Story by Sean Smith
Color images taken at Lime Rock by Sean Smith
Historic photos courtesy Sandy Leith
If anyone was born to the VSCCA it is the current President, Sandy Leith—his father Bill Leith was a founding member. At a very young age Sandy was in the paddock watching his father race his Type 35B Bugatti against others in the fledgling club. Formed in 1958, the Vintage Sports Car Club of America was seen as a kinder, gentler version of the growing Sports Car Club of America. It was a place where their pre-war cars could shine. Then as now it was a place for racing, rallying and good old fashion socializing, but the prime focus was racing. “Isn’t this what all parents do on the weekend… zoom around in old race cars?” Sandy thought so! Classic cars, especially Bugattis, were ingrained in Sandy’s soul. At 17, there would be no snarling muscle car or modern sports car for him.
His first car was a Model A; he learned his mechanical chops on it and moved on to a TR3, a good car to hone mechanical skills. Sandy joined the VSCCA in 1984, partaking of one of his father’s Bugattis to run the Hunnewell hill climb.
Soon it was time to find a Bugatti for himself. Sandy found a Type 23 Brescia Bugatti and started a restoration. Upon completion, he drove it home only to have his three young children cry out “Let’s go for a ride!” To which Sandy cried “Don’t touch it!” as he quickly realized that daily use would degrade the restoration. This was an “Ah-ha!” moment. This was NOT the car for him. Sandy and the Brescia covered all of 17 miles, and then he sold it.
At the same time the search had been afoot for another new (old) race car. The first car Sandy lusted after was the “Old Grey Mare,” a standout of the prewar ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) series. Sandy found the Mare, but the usual hurdles were in place. Owner wasn’t ready to sell, they were going to restore it themselves. Dead end.
Next Sandy went in search of another ARCA car, the Ford Amilcar (today also a familiar sight at VSCCA events now owned by Tom Ellsworth). At the same time Sandy was hot on the trail of these old racers, he wrote a story for the American Bugatti Club about a missing Bugatti special, “The Scrambling Egg.” He knew the car’s story, he knew its history; he just had no idea where the car was. This would be a tough search. But out of the blue, in 1994, Sandy’s editor Andy Rheault got a call from a gentleman named Sid Scarborough. He told him of a car he had owned since 1958; he never spoke to anyone about it, and he was never going to get around to restoring it. As Rheault listened to the description he knew it was the car Sandy was looking for. The “Scrambling Egg” had come to light!
Sandy got in touch with Sid. Sandy wanted the Egg, but also wanted to let its owner know the background story of what he had. Scarborough was embarrassed by the Ford engine. Mr. Leith told him not to worry; the offending engine was essential to the car’s history. In 1931 Elgood Lufkin, a mover and shaker at Chemical bank, took a family trip to Europe. Passing by a Paris showroom, he encountered a heavenly vision in the window. His family tried to talk sense to him, but to no avail.
Lufkin had the Bugatti fitted with road equipment and shipped it back to the US. After a short time with the car, reality sunk in. Elgood’s treasure was not a very practical road-going transport. In 1933 he passed the Type 37 to his nephew Henry Hunsicker, who drove the car while attending the Hotchkiss School. (He could have run the car at Lime Rock, but alas—the track didn’t exist yet!) The Bugatti spent a short time at Billington Buick and then landed in the hands of Ray Gilhooley, a man who made a business out of buying cars like this from callow school boys who realized they weren’t good road cars, but didn’t know what they had. Gilhooley painted the T37 yellow, giving birth to its name. From there it entered its ARCA years.
Bob Oliver (the same Bob Oliver that owned the Bugatti Atlantic, read more) raced it between 1934 and 35, managing to blow up the original Type 37 engine. George Rand installed a Ford Model B engine and the car was sold to Sanders Draper, who got behind the wheel from 1935 to 1937. (The original Bugatti engine was repaired by Mike Caruso and reincarnated in one of his midget racers on Long Island.) Frederic Borsodi (read bio) took a turn as pilot from 1937 to 1941. He also piloted planes, and died late in WWII in a prototype YP-80A “Shooting Star” jet. With the death of Borsodi, the Egg fell off the map until 1953, when it appeared in the custodianship of James L. Randall. Randall handed it off to Sid Scarborough, who kept it until 1995 when he sold it to Sandy.
