1929 Bugatti Type 40 For Sale by AuctionFrench title
- Only 3 owners
- Same owner since 1958
- Magnificent project, almost completed
- No reserve
This car still has its original chassis and engine. The engine, number 633, was one of a series of twelve (numbers 632 to 643) assembled in December 1928, and the corresponding chassis for these engines were completed during January 1929.
An order was made by the garage Stand Auto of Paris on 5 December 1928, for chassis 40719, along with chassis 40716, 40717 and 40718, but the payment for these four orders of 31 025 francs each was later cancelled. However, the Bugatti sales register shows " 40719/633, 25 February 1929 " in the name of Stand Auto of Paris. This signified the date the chassis was delivered by the factory to the Parisian dealers, and so, even though the bill appears not to have been settled, the chassis was taken out of stock.
There is no other sign of the car until 11 November 1929 when it appears on a list of vehicles in storage at 15 rue du Débarcadère in Paris. Chassis 40719 and 40604 had just been brought back from Daste's business, the Vanvooren coachbuilders in Courbevoie, but hadn't been bodied. The original sales register also indicates, written in pen over the first mention of its delivery in pencil, on 25 February 1929 : " III Grand Prix Bugatti ". This refers to the chassis being one of the prizes for the " Third Bugatti Grand Prix ", held on 1 June 1930, won for the second time in a row by Juan Zanelli.
The manufacturer provided prestigious prizes for this circuit race at Le Mans. There is nothing in the press about what prizes were offered for the 1930 event but in June 1929, at the Second Bugatti Grand Prix, the first prize was either 165 000 francs or a car of an equivalent value (a supercharged Type 35), the second prize was 60 000 francs or a Type 44 chassis, and the third prize was 36 000 francs or a Type 40 chassis. The winners could also choose a number of 1 000 franc cheques that could be used at Bugatti repair workshops
We must assume that chassis 40719, third prize in the 1930 GP, was turned down by its winner, Mlle Hellé Nice, and put up for sale again by the Bugatti factory. In effect, the Type 40 chassis remained part of Bugatti's stock, and was subsequently sold as a new car to Victor Catteau, 8 bis rue François Cuvelle, in Douai, who registered it in his name on 6 August 1930 with the number 168 MB 4. The full company name was : " Victor Catteau Transports, coal, removals, road and rail, furniture storage ".
It is likely that the car was bodied in the north of France, around Lille, but we have no confirmation of this. Its " milord " cabriolet body was of a high quality but didn't have the stamp of a well-known Parisian coachbuilder. Victor Catteau used the Type 40, his only Bugatti, for some five years.
The car was sold in the spring of 1935 and registered in Paris on 9 April, with the number 6509 RJ 6. The second owner remains unknown, as the Seine police records for this period have been destroyed.
In 1937, the car changed hands again, acquired by Paul Bucher, an employee at the Bugatti factory who worked in Paris and Molsheim. His grandchildren have provided us with valuable information on the car, including a photograph, handwritten on the back " Bugatti Type 40, bought second-hand in Paris in 1937, departed for Holland in 1958 with unknown mileage. "
His grandchildren shared their memories of an unusual man : " Our grandfather was a truculent and independent character, who followed his own path. He worked at Bugatti on and off as a toolmaker. During the war, he was sent to Bordeaux by Bugatti. (...) He set up a repair workshop for butchers' machinery. But his vines on the Molsheim hillside, the mirabelles, the making of Schnaps, fishing in the Bruche or the Rhine, the smoked eels and saucisson (he had his own smokehouse) were just as important to him as anything mechanical ! Our grandmother Lucie and her daughter Marlène hated getting into the Bugatti and were embarrassed about that " old banger " which was always breaking down...Grandfather set off on every journey with a box of tools. One day, they all went to see their son Jean-Paul in Luc-sur-Mer, where he was working as a chef. What a trek! The Bugatti broke down, and our grandmother said she never wanted to hear the car mentioned again ! "
A photo from the Bucher family archives, taken around 1947, shows the daughter Marlène, aged just over a year, in front of the cabriolet which still had its Parisian plates " RJ 6 ". This tells us that Paul Bucher originally registered it in his name at an address in Paris, but had not got round to changing the plates !
After the war, the Bugatti was extracted from its hideaway in Alsace, and was registered on 21 March 1946 in Paul Bucher's name, listed as a " turner ", living at 18 rue des Étudiants, Molsheim, with the number 4921 NV 5. When the registration scheme changed, the Bugatti was re-registered on 24 August 1955, in his name at the same address, with the number 522 CZ 67.
The sale to the next owner comes with an amusing anecdote : " The Dutchman who bought the car (opinions vary, for 500 or 1 000 francs) had appeased our grandmother, very greedy, with boxes of chocolates. This Dutch buyer came to visit the Buchers several times in Molsheim, and our grandmother persuaded Paul to sell the car to this kind gentleman. "
The story wouldn't be complete without mentioning that Paul's brother, Emile Bucher, who lived in Molsheim at 9 de la rue de la Source, had been the owner of another Type 40 since 1946, with a totally original Grand Sport body.
