There are only two Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantics in the world. The one from 1936 changed hands for $40 million three years ago, while the 1938 example belonging to Ralph Lauren’s collection just won the Concorso d’Eleganze Villa d’Este. This is what the fuss is all about.
In the post showing you the results of the most prestigious car show on the planet, many of you wrote about the value of the overall winner Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. The main argument was that it isn’t worth the estimated $40+ million.
MaWeiTao summed it up the best:
It’s a beautiful car, but not $40 million beautiful. Then again in that rarefied air, you’re not paying for value, but for exclusivity. Still, any way I try to slice it, I can’t help but think that $40 million for a car is ridiculous.
That made me think about it for a second. Oh yes! $40 million is indeed ridiculous for a car. But I’ll go further: anything above a million dollars is also ridiculous for a car, no matter what. But that black Bugatti is still worth every penny.
You see, the Atlantic is not just a car, but a monument to pre-war Europe. It’s one of the last great things mankind produced before everybody switched to building tanks. It’s also the pinnacle of the Bugatti family’s contribution to the twentieth century and the automotive industry. It’s a significant piece of history and its is basically art deco on four wheels. It’s also a ghost we can touch.
When Jean Bugatti’s Aérolithe concept debuted in Paris in 1935, the public didn’t get it. It was made out of a light but flammable magnesium alloy called Elektron, therefore the body panels were riveted externally. Under that was a new chassis (T57) and a new double overhead-cam engine, making the Aérolithe the most advanced car of its time. Still, it was too much to take in. Ettore Bugatti was disappointed, and the Aérolithe disappeared soon after. It remains a great mystery where it went. It could be the casualty of war or be scrapped for parts. Ettore Bugatti could have hidden it forever. He was that sort of a person.
That’s why it’s even more astonishing that the Aérolithe was recreated not long ago using original parts and materials, having only 15 photographes to start with. What a job it was!
But back to the thirties. After the Aérolithe show car, Bugatti only produced four supercharged Atlantic coupes using aluminum instead of magnesium while keeping the rivets. Powered by supercharged 3,257 cc inline-8 engines, these 170+ horsepower cars could do north of 120 mph. In 1936.
Today, two cars remain. The first is at the Mullin Automotive Museum in California, with the following history:
It was delivered to Lord Victor Rothschild in England on September 2, 1936. Three years later, in 1939, Mr. Rothschild had the Bugatti factory install a Roots supercharger from a Type 55 engine, upgrading the model to a Type 57SC. Having blown up the engine, he nevertheless kept the car in storage in England until 1941, when he sold it to his countryman Mr. T.P. Tunnard Moore. Mr. Moore and Robert Arbuthnot, a sometime racer at Brooklands, were partners at High Speed Motors of London. At some point, Mr. Moore sold the car to Arbuthnot, who in turn sold it in to Rodney Clarke of Continental Cars, Ltd., in 1944. A year later, Mr. Clarke sold the Type 57SC to Mr. Robert Oliver, a wealthy American doing duty in France as a member of the US Army Medical Corps. In August 1946, Mr. Oliver had 57374 shipped to the United States, where he received it in New York and proceeded to drive it home to Los Angeles. In 1953, Mr. Oliver shipped the car back to the Bugatti factory, where its engine was completely rebuilt and the correct Type 57SC supercharger and hydraulic brakes were installed. Following Mr. Oliver’s passing the Atlantic was sold in 1971 through public auction to Dr. Peter Williamson who paid an unprecedented $59,000. Following refurbishment, the car was shown at Pebble Beach in 2003 and won “Best in Show”. In 2010 the Williamson family sold the Atlantic to a buyer from whom the car is graciously on loan.
The other one belongs to Ralph Lauren, has a number plate, and sounds like this:
It’s absolutely irrelevant what price tag you put on a machine like this. Sure, Ralph Lauren could sell it with a massive profit. But that doesn’t seem to interest him. Instead, he occasionally lets us see it on the move, showing us what the best of Bugatti sounds like.
That’s the most pleasant history lesson you could ever dream of...
Photo credit: Máté Petrány