A World-Famous Bugatti Returns To Prescott—80 Years On!
Eighty years ago, on Sunday July 30, 1939, the famous Prescott Hill Climb held its first ever international meeting. It was a Bugatti Owners’ Club event, and one entry in particular demanded star billing. It was the Works monoposto Type 59 Bugatti fitted with an 8-cylinder supercharged 4.7-litre Type 50B engine, ,without doubt the most powerful engine built by the factory, and fitted with twin rear wheels specially for the Gloucestershire hillclimb’s challenges. It was trumped by the man sitting behind the wheel. That was legendary pre-world championship grand prix driver Jean-Pierre Wimille, fresh indeed from winning his second Le Mans 24 Hour race with Bugatti.
And the world-famous Bugatti machine entered in that event is, eight decades on, returning to Prescott Hill Climb venue for the first time since. The car will be on display throughout this summer at the Bugatti Trust as part of its exhibition ‘Jean Bugatti and Jean-Pierre Wimille—Prescott 80 years ago’, which will run until September. This is one of a number of activities this year marking the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Bugatti Owners’ Club, the oldest Bugatti club in the world, which owns and operates Prescott, as well as being based there.
Jean Bugatti accepted the invitation to compete in the 1939 Prescott Hill Climb meeting and he was also in attendance as his revered works driver took on the Prescott hill in his Works 59/50B. The large machine wasn’t the best for Prescott, but even so Wimille wowed onlookers by setting the event’s second best time–clocking first a 47.50 second mark before knocking it down to a 46.69s on his subsequent go–which was only around half a second shy of Raymond Mays’ event-topping 46.14s in his ERA. Subsequently Jean Bugatti wrote to apologise for using such an unsuitable car and promised to return the following year with one of his new 1-litre machines. The Second World War broke out just five weeks later though and this ensured that Bugatti could not keep his promise. Indeed the 59/50B was only driven once more, in 1945 again by Wimille at the Coupe des Prisonniers in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.
The car was retained by the Bugatti factory for a time before being acquired by the Schlumpf brothers for their Cité de l’Automobile museum in Mulhouse, France. There it has stayed and that collection has now loaned the car to Prescott. The 2019 events marking the Bugatti Owners’ Club’s 90th birthday also include the Bugatti Trust joining Prescott’s popular annual French and Italian themed ‘La Vie en Bleu’ weekend, which takes place on May 25 and 26. It is anticipated that over 90 Bugattis will gather at that. “We are delighted that the Works 59/50B Wimille Bugatti will make an historic return to Prescott,” said Bugatti Owners’ Club general manager Chris Rogers. “The Bugatti Owners’ Club and Prescott Hill Climb have played a significant role in the history of the car and its famous French driver Jean-Pierre Wimille.”
Images courtesy of The Bugatti Trust