In the early years, a lot of competitors, and winners, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race were from France. Many of those makes are legendary, but many also are gone.
One that remains is Bugatti, now known as a super car maker of impeccable quality, speed and styling. Its pedigree is long and distinguished. That pedigree includes two Le Mans wins, one of only 11 car makers to score more than one win and one of just 24 brands to win at Le Mans. Porsche and Audi have each won more than a dozen times, but who’s counting?
Ixo now delivers a sharp 1/43 scale die-cast model of Bugatti’s 1937 Le Mans-winning Type 57G. Bugatti won with a similar car in 1939.
This car, and its drivers, make for a unique tale. Only three Type 57G Tanks were built and this one won Le Mans in 1937. It was driven by Jean-Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist (more on them in a moment) and completed 243 laps, 7 more than the second place Delahaye 135CS. The Bugatti ran a 3.3-liter straight 8 while the Delahaye was powered by a 3.6-liter straight 6.
The team was owned by Roger Labric, making this an all French team. In fact, the top four finishers were all French, with a British Aston Martin coming home fifth to be the top finisher among non-French entries. Only 17 of the 48 entries were running at the end of 24 hours.
The winning car had the fastest lap of the race, 5 minutes and 13 seconds and the car averaged 136.997 mph for the race, covering nearly 3,288 miles. The engine came from the Type 57 road car Bugatti made, but with a Roots supercharger to increase power to 160 horses. After a similar car won Le Mans in 1939 its designer, Jean Bugatti, son of founder Ettore, took the car for a test drive and died in a crash after swerving to miss a drunken bicyclist.
Labric, who entered the Bugatti in Le Mans, was a French journalist and racer, later writing a history of the Le Mans race along with aviation books and a biography of Benoist, and what a tale Benoist makes.
A top European driver in the 1920s and 1930s Benoist joined the French underground movement in World War II. He and Wimille escaped to England and joined its special forces. They smuggled weapons to the French resistance and in 1943 Benoist was captured by the Gestapo, but jumped from a moving car to escape. He later returned to France and was arrested and shipped to Buchenwald concentration camp where he was executed.
Wimille was a successful Grand Prix driver, often driving Bugattis. He not only won Le Mans in 1937, but again in 1939. He also won the French GP twice, including after WWII when he drove for Alfa Romeo. He died testing a Simca-Gordini car practicing for the 1949 Buenos Aires Grand Prix.
The streamlined Bugatti looks much like later model Jaguars with a big oval grille in front, well-rounded and slightly raised fenders front and rear tapering to a smooth aerodynamic flat tail. The spiffy light blue and dark blue paint scheme accentuates the fenders and the car’s long, lean look and the finish here is beautiful.
Highlights include that grille with fine mesh screen over it and the round headlights. There’s even a headlight inside the grille to aid during night racing. There’s a small Bugatti logo just above the grille and white No. 2 on a black circle in the crease breaching the nose and fender. The racer has a number on each side’s door too and painted on leather straps at the hood’s nose.
There’s a small, tall, single windshield in front of the driver and a wider one folded flat on the racer’s cowl. Ixo has painted the twin gas filler caps behind the cockpit silver, plus another on the passenger’s side in front of the door and cockpit area. A red running light juts from the driver’s side, just in front of the cockpit.
In back is another No. 2 and a spare tire that mounts in a depression where a trunk would be on a road car. All wheels have rubber tires and black spinners on the wire-wheel hubs.
The cockpit has a blue cover over the passenger’s side, a simple brown seat and wood-look 4-spoke steering wheel with simple dash, its gauges represented by decals. There’s also a large shift knob coming from the raised drivetrain running along the center of the floor.
Pricing may be one of the most impressive features here. While many 1/43 cars are going for more than $75, this one is priced at $44.95, a bargain.
Vital Stats: 1937 Bugatti Type 57G Le Mans winner
Stock No.: 121448 or IXOLM1937