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Bugatti Type 59/57 ‘Grand-Mère’

1936 Bugatti Type 59/57 ‘Grand-Mère’

After serving duty with Bugatti as a Grand Prix car, this Type 59 was modified and sold to Leopold III of Belgium. By the time it reached the King, the car had already raced at the 1934 SPA GP and was converted by the factory for sports car racing. As such, this was one of the few road cars built from a used Grand Prix (GP) donor.

Only six or seven Type 59s were constructed and used throughout the 1934, but they often fell well behind the German Auto Unions and Mercedes Benzs. This motivated the French to adopt sport car regulations for most of their GP events, even if some of the competitors raced thinly disguised GP cars. Some Type 59s, like the King’s, were fitted with cycle fenders to contest events like Les 10 Heures de SPA.

Engineering for the Type 59 was similar to the Type 57SC, sharing basically the same engine with its DOHC valvetrain and supercharger. For the Type 59, this unit received a dry-sump lubrication system and a more radical cam profile. Four of these cars ran the GP of SPA finished first and second overall. Not long afterward, almost all the original cars were sold to England while one remained at the factory.¹

This remaining car was one of two Type 59s converted into a sports car with the addition of a cowled radiator, front headlights and cycle fenders. Furthermore, the cars were given type 57 chassis numbers and possibly an unsupercharged Type 57G engine. In the this configuration, they debuted at the 1936 Grand Prix du Comminges and Jean-Pierre Wimille won the event outright in his T59/57. Joined by the occasional 59/50, these outrageous sports cars challenged similarly disguised Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3s and raced throughout the late thirties.

Eventually one of these cars was prepared at the factory for King Leopold. The factory further refined chassis 57248 which was a Type 57 number. They fitted a newly-shaped front cowl an a wooden dashboard.¹ Painted black with a yellow stripe, this was one of the fastest road cars of its time.

In 1967, 57248 was sold to Stephane Falise, then Bob Rubin in 1989. Remarkably, the car was completely original and both these owners knew the value of an untouched car. All the mechanical part were fixed in working order and the car was displayed at the Monterey Historic Races in 1994. Recently, Mick Walsh featured it in Classic & Sports Car and subsequently drove the King’s car at the 2009 Goodwood of Speed.

Pictures & Gallery

See full 1936 Bugatti Type 59/57 ‘Grand-Mère’ Gallery here


Specs & Performance

type Racing Car
released at 1936 Grand Prix du Comminges
production 2
engine Type 57G Inline-8
position Front Longitudinal
aspiration Natural
displacement 3257 cc / 198.75 in³
bore 72 mm / 2.8 in
stroke 100 mm / 3.9 in
power 149.1 kw / 200 bhp
specific output 61.41 bhp per litre
bhp/weight 117.65 bhp per tonne
body / frame Aluminum Body over Steel Frame
driven wheels RWD
wheel type Bugatti Piano Wire
front tires 5.25 x 19
rear tires 6.00 x 19
front brakes Cable Operated Drums
rear brakes Cable Operated Drums
f suspension Rigid Leaf Springs, De Ram Shock Absorbers
r suspension Live Axle Leaf Springs, De Ram Shock Absorbers
curb weight 1700 kg / 3749 lbs
wheelbase 2598.4 mm / 102.3 in
front track 1249.7 mm / 49.2 in
rear track 1249.7 mm / 49.2 in
transmission 4-Speed Manual
tran clutch Dry/MultiPlate