It seems extraordinary that only 340 Type 35s left Bugatti’s Molsheim factory during seven years of production. For such a small number of cars to have had such a huge impact on the firm’s fame tells you just how good they were. Today, that tiny production run has another legacy: demand vastly exceeds supply. Nearly nine decades of competition use, repairs and rebuilds makes originality a contentious issue. There are many shades of grey amid all that French Racing Blue.
When the first Type 35 arrived in 1924, a Grand Prix car and a top-end sports car were not far different. Bugatti bridged the gap with the T35, the GP cars using a 1990cc, overhead-cam straight-eight engine with five roller-bearing main bearings, and a road-going version called the 35A using three plain main bearings and smaller valves. Such distinctions were probably blurred right from the start, with mudguards and headlamps on GP-spec cars offering an unparalleled thrill for road use.
There were three subsequent versions: a supercharged 2.0-litre GP model called the 35C, a long-stroke 2.3-litre model called the 35T and, finally, a supercharged version of this, the 35B, that has become the most famous and sought-after of all.
To the driver, any Type 35 model offers a fabulous blend of neat, agile handling – they steer like Lotus Elans – a quick gearbox (albeit with a reversed pattern that takes a little learning) and bags of performance. This is accompanied by one of the all-time great engine notes, traditionally likened to the sound of tearing calico. They’re welcomed at every prestigious historic motor sport event and the GP versions still win races against contemporary opposition, just as they did 90 years ago. For fans of high-quality engineering, there’s enough evidence of Ettore Bugatti’s genius contained in a Type 35 to provide a lifetime’s satisfaction.
There are only two clouds on the horizon for potential Type 35 owners: the cost of entry and the challenge of provenance. Repair or replacement of major components is rarely a problem if a good history is established to show that the car remained as one continuous entity throughout. However, highly original cars with complete history are very scarce and here the shades of grey begin. The proportion of original components and the length of time the car has been in its current form are just two of the factors that mean each case must be examined carefully. This is especially true if buying from overseas – cast-iron credentials are vital for the right result when attempting UK registration.
Navigating this minefield wouldn’t be worthwhile for many classics, but for a Type 35 just about any effort is justified. There is no finer vintage car.
Performance and specs
Engine 1991cc, in-line eight-cylinder
Top speed 90mph
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• No aspect of any Type 35’s condition is as important as its provenance. Do your homework and seek expert help.
• Some owners received letters from the DVLA in 2015 requesting information on the provenance, construction and origin of their cars, with the threat of a Q-plate if the car was deemed unworthy of historic status. Since then, some cars have been inspected and issued with written approval by the DVLA, or in the case of cars built-up from mixed but authentic components, a DVLA-designated VIN-number. Bugattis currently without approval or with a reproduction chassis may be investigated by the DVLA when the V5C is sent in for a change of ownership.
• For those only interested in a Type 35 for motor sport, and with no more eye on values than the combined worth of the parts, it’s less of a worry.
Summary and prices
The market for vintage Bugattis in the UK is in an unusual position thanks to the issue
of DVLA approval. Establishing values is difficult, as most sales are kept private. Provenance tends to outweigh model type, but any T35 with an original chassis ought to be close to £1m.
Rare survivors with all major components still united may fetch three times as much, with various levels of specification, history and originality filling in the gaps. Cars on reproduction chassis, even with some original Molsheim parts, must be taken case-by-case but are unlikely to approach seven figures.
Words: Nigel Boothman