20/9/1908 - 1/4/1999
Record updated 20-Sep-07
Overton-Axton Phillips, better know as 'Bunny' Phillips, was born in Ottomwa, Iowa. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was still very young. At high school he aquired his first car, a Chevrolet 490, which he used to get to and from classes. In 1923 he was sent east to continue his studies returning to LA in 1925, where he went to work for Harry Miller.
He aquired his first Bugatti, a Type 29 (though possibly at Type 30), from Chris Homes in 1927. Homes was an eccentric millionaire from Santa Barbara who had a private zoo and was also an excellent pilot.
Bunny took the Type 29 to the salt flats by Salt Lake City where he was clocked at 123 mph (198 kmh). He developed a good relationship with the Bugatti agent in London, Colonel Sorel, and was able to obtain spare parts through him.
In 1930, Phillips teamed up with Frank Scully to open an official Bugatti service center in Rosemead, West Hollywood. They also rented cars for film work.
One of their clients, who had apparently made his fortune running rum during the Prohibition era, had a boat powered by two 16-cylinder Bugatti-King aero engines with a third as a spare. Phillips apparently kept the boat running by pirating parts from the similar engines that powered the wind machines in Hollywood film studios.
In 1934 Scully aquired Harry Millers four wheel drive Indy car from his creditors for next to nothing. He sent it to Europe where he entered it for Peter De Paolo in the Triopli GP, becoming the first four wheel drive car to run in a Grand Prix. He also entered a Duesemberg-Miller for Lou Moore. De Paolo ran the car in Germany at Avus in May but a broken cod rod caused a massive explosion, parts of which are rumored to have just missed Adolf Hitlers head. The car was eventually shipped back to the States where Bunny rebuilt the Miller V8 engine and later fitted it to the T35B (4748) which he had bought.
The Vanderbilt Cup had not been held since 1916 but was revived in 1936 thanks to the efforts of George Robertson. William Kissam Vanderbilt II's nephew, George Washington Vanderbilt III sponsored a 300-mile race at the new facilities at Roosevelt Raceway. Enticed by the substantial prize money, Scuderia Ferrari entered three Alfa Romeos and a number of other Europeans attended. Bunny entered the T35B racing against the like of Nuvolari and Wimille but was forced to retire on lap eight when a connecting rod in the engine failed. Tazio Nuvolari won from Jean-Pierre Wimille, Antonio Brivio and Raymond Sommer.
He had also aquired a Murphy bodied T38 (38435) and, since he was not allowed to race the T35B on it's Bugatti Alloy wheels, he swapped them with the wire wheels from the T38.
In 1936 he started the Phillips Aviation Company with his brother, James. They purchased a large part of the Metropolitan Airport in Van Nuys and carried out contracts for Lockheed, North American and Douglas as well as the US Navy.
He entered the Indy 500 in 1937 driving the Mannix Special which had a Miller chassis and a Duesenberg engine. However he crashed into the pits during practice and his riding mechanic, Warford, and the chief engineer of the Champion Spark Plug Company, Rhode, who was working in the pits, were both killed. Phillips spent fourteen weeks in hospital.
He raced his Type 35B with the Bugatti engine for the last time, in 1938, at the “El Centro” race, before replacing it with the rebuilt Miller V8 in 1941.
Racing stopped for the duration of the war. He returened to Indianapolis in 1940 for another crack at qualifying the Miller but missed out again. He had a couple more races that year before switching to the Bugatti Miller for 1941. He finally qualified for the 500 in 26th spot and ran steadily to finish 13th. He raced the Bugatti at Milwaukee and Syracuse but didn't break into the top ten.
In 1942 they moved Phillips Aviation to South Pasadena where they employed 180 workers.
Around 1950 Phillips bought a large piece of land in Rosemead where he built his new Bugatti workshops. Then in 1960 he was chosen to be the first President of the newly formed American Bugatti Club.
He remarried in 1980 and moved to Carpinteria, where he opened what was to be his final workshop. One of the most respected Bugatti restorers he was responsible for some of the finest examples of the marque in the USA.