Man & Machine – Stephen Gentry and his 1926/27 Bugatti Type 35B

It looks a flyweight, but you’d be surprised how much a Bugatti Type 35B weighs: 900kg. And by how much torque the supercharged 2262cc straight-eight puts out: a turbo-diesel-rivalling 330lb ft at just 2000rpm. Which explains the 14-sec standing quarter-miles. You find these things out when you build them. Stephen Gentry, who runs the family business Gentry Restorations Ltd specialising in vintage Bugattis on the Oxfordshire/Bucks border, built this one from a mixture of old and new parts in 2012. Along with its owner he has raced and hillclimbed it since.

A ‘new’ Bugatti? With the price of originals now around the £2m mark few of them race, but a perfect copy at £350,000 is less risky. Besides, without ‘HTP’ cars we’d be denied the pleasure of watching Historic racing because there would be insufficient entries to fill a grid.

‘It’s as it would have been in 1927, built to factory spec including roller-bearing crankshaft, standard very mild cam profiles and standard supercharger,’ says Gentry, who started the company with father Malcolm in 2000. His daughter joined as an apprentice this year. ‘It’s a true Bugatti in every sense, except it didn’t come out of Molsheim. It was built as a racer, so it has a high-compression engine running on methanol. We’ve dynoed it at 232bhp, against the originals’ 150-180bhp. Cars of that era were built for torque, so you didn’t have to rev them to the limit. This will go to 6000rpm, but we only usually use about 5000.’

So it can pull quite tall gearing. ‘We’ve still got the prod out of the corners, though. It’s a beast of a thing. Traction is our biggest problem. If you look at factory records, they were experimenting with super-tall ratios. It does have a limited-slip diff, but it’s the ratchet and pawl type so it’s rather sudden when it locks up. ‘The biggest weaknesess are the gearbox and rear axle. The gearbox is essentially the same as a Brescia, which is 60bhp and maybe 100lb ft, and we’re asking it to cope with three times that. You could put in a modern gearset and a Porsche differential, but then it wouldn’t be a Bugatti. We restore cars here; we don’t re-invent.’

When it was first built ‘it was racing nearly every weekend’ with either the owner, who had a passion for Bugattis but had never owned one, or its creator. This car has run the Prescott long course at 52.5sec; the Bugatti record is 51.97, set by Charles Dean in his Type 51 in 2004. ‘At the first speed camera under the bridge, just 200 yards from the start line, we were hitting 76mph. However, that gets us to the first corner too fast; it’s better to go in a bit more gently. When it was new, we took it to a ‘run what ya brung’ drag race and it surprised everyone. They loved it. It’s not like today’s racing, where everything is the same.’

Stickers attest to a busy competition life – plus a nod to the racers’ chum, the late and much-missed Henry Hope-Frost. ‘I think it has been so reliable because it’s so standard. It has always campaigned well and has always finished.’

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