This Bugatti Type 37, made in 1926, competed at the Rob Roy Hillclimb.

Information for the following text was sourced from Bugattis in Australasia: A History of the Bugatti Car in Australia and New Zealand, Robert G. King, Turton & Armstrong, 1992, pp.104-8. A new edition of this book, Bugattis in Australia and New Zealand, 1920 to 2012, Robert G.King & Peter McGann, is forthcoming. Please contact for further information.

This Bugatti, which competed at the Rob Roy Hillclimb, was built in 1926, and arrived in Melbourne in October of that year. It was registered to T.E. Barnett, father of Dudley Barnett, a Bugatti agent.

As soon as the car arrived it began appearing in Victorian events, such as the 1926 Victorian Light Car Club Dependability contest, where it, perhaps ironically given the event title, broke down outside Hamilton. Dudley Barnett had more luck in Hillclimbs later that year including Terry’s Hillclimb on the 4th of December, where he won the Class B in the open event.

The next owner Reg Brearley, drove the car into second place in the 1929 Grand Prix, but tragically died near Gunning in 1930 in attempting to set an interstate record. The car was then bought by two brothers by the name of McGrath, who made modifications including fitting twin Solex carburettors from a Bugatti Type 40. They then entered the car in the 1933 Grand Prix and the 1934 New Year’s Day 100-mile race, but in both cases failed to finish.

The well known Bugatti enthusiasts from the Lanham family next bought the car and raced it at many venues including Phillip Island.

But the car’s most famous period was when owned by Herb Ford. The car had been fitted with a Morris engine during the war years, but Ford reinstated the Bugatti engine and added front brakes from a Type 40 Bugatti. He also modified the car due to the fact that he had limited use of his legs and fitted a hand-operated clutch and vacuum assistance to the braking system. He claimed 25 wins and 44 placings in the car, including at the Rob Roy Hillclimb, where it’s reported he rarely missed meetings. The car’s best time at the Rob Roy was a 34.37 seconds on Melbourne Cup Day, 1949.

Further Information

Ettore Bugatti
Text is excerpted and edited from an essay by John Payne (2009), which features in BUGATTI: CARLO, REMBRANDT, ETTORE, JEAN, National Gallery of Victoria/Pelleus Press, 2009

Ettore Bugatti began working with automobiles just after the initial marriage of the internal combustion engine with the horseless carriage.

Born in 1881, as the second child of Carlo and Teresa Bugatti, Ettore was intended to carry forward the family artistic tradition and was enrolled in the Brera Academy of Arts in Milan. Nevertheless, he began an apprenticeship with Prinetti and Stucchi, the cyclecar manufacturer in Milan in 1898, forming a base to design and build cars. In 1901 his Type 2 four cylinder car, sponsored by the Counts Gulinelli, won the City Cup at Milan International Fair. The following year, at the age of twenty-one and with a contract countersigned by his father, he was designing cars for Baron de Dietrich in Alsace.

Comparing the minimal engine of the 1898 cyclecar with the high revving, high powered eight cylinder engine of the Bugatti Type 35 just twenty-six years later, the monumental pace of the development of the automobile in the first two decades of the twentieth century is dramatically demonstrated. Ettore Bugatti embedded himself in this burst of intense creative energy that changed the world forever.

In 1907 he signed an agreement to design cars for Deutz of Cologne, put together a small team, and built the prototype in an improvised workshop in a shed in a garden at Graffenstaden. He claimed, though it is disputed, that the engine in this car was the first to use an overhead camshaft and to have the cylinders cast in one block. A particular legacy from the Deutz experience was the oval radiator badge adopted by Bugatti: it is prefigured in the badge on the Deutz cars but is universally recognised now as Ettore Bugatti’s symbol.

1909 was another significant year, one in which Ettore, apparently in a cellar, was constructing his Type 10, a lightweight four cylinder of 1200 cc with an overhead camshaft, the forerunner of the cars he was to put into production. Later in 1909 Ettore received assistance from Baron de Vizcaya to establish a manufacturing plant at Molsheim, Alsace, in an old dye-works. He was twenty-eight years of age.

Ettore Bugatti Automobiles was officially established as an independent manufacturer on 1 January 1910, and Ettore registered the Pur Sang (thoroughbred) trademark the following year. By 1913, yearly production had reached more than one hundred chassis, with a total of 345 delivered by the end of 1914.

After the war, and a period in Paris, he returned to his abandoned home and factory in 1919, disinterred the racing engines and set about restarting production. The success of a team of Type 13 four cylinder racing cars in the Grand Prix des Voiturettes at Brescia in Italy in 1921, taking the first four places, truly relaunched Bugatti. The production models that followed, Types 13, 22 and 23, were lightweight, agile, beautifully crafted cars, and established the reputation of Bugatti as a maker of cars for discerning, enthusiastic drivers, their fame spreading far and wide.

The year 1924 is marked as the defining moment in the art of Ettore Bugatti. Taking an overhead camshaft, in-line eight cylinder engine that he had started working on in 1922, placing it in a lightweight chassis with reversed quarter elliptic rear springs, using lightweight aluminium wheels with eight flat spokes, fitted up front to a hollow tubular axle, and wrapping the whole concept in an aluminium body that flowed in one continuous arc from the small German silver horseshoe radiator to the pointed tail, Ettore Bugatti produced what has been regarded ever since as the most aesthetically perfect of racing cars, the Type 35.

In racing trim the Type 35 weighed less than 750 kilograms and the scream of the roller bearing crankshaft at high speed still gives grown men goose bumps.

By 1929 the Type 35B supercharged 2.3 litre straight eight cost 165,000 francs while the 1.5 litre four cylinder Type 37 variant cost 54,000 francs. Given this differential in cost, it is perhaps understandable that a number of Type 37 cars made it new to Australia in the 1920s but not one Type 35.

The success of the Type 35 and its variants is legendary, but Ettore Bugatti built a range of models, both sports and touring, with a total production of 7800 vehicles
between 1910 and 1940. This included, in 1925, the world’s most expensive (at the time) and exotic car, the Type 41 or Royale as it came to be known. This massive automobile carried remarkable statistics: a wheelbase of 14 feet (c. 4.3 metres), track of 5 feet 6 inches (c. 1.7 metres), in-line eight cylinder engine of 12.7 litres capacity, two-speed transmission and a speed capability of 120 mph (193 kph). The radiator ornament was a silver standing elephant. Six were finished by the factory, only three had been purchased by 1933, but over time they have become the most exclusive and highly priced of all Bugatti cars and stand alone in the history of the automobile.

Ettore showed an extraordinary capacity for both invention and adaptation in the creation of automobiles that are aesthetically highly refined. If we need proof that Ettore Bugatti was an artist, we find it here.

Ettore Bugatti built his industrial-scale business in the manner of the artisan workshops of centuries before, and the factory complex in the form of a country estate, a method of production that was extraordinary enough at the time but would have no place at all in the world that emerged after World War II.


Italian/French 1881–1947
Type 37 1926
chassis number: 37146; engine number: 53
120.0 x 150.0 x 380.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
Photographer: Predrag Cancar
© National Gallery of Victoria


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