And so in 1958, the cabriolet 40719 left Alsace for Holland, before taking up residence in Haute-Savoie. On 27 October 1972, the little brown landaulet was registered in the name of August Thomassen, at his second home in Haute-Savoie, with the number 950 PB 74. He used the car, after a first restoration in the 1960s, without making any notable modifications to it. It was repainted in blue and black, and Thomassen took part in various rallies in the Alps. This included a rally in Mont-Blanc in July 1984, when the car had a minor off which damaged the original body. As a consequence of this, August Thomassen decided to remove the coachwork and build a small four-seater torpedo body, a Grand Sport model. This remains unfinished to this day. At the time, he called on an ex-employee of the Gangloff Carrosserie, Albert Schneider, to help with this project. Schneider tracked down all the original plans, some of which will be passed on to the future owner, and the wooden body is perfectly constructed but not quite finished. The wooden framework has been built, and the wings and lights are in place. A large amount of original parts will come with the car. When the Type 40 was discovered, all the boxes of spare parts were taken with the car for the future owner.
Analysis of the components of the vehicle indicate that the original engine, number 630, is still fitted in the chassis, with the series number 40719 engraved on the engine crankcase. The original rear axle is numbered 630. This mechanically original Type 40 Grand Sport torpedo has only had two owners since 1937, Paul Bucher and August Thomassen. With such a pedigree, and the assurance that it was maintained by a mechanic from the factory between 1937 and 1958, this Type 40 will be highly desirable to all Bugatti enthusiasts. It is a wonderful project that has been largely completed.
August Thomassen was one of five children, born in Maastricht in 1923. His father was a pharmacist and his mother, of French origin, lived for painting, literature, music and culture.
Thomassen's father was one of the first people to drive an automobile in Maastricht and his eldest daughter the first woman to have a driver's licence in the town! On Saturdays, young August was allowed to accompany his father in the car, delivering medications to the surrounding villages. The car was also a feature of their holidays, transporting the family to France. Automobiles held a real fascination for August and he made his first model of a car in wood when he was eight. It was a passion that never left him.
August was an unusual child who was always running off in search of an adventure. At the age of nine, he fell from a bridge and was in a coma for three weeks. Having also survived infantile paralysis and polio, he became the 'enfant terrible' of the family during his teenage years. While his brother and sisters went to university, August preferred to spend time with craftsmen, technicians and mechanics. Although his family forbade it, his fascination for speed and movement led him into cycle racing, in which he won many victories. His sisters kept his trophies out of sight in their bedrooms. His parents allowed him to leave school at 15 and join the famous Autoschool in Den Bosch. This was also when he first took up sculpture.
War broke out. His older brother was a leader in the resistance. One evening, while helping people cross the border, he was spotted by the Germans. Following a painful interrogation, he was deported to a labour camp in Germany, where the prisoners had to make bombs. To avoid collaborating, he deliberately cut his finger. One evening, he decided to make his escape in daring fashion, by clinging to the underneath of the freight train that passed through the camp. Dressed in prison clothes, the young August travelled through Hitler's Germany, jumping on and off trains. Perpetually at risk of being shot, he finally reached the Netherlands alive, thanks to a sympathetic German train driver who kept quiet. Following a night spent in a coffin in a cemetery, he found his way back to his uncles Brand (of Brand beer) who agreed he could go and hide in their villa in Eijsden. During this period in hiding, he cultivated his second passion, sculpture. His involvement with the resistance led him to collaborate with the RAF in England until the end of the war.
After the war, he built a motorcycle from spare parts and travelled around Spain for five months. He spent three months studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid and the Prado, where he began to understand his destiny: to study the beauty of the human form through sculpture. On his return from Spain, was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Brussels, where he obtained his degree and won a first prize in portraiture. His first commission was for two sculptures three metres high for the 'Liga' biscuit factory. With his earnings he bought a piece of land in Belgium and built a studio where his future Bugatti T49 and T57, and the Citroën Trèfle, would reside for nearly 60 years.
Commissions of his typical psychological portraits of politicians, actors and businessmen took him to Geneva, where he bought his second Bugatti T57 from the Geneva chocolatier Pertuiset. His first Bugatti T49 had been acquired in the Vosges, Germigny, from two farm workers who had been using the car to transport potatoes ! In 1958, he married the lovely Renée Van Noorden, who from the start encouraged him to pursue his passions. Together they would have two daughters. Every day he played the violin to manage his hypersensitive and restless character.
In 1963, August Thomassen bought a site in the mountains in Haute Savoie : the land of his ancestors. He built his second studio there, and considered himself to be French for the rest of his life. It was here that he worked for years restoring his beloved Bugatti T40 to its original condition, working alongside Schneider, the former master craftsman at Gangloff. Around 1985, his bust of Ettore Bugatti was bought by the National Automobile Museum in Mulhouse, and remains there today. In 1987, his bronze bust of Yehudi Menuhin was unveiled by the famous violinist at the Menuhin School of Music in London. The bust of Lips, the founder of the National Automobile Museum of Holland was inaugurated in 1990.
His Bugattis inspired him by their pure forms and lines; their eternal beauty was priceless to him.
August Thomassen worked on his two passions, Bugattis and sculpture, in his studios in Belgium and Haute-Savoie, until illness prevented him at the age of 90. It is impossible to remain unmoved by the passion and charisma of this character who shaped his life in such a determined and unusual way.
As Yehudi Menuhin wrote:
" I admire you - the great sculptor who feels so deeply. "
Photos © Xavier de Nombel
Estimation 100 000 - 130 000 €