Event Program: 2022 Watkins Glen SpeedTour

History of the U.S. Bugatti Grand Prix

The American Bugatti Club is holding its 11th U.S. Bugatti Grand Prix this weekend at Watkins Glen International.   Bugattis is a feature of the Watkins Glen SpeedTour weekend.

The Bugatti racers will be joined by fifteen Bugatti touring cars, who will be rallying throughout the area. It’s not often that you get to witness that many Bugattis together—no less see and hear them on the track. Stop by the Bugatti tent located in the main paddock, where the hoods will be open to showcase the engineering and beauty of the Bugatti racers and engines.

The American Bugatti Club (ABC) was founded in 1960 with the goal of ‘preserving, maintaining and driving original Molsheim produced automobiles.’  Most of the member Bugattis are 80 to 110 year-old treasures that are regularly driven in rallies, vintage races as well as displayed in shows and concourse events. The ABC, only allows Bugattis that possess three out of five original parts to race—these five parts are the chassis, engine, transmission, rear end and front axle.

Approximately 7,890 race and touring cars were built in Molsheim, France from 1910 to 1939. Bugattis were not that well known until the Brescia model started winning a number of significant races in the early 1920s. In 1924, Bugatti stunned the racing world with the Type 35 Grand Prix car. Unlike other manufacturers, such as Alfa Romeo and Maserati, Ettore Bugatti sold his cars to amateurs, independents and professional racers.  Bugatti dominated Grand Prix racing in the late 1920s, winning the World Championship in 1926 and the prestigious Targa Florio from 1925 to 1929. In 1926, the cars won 12-major Grand Prix races and scored victories in over 500 races and hill climbs.

In 1928, Bugatti decided to run his own Grand Prix, and allowed all Bugatti owners, amateurs and professionals, to compete—no “works” entries were permitted. Le Mans was chosen and twenty-nine cars entered the four classes of the 16-lap, 276-kilometer, handicap race. Andre Dubonnet won in a highly tuned Type 37. Dubonnet had driven with restraint during the qualification race and then drove to win during the race. At the completion of the 2.25-hour race, Dubonnet finished 1.5 minutes ahead of Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s Type 37. The first place prize was a Type 35C Grand Prix car worth 150,000 French francs.

In 1929, Le Mans was again chosen for the Bugatti Grand Prix but the distance was increased to 409-kilometer and a fixed amount of fuel and oil was allocated. Twenty-two cars entered, but only fifteen came to the starting line. Juan Zanelli, in a Type 35, won in three hours and 13 minutes. The first-place prize was a Type 43 Grand Sport worth 130,000 French francs. A Type 44 chassis was awarded for the second-place finisher and a Type 40 chassis was presented to the third-place finisher.

In 1930, there was an economic crisis and only eight cars entered. The weather was atrocious with heavy rain falling during the race. Juan Zanelli won again in a Type 35.

Sharing the spirit of the original Bugatti Grand Prix races, the ABC held the first U.S. Bugatti Grand Prix at Road America in 1987. Rene Dreyfus, the famous French Grand Prix driver, was the Grand Marshall. The race was won by David Heimann, from England, in a 1930 Type 51.

About twenty Bugattis have entered the 11th U.S. Bugatti Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Continuing the tradition of the 1928 Bugatti Grand Prix, there will be four race classes. ABC will award a trophy to each class winner. This year the trophies are glass statues of one of Ettore’s younger brothers, animal sculptures, ‘Roaring Elephant’, which were produced by Corning Glass.

This weekend’s Bugatti featured Governor’s Cup, Pace Car is one of the original 1933 works cars which was raced by Rene Dreyfus at the 1933 Spanish Grand Prix and later purchased by C.E.C. Martin of England in 1935. The T59-59121 is considered one of the most beautiful Grand Prix cars ever built.

Enjoy the show, it is truly a one of a kind.