Car of the Week: This ‘Stunningly Original’ 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Could Fetch up to $3.4 Million at Auction

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Just the name Bugatti conjures thoughts of a car with a sculptural shape and mechanical underpinnings as complex as the most intricate timepiece. From the elaborate machining atop the aluminum engine to the eternally elegant horseshoe grill, a Bugatti is as much automotive art as it is automobile. For those not acquainted with Bugatti taxonomy, the model designations present a bewildering assault of alphanumeric nomenclatures. Of the approximately 8,000 Bugattis made from 1909 through 1952, many were known as the Type 57.

The Type 57 was designed by Jean Bugatti, son of company founder Ettore and the chief architect of the French automaker’s cars. In comparison with the Type 41 “Royale,” a mere six of which were produced, the Bugatti Type 57 was positively prolific. Among the roughly 710 such vehicles that rolled out of the Molsheim factory between 1934 and 1940 were four of the Type 57 Atlantic (of which two remain) and 17 Type 57 Atalante models. Together, these are regarded by Bugattisti as the pinnacle of the marque’s achievements.

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The 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante being offered through Bonhams on August 19, 2022. - Credit: Bonhams
The 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante being offered through Bonhams on August 19, 2022. - Credit: Bonhams

Bonhams

The body of each Atalante, named for Atalanta, a heroine of Greek mythology, bore its own unique styling details, often with oversized headlights and a two-tone color combination reflecting fashionable Art Deco style. The Type 57 was advanced for its day, with a 3.3-liter inline-eight engine using twin-overhead cams.

Bugatti’s Type 57C Atalante was often presented with oversized headlights and a two-tone color combination reflecting Art Deco style. - Credit: Bonhams
Bugatti’s Type 57C Atalante was often presented with oversized headlights and a two-tone color combination reflecting Art Deco style. - Credit: Bonhams

Bonhams

The Bugatti being featured by Bonhams at its silver anniversary Quail Lodge Auction, on August 19 in Carmel Valley, Calif., is one of the coveted Atalante variants of the Type 57C, the C referring to “Compresseur.” This rare and desirable car was one of only 16 fitted at the factory with a supercharger, with which the engine developed about 210 hp, good for a 120 mph top end at a time when most automobiles couldn’t reach half that speed. The Type 57 in competition form was successful, setting numerous world records—beginning in 1936—and proving victorious at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1937 and 1939.

A 210 hp, supercharged 3.3-liter inline-eight engine allows for a top speed of 120 mph. - Credit: Bonhams
A 210 hp, supercharged 3.3-liter inline-eight engine allows for a top speed of 120 mph. - Credit: Bonhams

Bonhams

This example, chassis no. 57767, was built in 1938 and features a body by Gangloff, the Swiss/French coachbuilder commissioned by many Bugatti customers to clothe rolling chassis with bespoke bodywork. It is unusual for any old car, let alone one built before World War II, to have its integrity preserved such that it retains its original, matching numbers drivetrain. But the term “time capsule” perfectly applies to this vehicle as it has maintained both its original interior and aluminum bodywork, the latter of which was fitted to only five examples of the Type 57C. According to Bonhams, this example is “a stunningly original car, with great measures taken to preserve its original finishes.”

Aluminum bodywork by Gangloff was fitted to only five examples of the Type 57C. - Credit: Bonhams
Aluminum bodywork by Gangloff was fitted to only five examples of the Type 57C. - Credit: Bonhams

Bonhams

Its unrepeatable provenance begins with the 1938 Paris Salon exhibition, after which it was hidden away with the looming clouds of war. Subsequently, it enjoyed 60 years in the collection of its previous owner, who used it extensively when he first acquired it in 1954, later storing it in the heated garage of his chateau. It was then purchased by the consignor in 2014 and recommissioned by French Bugatti specialist Ets Randoni.

The car retains its original interior. - Credit: Bonhams
The car retains its original interior. - Credit: Bonhams

Bonhams

Offered publicly for the first time, this Art Deco jewel is accompanied by fastidious documentation, including factory letters from Ettore Bugatti and a report from marque expert Pierre-Yves Laugier. It carries an estimate of between $2.8 million and $3.4 million.

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