On July 30, 1939 the Bugatti Owners Club, which often ran competitions at the Prescott Hill-climb, near Cheltenham in the Cotswolds, held an international level event. The recent and double Le Mans winner Jean-Pierre Wimille (above wearing a beret) was entered by the Bugatti factory in a unique monoposto Bugatti 50B which used a supercharged 4.7 liter engine in a modified Type 59 chassis. Jean Bugatti, son of the firm’s founder, was also in attendance. Double rear wheels had been fitted to Wimille’s car, as was common at the time in British hill-climbs to give better traction. A number of other Bugattis were entered as well as an Alfa Romeo, an Alta and two ERAs, the later including ERA owner Raymond Mays with his rather special version.
Although Wimille’s Bugatti was certainly the most powerful entry, it was a relatively large and heavy car, not best suited to the narrow and twisting uphill road at Prescott where the record time was just under 48 seconds. During the weekend that record was shattered several times and left standing to the Mays ERA at just over 46 seconds with Wimille a half second slower.
War with Germany was then only a few weeks away and cars were laid up for several years. The only subsequent appearance of the Bugatti 50B was in the hands of Wimille once again at the Coupe des Prisonniers which was held in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris on September 9, 1945. That time, starting from the back having missed practice, Wimille and the 50B came through the field to win.
Jean-Pierre Wimille became one of the leading postwar grand prix drivers, going on to race successfully for Alfa Romeo with their 158. His highly promising career was cut short when he was killed in a practice accident at Buenos Aires driving a Simla-Gordini in January 1949.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com