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Peter Giddings Racing



Our first trip to Mexico for the re-creation of the Mexican road race was in fact in 1986 when we took down our blood red 1932 Alfa Romeo Monza. This car is blindingly fast and I was told that I made the fastest time over the initial hilly section of the course at which point unfortunately my magneto let me down. The course runs from Ensenada to San Felipe (approximately 120 miles) and comprises of all public roads, mostly in good condition. The race is blessed by the Mexican government and is fully policed and covered by the flying helicopter police.

This year (1987) the lure of another Mexican road race and the opportunity to meet once again with those fine people from the organizers (Vintage Racing) and the Mexican officials, proved irresistible so once again we traveled down to Ensenada to stay at the Estero Beach resort (bring sun tan oil, swim suit, tennis racket and a good appetite).

We had carefully prepared our Bugatti 35C for this bumpy, tortuous, long distance event and everything had been checked and double-checked. As we deduced that even with a full tank of methanol we could not make it to the check in/fuel stop, we re-jetted the car to run on a mixture of 50% methanol and 50% petrol (with a little bit of acetone thrown in for good luck!) Our best guesstimate as to what jetting this mixture should have was not quite accurate and the car thus displayed some pronounced flat spots and needed careful persuasion to stay on all eight cylinders.

On race day we all paraded through town (the Mexican officials do not seem to be at all concerned about adequate silencing, fenders and the like, although you must take out Mexican insurance).

The start is a little way out of Ensenada on an uphill section and we parked the Bugatti close to the start line and Judy and my mechanic friend, John DeBoer, drove on in the transporter to the check in/fuel stop.

The first to leave were the motorcycles and motorcycle combinations. These riders are truly insane and make some phenomenal times to San Felipe. Not all of the motorcycles were modern by any means and it was wonderful to see some older Nortons, BSAs and Triumphs so beautifully turned out.

I got into conversation with one elderly gentleman who was still racing and planning yet another attempt on an existing straight-line motorcycle Speed record. He was fascinated with the Bugatti and gave me a lot of good advice with regard to various “brews” as he had a lot of experience with such concoctions. As a result of this I now have ten gallons of toluene with which I intend to experiment in so far as a blending agent/octane enhancer is concerned.

After the motorcycles left, cars ranging in vintage from our 1926 Bugatti 35C (the oldest car there) to Ferrari Boxers were flagged off. As the oldest car there, I should have been the last one to start. However, the organizers thought it might be fun for the spectators lining the road to have some cars flash by the Bugatti - I did not agree! Suffice to say that while I overtook a lot of cars, some of which were 60 years junior, nobody overtook my blue wonder!

I cannot tell you what a strange thrill it is to have everyone’s blessing and approval to go as fast as you want on public roads. The mountains that one first climbs through are very reminiscent of the famous Targa Florio or Mille Miglia routes. All around you are unguarded drops into deep chasms and invariably to the left of you a very solid granite cliff.

Despite the best attempts of the friendly Mexican military and police, several natural and unnatural hazards are encountered. I, for example, met face to face around a blind bend to an elderly truck heavily laden with hay bales – the look on the Mexican driver’s face was priceless, and mine must have been a picture as well, as we narrowly avoided each other. Goats, cattle, chickens and whole Mexican families deciding for some reason, at the very last moment, that the other side of the road looks more attractive, added to the excitement. As I proceeded, long skid marks and wrecked cars bore witness to the fact that over-exuberance and foolhardiness did not pay. Fortuitously only one person was hurt and even that was not due to a racing accident per se – a piece of metal came through the floor boards of his car and injured his foot.

By this time my feet were becoming quite painful and the side of my left leg was being cooked by the gear box, even though I had wrapped my leg in tape and was wearing three layers of clothing.

The car was also being jolted out of fourth gear: thus many of the bends were being taken with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand keeping the gear lever firmly pushed forward into place – as if this was not enough, I suddenly lost all braking so I was relying on the gearbox alone to slow me down for the corners.

About five miles before the check in/fuel stop, the Bugatti suddenly died just as my Monza had done the previous year. It was quite eerie rolling to a halt in the middle of nowhere – the helicopters, etc,. Were all with the supposedly faster cars that had started before me and I was in a totally desolate area with no spectators whatsoever. My first thought was that the Bugatti had suffered a fuel blockage, so with the few tools I had on board, I dismantled the carburetor, cleaned out all of the jets and re-pressured the fuel line to ensure a good flow.

Having checked everything else I was just about reconciled to once again retiring from the race, and while my hands were blistered and my shoulders were pretty sore (we have subsequently cured the incorrect camber problem and now the car is a LOT easier to steer!) I was anxious to continue if I could.

About ten minutes had now passed and various Ferraris and the like that I had overtaken started screaming by. Then, in checking the electrics, I discovered the cause of the problem. The clamp holding down the magneto had lost its bolt and the magneto had slipped all the way forward and become disengaged.

With no marks to line up, I stabbed the magneto back into place, until at least I could get the car fired and running again. Pushing the car as fast as I could, I then jumped in and holding the magneto in place with my left hand and selecting second gear with my right (with no hands left to do any steering) I managed to get the car running again (kind of). Now my problem was holding the magneto in place and steering; trying to keep my left leg, which was now hurting quite badly, away from the gearbox and withstanding the jolt that the magneto was giving me every time the engine fired (I was earthing the magneto through my body to the spokes of he steering wheel!)

Anyway, somehow or other my Bugatti and I limped into the check in/fuel stop and Judy and John were a most welcome sight, ready with a cold drink and some more methanol/petrol mix. To our amazement we discovered that both of the rear brake bolts had fallen out although we had checked everything we had omitted the cotter pins and as a result both rear brake cables were dragging on the ground. Miraculously a Mexican gentleman came forward with two nuts and bolts that fitted. In the meantime an American spectator donated his precious Callistoga spring water to the radiator and John had wired the magneto back into place and only some three minutes over our allotted rest/refuel allowance of ten minutes I was off again. In fact John had offered to drive the second half of the race had I been too tired. However, despite everything the adrenaline was really going and I was anxious to make up lost ground and catch up with some of those modern cars again.

Finally the finish line at San Felipe came into sight and having gained a lot of time on the opposition, I stiffly climbed out of my blue charger and downed a couple of excellent, ice cold Mexican beers.

At the awards ceremony that evening one of the original drivers from the early Mexican road races gave a speech and awarded the prizes. He described how he and his friend were racing along in their modern Ferrari Testa Rossa in air conditioned comfort at a good 100 mph when this blue projectile came by totally sideways. What particularly fascinated them, he said, was the fact that while the Bugatti was in their sight they did not see all the tires touch the ground even once!

Today, sitting on our sideboard, we have two Mexican road race trophies – one for participating in the oldest car in the race and one for a first place in class. We were told that after deducting fuel stop and repair time, our average speed was about 86 mph.

I would like to think that somehow the race results were relayed to Etorre Bugatti and that he was appropriately impressed with the success of his 61 year-old masterpiece, and in case you read this, Rene, this one is for you.

Sincerely, Peter Giddings (from a letter to Andre Rheault, July 1987)