57C model, but evidently only three were completed. For a time the company concentrated on sub-contracted engineering work, before Roland Bugatti made an attempt to re-launch the marque in 1951 using an improved Type 57 chassis as the basis for the new Type 101.
These improvements included a down-draft Weber carburetor to replace the obsolete prewar Stromberg, an electric Cotal gearbox and 17-inch instead of 18-inch road wheels, while many components still in stock were utilized in its construction. As with the Type 57, two versions were offered, in this case Types 101 and 101C, the latter being equipped with a supercharger.
But Bugatti's other interests took precedence over the revived road car project, and only a handful of Type 101s were completed between 1951 and 1956, making it one of this most celebrated manufacturer's rarest models.
Seven cars were produced in total and allocated chassis numbers 101500 to 101506 inclusive, possibly missing out chassis number 101505. The prototype, chassis number 101500, was a factory-built four-door saloon with coachwork in the modern, full-width, postwar style, whereas chassis number 101502, the car offered here, was a coach (a two-door saloon) by Guillorê of Courbevoie and the only Type 101 to feature separate front and rear fenders.
According to Barrie Price's Album Bugatti 57, this body is believed to have been designed for a Delahaye. All seven 101s have survived to the present day, three in the French National Motor Museum at Mulhouse, and all except 101502 are listed in Hugh Conway's 1962 Register & Data of Bugatti Automobiles.
Rudolfo Brignore owned 101502 in Tunis from 1956 onwards. In 1964, he sold the car to a Bugatti trader in Brussels, Belgium, Jean De Dobbeleer, who in turn sold it to Georges Marquet Delina, the heir to a chain of luxury hotels (Les Grandes Hotels Belges) in Brussels and Madrid. Delina owned the Palace Hotel and the Ritz in Madrid, and was a staunch Bugatti collector; he bought 28 Bugattis from De Dobbeleer, which he kept stored at various locations around Brussels.
A downturn in his business fortunes in the 1970s forced Delina to dispose of his collection, and 101502 was sold at Christie's auction on March 22, 1973 to well-known collector Michel Roquet, of Founex, Switzerland. (SCM record #9464 shows this car also sold at Christie's Geneva on March 20, 1969 for $6,923). Roquet put the car up for sale in May 1975, when it was bought by Pim Hascher, who kept it until his death in 2007.
Hascher had the Type 101 restored in 2005, after which it was presented at the Paleis Het Loo Concours d'Elegance in September that same year. Remarkably, a photograph of 101502 has never appeared in Bugantics, the quarterly journal of the Bugatti Owners' Club. Archive photographs exist of the car in Tunisia in the 1950s and '60s, where it is depicted it in apparently very nice condition on whitewall tires.
The SCM Analysis
This car sold for $269,265 including premium, at the Bonhams Rétromobile auction in Paris held February 9, 2008.
One of the most tantalizing "what ifs" in the auto world is the question of where Bugatti might have gone in the post-WWII period had Ettore Bugatti's son Jean lived to take over the company. Working with his headstrong father, he had already managed to bring the marque kicking and screaming into the late 1930s with marque firsts such as independent suspension.
His keen sense of design, seen in the stunning factory bodies for the Type 57 Stelvio, Ventoux, and Atalante also proved his aesthetic bona fides. As his father gradually withdrew from cars to concentrate on aircraft and rail projects, Jean almost certainly would have continued to work during the war on progressive chassis ideas for the successor to the Type 64, a 4.5-liter replacement for the Type 57. A prototype had been completed in 1939 prior to the accident that took Jean's life. The sleek coupe body bore a remarkable resemblance to the postwar "Panoramica" cars built by Zagato. As it happened, of course, not only did Bugatti not have Jean's talent to draw upon, but with the death in 1947 of a very dispirited Ettore, there was painfully little new for the company to offer in the postwar years.
The 101 showed that Bugatti had not kept up
While the world's car makers restarted production with warmed-over 1930s designs, most had also begun the next step forward. Roland Bugatti was lucky to unveil a "new" car at the 1951 Paris Show, though the new pontoon body of the Type 101 on display hid a chassis with few changes from the prewar Type 57, except for the adoption of dual-circuit hydraulic brakes and a modern Weber carburetor. It quickly became apparent that not only had the game marched on in the high-performance car market, but that the punitive French taxation on upper-end, large-displacement cars would not allow Bugatti the breathing room it desperately needed.
The company built its last Type 101 in 1956, but the last chassis wasn't sold until 1965, when it was clothed by Ghia to a retro design by Virgil Exner. Noted Bugattiste Hugh Conway states that seven chassis were built, but other sources indicate the number may have been eight.
While my eminent colleague, Editor Duchene, thinks this Guilloré-bodied coupe is the best-looking Type 101, I consider it to be more of a "lost" Delahaye. There are quite a few Delahaye 135M chassis around with this exact body, which makes this car feel a bit like a guest at the Ascot Races wearing a rented tux. I much prefer the pontoon-bodied models, and my favorite of all is a wonderful sedan on chassis 101500, which resides in the French National Automobile (Schlumpf) collection, with a neat front end featuring free-standing headlights under fenders coming from either side of the horse collar grille. Whatever your opinion of Type 101 styles, there's little doubt Jean would have come up with something rather more spectacular.
Restored to a European driving standard
The concours-level pontoon-bodied coupe by Van Antem featured in the April 2007 RM sale in Marshall, Texas sold for $990,000 (SCM# 44876). While the price may have been indicative of the quality of the work, a fairly "starry" provenance, and the greater desirability of the style, it still seems a bit anomalous.
Chassis 101502 was one of the best cars from the William "Pim" Hascher collection, which was sold at the Bonhams event. It had been restored to a typical casual European driving standard a number of years back and as such had decent, but far from perfect, paint with a largely original interior showing a thorough patina. While it had been displayed at the Het Loo concours, it was not what anyone would consider a "show car." Rather, it had to me the very appealing look of a terrific vintage rally car and would be a sure entrant to just about any event the owner might choose to enter. The price paid here was in line with the less desirable models of the Type 57 and seems to be market correct. While certainly rare, the Type 101 is unfortunately regarded by many as only a sad reminder of what might have been.
Years Produced: 1951—56
Number Produced: 7 or 8
Original List Price: N/A
SCM Valuation: $269,265, on this date
Tune-up Cost: $950
Distributor Caps: $400
Chassis # Location: Firewall brass plate, and on left rear engine leg
Engine # Location: Left rear engine leg
Club Info: American Bugatti Club, 4484 Howe Hill Road, Camden, ME 04843
Website: click to visit
Alternatives: 1946—53 Delahaye 135M, 1939—53 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500SS, 1953—54 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport
Investment Grade: A