Back to Sandy. When Sandy obtained the Bugatti special, it hadn’t run in 35 years. He and Ben Bragg went about rebuilding the engine, relining the brakes and putting a wrench on everything to make sure all was copacetic. Then off he went to the VSCCA driver’s school in April of 1996. A few months earlier, the owner of the “Old Grey Mare” called Sandy and said “I have an early Christmas present for you.” Sandy now had two race cars. Sandy and Ben became partners in the Mare; Sandy continued racing the Egg, with Ben getting behind the wheel of the Mare.
When Sandy had the chance to acquire another car from his childhood, his godfather’s 328 BMW, something had to give, so Bragg became the owner/driver of the Old Grey Mare while Sandy debuted the Scrambling Egg at an International Bugatti rally in Vermont. Many of the faithful were wild for the T37 and its story. A large French contingent was in attendance; one member, Rene Rigier, was born in Molsheim and grew up in the shadow of the old factory. He had a number of Bugattis himself. When he spied the blue oval engine under the open hood of the Egg, he shouted with Gallic disdain: “Le Motor NO, NO, NO!!! Most everyone else agrees Yes, Yes, Yes! [So do we…Ed.]The Egg has been without a Bugatti heart since 1935. Back home, Sandy has a correct Type T37engine sitting on his bench. Will the two ever hook up? Sandy doesn’t think so. The Egg has run with a Ford power plant for most of its existence. Why mess with history?
Sandy has now been running the Scrambling Egg in the club for 22 years. It has become very much a part of him, like a comfy old shoe, a comfy Grand Prix old shoe! It’s a handful and requires a good dose of upper body strength to hold your line in the corners. As a Grand Prix Bugatti, it’s very predictable, once everything is up to temperature. The Egg loves to drift just ever so slightly on a warm track. When the racing shoe meets the accelerator, it’s exhilarating and wickedly fun.
His godfather’s BMW, which was one of the first cars in the VSCCA, has become Leith’s go-to rally car. So advanced for its time, and wonderfully comfortable to drive, it’s the perfect tool for the job. It could end upon the track, but there hasn’t been enough seat time to explore the boundaries of the BMW, so for now it’s on the sidelines. If it did become a competition car again it would make for very hard decisions. Bugatti or BMW? BMW or Bugatti?…a dilemma many would love to be troubled with.
Today, as the President of the club, Sandy and his board of directors are doing everything they can to keep the VSCCA relevant. A film, “We Came for the Romance,” has been produced to help with the outreach program and get new and younger members involved in the club. This gives them a look at the camaraderie and the shared joy of classic cars, using them the way they were meant to be used. The club is not about who crosses the finish line first; it’s about coming into the pits and reliving the dice you just threw with your friends on the track. The club is at the moment 700 strong, with new members joining the ranks as time goes on.
Sandy will continue to wave the flag for the pre-war class. As an 8 -12 year old following his father to every event he could, the prewar cars left a strong impression on Sandy that carries through to today. His powerful love of the cars of Ettore led him to become the Registrar of the American Bugatti Club, with membership approaching 300 in the US and 90 around the globe. In 2018, many of those Bugatti folk will be convening at Lime Rock Park as part of the Fall Festival and an international rally. Everyone there will be knee-deep in Bugs. Not a bad thing. Sandy’s plan for 2019 will hopefully bring many of the remaining ARCA cars back to Lime Rock for the Historics. The VSCCA is moving forward slowly, but surely. They are not frozen in amber, but make considered decisions on allowing newer cars into the order while keeping what’s so very special about the club intact. Sandy and the rest of his brethren have a deep love and commitment to these cars. It shows— and if you get around it, it’s quite contagious.
Scrambling Egg Portfolio by Sean Smith