A rare 1934 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix from the John Ridings Lee collection will…
Ultra-rare ex-Rothschild Bugatti Type 55 sells for $7.1M
A phenomenally rare Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport Roadster, one of just 14 built and reportedly one of 11 to still wear its original bodywork, sold for $7.1M at Bonhams’ annual Amelia Island auction. It’s the most expensive car sold at auction so far in 2020. In addition to extreme rarity and looks that will stop you in your tracks, the Bugatti boasts a fully documented string of owners, including one of the Rothschilds and the late Dean S. Edmonds, Jr., a college professor and car collector who bought the car at a London auction way back in 1985. He paid £440,000 for it.
Other highlights from the sale included the 1907 Renault Type AI 35/45HP Vanderbilt Racer sold for $3,332,500 and a 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS sold for $1,475,000. Unfortunately, the auction’s other star car—a 1952 Jaguar C-Type—went unsold at at $5.4M high bid. Someone also shelled out a whopping $37K, not for a car but for Ettore Bugatti’s personal pasta machine.
The Type 55 is one of the ultimate road-going Bugatti sports cars. Built from 1931–35, it utilized pieces from Bugatti’s Grand Prix racers, including its chassis and its supercharged 2.3-liter double overhead-cam V-8. It also rides on Bugatti’s signature eight-spoke alloy wheels. Just 38 Type 55 chassis left the Bugatti works in Molsheim, France, and the most famous of them are the 14 Roadsters fitted with the swoopy, doorless bodywork penned by Ettore Bugatti’s son, Jean.
The Type 55 at Amelia Island (serial #55220) sold new to 22-year-old Victor Rothschild (later Third Baron Rothschild) while he was still studying at Cambridge. Nearly 90 years later, it still has its original chassis, body, and engine, and there are no gaps in its long history. All great stuff for a high-dollar car such as this.
Professor Edmonds, who had been following this exact car for decades, learned that it was coming up for auction in 1985. With only a few days’ notice to get from Boston to the auction in London, he had to “hop the Concorde after class [ended] on Thursday” to make it in time for the sale on Saturday. He made it, he bought the car, and he was back in class on Monday morning.
After a restoration later in the 1980s, the Type 55 won its class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1993, but Edmonds also drove the car in events like the Mille Miglia and the International Bugatti Rally. The car still wears that older restoration, and it showed its age under the lights at the Bonhams tent. Rick Carey, who looked over the car in person, noted the aged paint and brightwork, and that “the engine and chassis are obviously used but extremely well-maintained.” In other words, it needs nothing major, and more important than a little grime and faded paint is its impeccable provenance. Carey adds that “its history is known. It’s never collided with a train. All its pieces are as they were when it left Molsheim. The Jean Bugatti coachwork is one of the Bugatti clan’s masterpieces.”
As for the price, it fell right within Bonhams’ broad $6.5M–$9.5M presale estimate. And, given how sought after these cars are, and since they rarely come to market, this was a major buying opportunity. It’s no wonder it attracted serious money.
According to Hagerty senior data analyst John Wiley, “Owners of Bugatti Type 55s tend to keep them, so with such few opportunities to acquire one, buyers have to be ready. With an opening bid of $5.7M and a final sale price of $7.1M, it’s clear that collectors still turn out for these exceptional prewar cars—coronavirus and stock market fears be damned.” It’s yet another example of top-notch cars still bringing huge money.