Charleston – French racing blue in the morning sun

French_Vintage (1)Last weekend, friend of Any Given Reason Luke Jaksa and I were rushing through the hills chasing rally cars around as part of Scouts Rally SA. We were on our way to a jump out behind Nairne and we simply couldn’t be late as it’s always the first cars that jump the hardest. We had empty stomachs and an empty fuel tank, but nothing could stop us. Except, perhaps, a group of vintage French cars stopped on the side of the road. How often do you happen to see a Bugatti Type 35A and a pair of Amilcar’s in the wild?

French_Vintage (10)Rally cars be damned, this was WAY more interesting.

French_Vintage (13)The trio were out for a Sunday morning drive and had stopped just out of Charleston when one of the Amilcar’s suffered a puncture to its front tire. You sometimes forget just how different vintage cars are to the more modern stuff we’re used to. Who even packs a brass hammer when they go for a drive anymore, let alone actually needs to use one? Brass and hickory, a winning combination.

French_Vintage (9)The assembled group of drivers and their co-drivers were warm and friendly, especially given how Luke and I initially forgot we were still wearing our bright rally Media vests when we jumped out and started taking photos. If any of these people happen to read this – thanks for your time, and sorry for any odd first impressions!

French_Vintage (11)The Bugatti is a 1926/9 build, and being an ‘A’ model is a stripped down version of the Type 35, the most successful racing car in Bugatti’s history. Compared to the 35C, the engine is slightly detuned and it doesn’t have the famous cast alloy wheels. But according to the owner it is still an extremely quick car, and with only 139 examples built it is a properly rare car. What’s more, this example has Australian Grand Prix history, having competed in the famous race twice in the 30’s.

French_Vintage (6)The owner uses it regularly on both road and track, and it is often a popular fixture at the Phillip Island Classic. It wears the vintage equivalent of race slicks making it quite sticky on the road, and for track work the cycle guards and headlamps are removed. Other than that it’s a proper 30’s Grand Prix car on the road!

French_Vintage (5)Nothing is automatic on the Bugatti – absolutely everything is manually operated, right down to the engine timing and even the fuel pump. This isn’t a fuel level gauge, rather it’s a fuel pressure gauge. You manually pump it to build pressure in the tank before you take off, and in theory the natural vacuum keeps the fuel pumping to the engine. But you always need to keep an eye on that gauge, just to be sure.

French_Vintage (4)Porsche think they’re onto something with their factory SportChrono pack, but Bugatti have been doing it since the 20’s!

French_Vintage (3)With the tire changed on the Amilcar, the trio were off to continue their run in the brisk Sunday morning sun…

French_Vintage… and with a friendly wave the pair in the Bugatti followed, leaving both a sound and smell not found in modern motoring. As it turned out we didn’t end up missing any rally cars, but even if we did it would have been worth it.

French_Vintage (8)Words and photos by Andrew Coles.

Any Given Reason visited Cité de l’Automobile Collection Schlumpf in Mulhouse, France, last year where almost 2% of the total production of Bugatti vehicles, 151 cars, are housed. Read the story here.

French_Vintage (12)French_Vintage (7)French_Vintage (2)


3 thoughts on “Charleston – French racing blue in the morning sun

  1. Worth stopping for.

    I swear I’d seen a Bugatti coming down to Phillip Island one day. Now I know I wasn’t hallucinating!


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