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Type 55

Bugatti's Type 55 of 1932 was a very exclusive sports car. The buyers were pretty exclusive too. It first appeared at the 1931 Paris Motor Show; the show car was purchased on the spot by the last Duke of Tremoille, whose family were one time claimants to the throne of Naples. Another was Baron Philippe de Rothschild, a fabulously wealthy member of the banking dynasty of that name. He had not only been an enthusiastic Grand Prix racing driver but he was already a great Bugatti fan, and he had actually come in a respectable fourth in the Monaco Grand Prix of 1929 driving one of the three Type 35Cs that he had bought. As soon as he heard that an even more powerful car had come out, so had his cheque-book.

The Type 55 was admirably suited to someone of the good baron's temperament and financial standing. It was basically a Type 54 Grand Prix racing car, virtually identical to the original only the standard 8 cylinder 2262 cc engine had been detuned (it still had a supercharger of course) to produce a measly 130 brake horsepower; which was probably powerful enough for most people since it gave the car a top speed of around 112 mph and acceleration of nought to 60 in 13 seconds.

The desirability of this car did not only rest with it's performance however; it was, and still is, absolutely beautiful to look at with it's graceful lines. this did not mean that the hoi polloi rushed to buy it however; the price as usual was rather offputting and between 1932 and 1935 just 38 of them were sold.

Of these, a limited run of 15 cars carried coachwork which had been designed by no less than Jean Bugatti, the son of Ettore, himself; their exclusivity was a major selling point which even persuaded Ralph Lauren, the fashion designer, to treat himself to one.

Was it really that good a car? Bodies were produced by both Bugatti themselves and outside coachbuilders; all those produced by the company were without doors which could be considered something of a drawback. In addition noise levels were not just high but could be positively deafening for the driver and passenger. Still, there is a price to pay for exclusivity.

Was it really worth the money? One of them, a non-runner, had been sold in 1960 for £770; after a full bodywork job it sold again in 2008 for more than £1 million. Perhaps they were originally a bargain after all.

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