Every high-performance internal combustion engine extends its taproot to the 1911–14 Peugeot Grand Prix cars, and this one—scheduled to be sold by Bonhams’ California auction on Nov. 11— is one of only two that survive.
It has had only three owners since Peugeot: Ralph Mulford, who drove it to a third-place finish at Indianapolis in 1916; Art Klein, who raced it 1919–20; and Lindley Bothwell, from whose collection it will be offered.
Bothwell, an orange grower and rancher, amassed a fabled collection of automobiles which have been rarely seen, particularly since his death in 1986. The 1914 Peugeot is the crown jewel.
Its uninterrupted history has resulted in its preservation in essentially original condition with only mechanical attention to keep it serviceable. Even its body panels are the originals, beaten out by hand by the Peugeot team in 1914. The hump on the cover of its long, tapered tail originally housed two vertical spare tires for the 1914 ACF Grand Prix at Lyon where this was the Peugeot team’s spare car.
Its history and survival alone qualifies this Peugeot L45 as a singular discovery, a 1914 Grand Prix car twice raced at Indianapolis, in as-raced, carefully preserved, running and driving condition. But it is what is under the hood that makes it so important, an example of Peugeot’s inline four-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, the first of its type. When Peugeot introduced the dual overhead camshaft four-valve architecture in 1911 with the 7.6-liter L76, it was a never-before-seen innovation that quickly changed the course of internal combustion engine design.
Bob Burman raced a 5.6-liter Peugeot, and after its engine expired at a race in Point Loma, Calif., in 1915, he turned to Harry Miller and Fred Offenhauser to rebuild it to 1916 4.5-liter Indianapolis regulations. The Miller, Offenhauser, and Meyer and Drake DOHC four-valve engines that followed owe their concept, if not their meticulous construction and continuing development, to the principles brought to Harry Miller’s attention by Burman’s Peugeot.
After Lindley Bothwell acquired the Peugeot from Art Klein in 1949, he took it immediately to Indy (it still has its 1949 AAA Contest Board plaque) to challenge its historic record. Bothwell turned a four-lap qualifying average of 103.24 mph, not enough “to make the show” but decisively quicker than comparable Peugeot qualifying speeds in 1916 and ’19.
It demonstrated its performance in the Goodwood Festival of Speed hill climb twice, in 2003 and again in 2011. It was an unjudged special exhibit at Pebble Beach in 2014.
Its public offering is even more significant than a Ferrari 250 GTO (there were 36 of those) or Le Mans-winning Jaguar D-type (there are three of those) because it is the unique surviving example of the Grand Prix Peugeot.
And you can still see its influence under the hoods of today’s high-performance and high-efficiency automobiles.