Meet Marge’s Bugatti

Tracing the path of a 1980 Pebble Beach winner

Story and photos by John Gunnell

A 1925 Bugatti Type 23 Brescia tourer from the David V. and Margery Uihlein Collection returned to Monterey, Calif., in the summer of 2011, a full 31 years after it had been selected as winner of the Briggs Cunningham “Most Elegant Open Car” trophy at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. That award was bestowed on the car back in 1980 when the Type 23 Brescia — best known as “Margery Uihlein’s Bugatti” — was one of the collection’s latest restorations.

After returning the Bugatti to new condition, it became a gift to Uihlein’s wife Margery. A photo taken in 1980 shows Margery standing behind the car with her arms folded and an admiring crowd gazing upon the Bugatti. The inscription at the bottom notes “Marge” Uihlein as the owner and David as “Chief Wrench.”

The Type 23 Brescia tourer features the characteristic Bugatti “horse shoe” radiator shell, quarter-elliptic leaf springs, a split windscreen and unique nautical-style touring body work with elegant flying fenders. Like other Classic cars in the Uihlein collection, this Bugatti was maintained in superb, road-ready condition through David’s passing on Jan. 29, 2010.

The tiny, well-built Bugatti features unique nautical-style touring coachwork with elegant flying fenders.

David Uihlein was a man of many interests. He had a colorful personality that made him a wonderful storyteller. He was an ardent naturalist, outdoorsman and avid collector of classic cars, vintage race cars and antique boats, airplanes and duck decoys. He restored many of his cars — including this Bugatti — with his own hands. In 1995, he founded the Harry A. Miller Meet.

Production of the Bugatti Type 13 began in 1910, when the Bugatti company was first launched. Until 1920, the Type 13 evolved through the Type 15, Type 17, Type 22 and Type 23. Total production was just 435 cars.

Automaker Ettore Bugatti was an artist and the cars he built were masterpieces worthy of the description  “pur sang” (thoroughbred) given to them. Following World War I, Bugatti race cars with multi-valve engines placed 1-2-3-4 in a race at Brescia. The production Brescia Tourer basked in the glory of the win and also brought the company much-needed cash.

The Brescia used an improved 1.5-liter version of the four-valve, overhead-cam four that had originated in the Bugatti Type 13.  It was the first multi-valve engine in automotive history. Though tiny and delicate-looking, the Brescia model was a sturdy car combining great steering, handling, acceleration and speed.

The Brescia used an improved 1.5-liter version of the four-valve overhead-cam four that had originated in the Bugatti Type 13.

Margery’s Bugatti was a special long-chassis model with coachwork typical of the touring bodies built by Lavocat & Marsaud in France. It was a later model and had the desirable 16-valve “Banana Tappet” engine. It also had a cast-aluminum bulkhead and dash-mounted dynamo with flat-belt drive. A starter had been installed. This Type 23 is a model considered very desirable to Bugatti fanciers. It was a more expensive car than the standard Bugatti Type 23, which was a two-seater, and a bit more Spartan in features since it was primarily a race car.

The Uihleins’ car had been carried in the last two American Bugatti Registers (1988 and 2003) as a Type 23, chassis no. 2743 with engine no. 1134 with Tourer coachwork by Carrosserie Profilee of Paris.

According to the club’s registrar, prior owners were T.C. Butt and Mr. Williamson (not to be confused with the late Dr. Peter Williamson, a well-known Bugatti collector) and Mr. DeDobbeleer of Belgium. It is believed that DeDobbeleer purchased the genuine Bugatti Type 23 Brescia chassis in France.

When the Uihleins’ car went to auction last year, its 30-year-old restoration was still very presentable. There was only minimal paint cracking and lift on a crease that runs up the middle of the cowl. The wood was in great shape and the upholstery was terrific. The wooden surrounds on top of the body had only a small area on the driver’s side where touch-up was necessary. The wooden running boards were in very nice shape as were the red-painted wire wheels.

The Uihlein Brescia had an overall great appearance with good tires, a wonderful dashboard layout and perfect instruments. This car needed nothing and any Bugatti aficionado would love to own it. The nickel plating was beautiful and only in need of polishing. The car ultimately sold for $230,000 at Dana Mecum’s 2011 Monterey auction. Perhaps its next owner will see that it returns to Monterey this August.

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