Unrestored Bugatti collection returns to Molsheim

WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOGRAPHY: BUGATTI

A rare five-car collection of unrestored Bugattis has returned home to Chateau Saint Jean in Molsheim, after spending years in a private collection in Switzerland. The collection was fastidiously built over many decades by Bugatti Club Suisse registrar Hans Matti, and now resides under new ownership. 

The collection’s new custodian thought that returning the cars to their birthplace was a fitting way to mark the latest chapter in their lives. Hans Matti is one of the most knowledgeable Bugatti experts in the world, and building the collection with its accompanying photographs, magazine features, books and factory archive material was his life’s work. 

Included in the collection is a highly original Bugatti Type 51, a Type 37A, a unique short chassis Type 49 Faux Cabriolet with Jean Bugatti coachwork, a Type 35B and a Type 35A equipped with the last remaining Type 36 engine, gearbox and rear axle. 

Hans Matti was reportedly reluctant to end his stewardship of the remarkable collection of automobiles, and discussions surrounding its next phase of ownership were underway for the past two-and-a-half years. Caroline Bugatti – granddaughter of company founder Ettore – is understood to have been involved in the negotiations. 

The Type 51 is a Works Grand Prix car driven in-period by Louis Chiron. It has never been restored or repainted, and still bears the blemishes of period competition upon its bodywork. The car started life as one of the last Type 35Bs ever built, but it was fitted with the first twin-cam Type 51 powertrain when Ettore Bugatti sought to update the aging Type 35. It was then raced by Achille Varzi at Monaco, Monza and the Targa Florio. Remarkably, the Type 51’s original engine was transplanted into the Type 35B in this very collection.

The provenance of the Type 49 is similarly spectacular, as it was the personal car of Jean Bugatti and has his initials inscribed on the doors. It is also the only Type 49 in existence with a Faux Cabriolet body. 

Bugatti’s efforts to create a racing car for the banked and bumpy layout of the Montlhéry circuit in France culminated in the creation of the Type 36. Two examples were built – both with rigid axles to deal with the uneven surface of Montlhéry, while the final version was fitted with a supercharger, making it the first Bugatti with forced induction. Unfortunately, both Type 36s were destroyed, but the gearbox, engine and rigid rear axle was salvaged from one example and fitted to the unique Type 35A found in the collection.

The collection’s Type 37A is part of a legendary lineage of supercharged Bugattis that arguably began with the Type 36. Unrestored and with matching numbers, the car’s ownership history has been traced back to 1929, and the car is still active in historic racing.

“We are a brand that constantly looks to the genius of our founder for inspiration,” said Bugatti president Christophe Piochon. 

“Arguably nothing brings us closer to the vision of Ettore than seeing his creations in the condition in which they left the factory; the original rivets, paint and, in particular, the meticulous engineering that came to define his cars and ultimately his success. This collection of cars and the stories that have been gathered around them are absolutely priceless, and we’re honoured to have been able to welcome them to the home of Bugatti Automobiles.”