Bugatti on Ice

by pete on February 22, 2012

bugatti t 35

Del Lee in the Bugatti at Lake Orion Michigan. Note the leather strap holding the crank. Photo by Harold Lance

Imagine, if you will, the prototype Bugatti T35 on an ice-covered lake in Michigan. Eric Davison tells the true story of Ettore’s first T35.

There is no doubt in my mind that I grew up in the most fortunate of circumstances. While my family was not wealthy we were comfortable. We had a nice house, three square meals a day and loving parents. What made my circumstances so fortunate was the fact that my dad was an absolute gear head. He loved great cars and he dragged me along on his wonderful adventures into the world of sports cars. He had been born in England and his preference was for English sports cars but all great cars were covered by his enthusiasm. Detroit, Michigan was where he found work as a commercial artist, painting cars and trucks for ads for ads and catalogs for the Big Three.

While “Detroit” was a word that was instantly recognized by most as a euphemism for big, strong and chrome plated automobiles, it was also the home of a small cult of serious car worshippers who by 1948 had banded together to form the Detroit Region of the Sports Car Club of America

Among those early revolutionaries was Harold Lance, a car enthusiast, original Detroit Region of the SCCA member and a Bugatti fanatic. In those days, the early 1950s, you could count on your fingers and toes, the sports cars to be found in Detroit. There were few Bugattis except the beautiful Royale that was owned by Charles Chayne, then the chief engineer of Buick. There was also a Type 37 that had been the property of Edsel Ford. That car was on display in the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village on the Ford property in Dearborn, Michigan.

While Lance was a young army veteran who was just starting a family and could not afford a Bugatti, he had a subscription to the English Motorsport Magazine and spent considerable time scouring the classified ads.

One day, in the June 1951 edition of Motorsport, he found an ad for what was declared to be a Type 37A Bugatti. This particular car had been fitted with a supercharged Brescia engine and the price was only 400 pounds sterling or around $1600.

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