Simanaitis Says

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TONY HOGG, IN TIME Editor-in-Chief of R&T, fulfilled a childhood dream through purchase of a Type 37 Bugatti in the late 1940s. Today in Part 2, he enters his Bug in unique forms of motor racing that took place in postwar England. The following quotes are Tony’s words. 

Firing Up. “Starting the Bugatti was a problem, due to the lack of a starter motor and the absence of a choke on the carburetor. However, I finally evolved a faultless technique.”

The Type 37 1496-cc four cylinder featured a single overhead camshaft actuating two inlet and one exhaust valves per cylinder. Its deep sump and 69 x 100-mm bore and stroke made for a relatively tall engine. These and the following two images are from Bugatti: Type 10 to Type 251, R.M.Clarke, Brooklands Books, 2010.

“My first step was to change into the rather oily pair of size-10 sneakers that I kept in the car and which were essential because the pedals were set in such a confined space that I was unable to operate them in regular shoes, not having been blessed with delicate Gallic feet.”

The Bugatti Type 37 cockpit was an intimate one.

“Then, having set various controls and made sure that the levier de changement de vitesse was at the point mort, as the French say, I would flood the carburetor, turn the engine over two or three times by crank to charge the cylinders, and then, with the magneto switched on and a rag (usually my handkerchief) stuffed in the air intake, I would give one strong pull on the crank.”

“This was usually enough to start the engine. However, as soon as it fired, it was necessary to grab hold of the handkerchief before it either caught fire or disappeared into the manifold.”

 The Type 37’s three-valve/cylinder layout.

Timing All Important. “The next step was to warm up the engine fast enough so the plugs did not foul, but slowly enough to insure against cracking the valve seats. Once the engine was thoroughly warm, first gear could be engaged, and this presented a problem because the Bugatti clutch always dragged.”

“The technique here was to let the engine idle down slowly and then sharply jerk the shift lever into the first gear position and, at the same time, speed the engine up to prevent it from stalling from clutch drag.”

Race Preparation. “All my racing preparations were conducted in a garage which I rented near my home in central London. Testing was a problem and I usually conducted it on the stretch of road that runs along the River Thames in Chelsea.”

“I would emerge from my garage late at night and take one run up the road followed by one back in which I reached peak revs in 3rd (about 75 mph). I would then slink back to my garage by the back streets while the residents called the police.” 

Don’t you love it!

Postwar Motor Racing in the U.K. “Most of the racing in England at this time consisted of short 5-lap events, sometimes run off in heats with a final of 10 laps. Actually, these events were very useful because few people could afford to continue rushing around a circuit indefinitely. We could start two or three times in one afternoon, and then, when the race was on, could afford to put everything we had into it.” 

Tony’s Type 37 is No. 79. How many of the others of this eclectic grid can you identify? (Hint: Tony mentioned some marques in Part 1.)

Handicap Events. “In view of the short distances… no tactics could be employed, other than to go as fast as possible from start to finish. This was particularly so in handicap races, where it was the intention of the handicappers that all cars should cross the finish line at exactly the same moment. Surprisingly enough, the finishes were almost always very close….”

Tony leads two others at Silverstone. Another ID challenge. (Hint: Neither marque was cited in Part 1.)

Tony’s Record. “Although I entered about 15 events with my car, I never finished higher than 4th. However, from necessity I learned more about automobile racing in a short time than I ever could have from production-car racing. I also learned that the only way to find out all about automobile racing in a hurry is to approach it with an empty bank account, so that you are unable to pay anyone to do anything for you.” 

Goodbye, Bug. “When I finally drove it to the London docks, I swore that I would never again become involved with this type of machinery. However, if anyone knows where there is one of those little 1100 Oscas which were built around 1953, I could easily become ensnared again.” 

Indeed, ensnarement was to come later with Tony campaigning a Lotus 11 across Europe on the cheap. Another tale for another day. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

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