The Type 57 is to Bugatti what the 250 is to Ferrari. It was built in a variety of different configurations with a variety of different bodies for both the road and the race track. And like the 250, certain versions of the car are among the most valuable cars of all time. The Atlantic body style is certainly the most valuable, but the only slightly less well-known Atalante comes in second. It was designed by Ettore Bugatti’s son Jean and is named after the heroine of Greek mythology’s Atlanta.

This particular Atalante passed through a number of different hands before being bought by John Wendell Strauss, grandson to R.H. Macy and heir to the Macy’s fortune. Unfortunately, Strauss parked the Atalante in a garage in 1962 and there it sat for decades until it was discovered in 2007 when the estate was being settled. There are some photos of the car in the barn here, and as you can see, it really wasn’t in such bad shape, considering how long it had been sitting. When it was sent to be restored, it was discovered that everything was still there and all of the numbers still matched — making this one of the most original prewar Bugattis in existence.

Continue reading to learn more about the 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante.

Exterior

1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante High Resolution Exterior
- image 652088
1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante High Resolution Exterior
- image 652098
1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante High Resolution Exterior
- image 652086

The Bugatti family was an extremely artistic one, full of painters, sculptors and architects. Ettore Bugatti showed a staggering gift for engineering at a very young age, but an appreciation for art and design were still deeply instilled in him, and this is something that he passed on to his son Jean (born Gianoberto). Jean designed the Atalante himself, during an era when this kind of in-house design work was not the norm for luxury cars. The actual coachbuilding, however, was still carried out by a third party — in this case Gangloff. The Atalante should not be confused with the Type 57 Gangloff, as these are different designs, despite being built by the same coachbuilders.

The Atalante was taller than most of the similar cars of the day.

The ’30s were a very special time in the world of automotive design, as it was the first time that the technology had advanced enough that function could follow form, instead of the other way around. The Atalante was taller than most of the similar cars of the day. There was a lower version of the Type 57 chassis, which was used for the Atlantic, but the vast majority of Type 57 units were the taller variety. But, one way in which the Atalante was very much with the times was the art deco/art moderne design of the bodywork. It was a very modern look at the time, and a good deal of care went into the curvaceous design. Even small details, like the turn indicator lights on top of the fenders, are little pieces of deco sculpture.

Interior

1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante High Resolution Interior
- image 652101
1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante High Resolution Interior
- image 652103
1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante High Resolution Interior
- image 652084

Though the layout of the interior of the car is very simple, it is also very clearly a luxury car. The materials used are obviously of very high quality, and details like the window cranks and door handles are again very finely made sculptures. There is still a hint of art deco influence, but not so much as in the interiors of the cars built by Voisin or Talbot-Lago. It is a very brown interior, with brown leather and carpet used to match the wood of the dash, steering wheel and doors. Chrome is used pretty sparingly for the time, and this would actually be one of the more restrained interiors of the time, design-wise.

Drivetrain

1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante High Resolution Interior
- image 652083

All Type 57 cars used a 3.3-liter, DOHC, inline-8 — this being the reason for such a long hood. Those designated as Type 57C also had a supercharger fitted. RM Auctions lists the power as being rated at 160 horsepower, although the engine is usually listed at about 200 horsepower with the blower. Regardless of whatever the actual number is, racing versions of the Type 57 took overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in both ’37 and ’39, so it was at least enough power to make it one of the best race cars in the world. Even under the hood, the car still looks like a work of art. The engine bay is full of machine-turned metal and chrome — all unnecessary, but still very aesthetically pleasing touches.

Prices

1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante High Resolution Exterior
- image 652082

Ralph Lauren’s Type 57 Atlantic is famously worth in excess of $40 million, and is arguably the most valuable car in the history of the automobile. But, part of that is because there are only 2 Atlantics in the world, and Bugatti built 17 units of the Atalante. That’s still obviously not a very big number, but it’s amazing what it does to the relative value of the car. This particular Atalante last sold in 2013 for just a hair over $2 million, and assuming that bidding goes pretty much the way as it did then, it will probably sell about the same amount this time.

Competition

Voisin C27 Aerosport

1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante
- image 652358

If you’re looking for a car that makes a bold artistic statement, few can even come close to the Voisin C27 Aerosport. The C27 was a production car, but the Aerosport bodywork was a one off, also using a shortened and lowered version of the C27 chassis. It is an incredible looking machine, designed in part by its first owner to be a magnificent example of rolling art deco sculpture. It didn’t have the power of a Bugatti, but it could turn heads at least as well as any Type 57.

Talbot-Lago T150C SS

1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante
- image 652359

This is the “teardrop coupe” for which the French automaker is probably best remembered. There are no straight lines in the bodywork, every line curves, and several teardrop shapes make up the overall profile of the car. This is the result of the designer’s belief that the teardrop is the most perfect shape in nature, and that there was no sense in trying to improve on it. This seems to be sound logic, as the car is absolutely stunning. Like the Type 57, it is a race car under the skin, and Talbot-Lago would end up grabbing one Le Mans win before going under.

Conclusion

1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante High Resolution Exterior
- image 652109

Even as nothing more than a piece of design, the Atalante is a fascinating object. As a car it stands as an important statement that a functional car can also be art. The Atalante was even on display in the French Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York for precisely this reason — the car embodied such a perfect blend of art and technology that it was a pride of the nation. And, while there are certainly modern cars that are attractive, the automobile is not at the cutting edge of design the way it was when Ettore Bugatti was still alive.

  • Leave it
    • * Not quite as cool as owning an Atlantic
    • * Horrible car for those that dislike brown interiors
    • * Type 57 S/C cars are more valuable

Source: RM Sothebys

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: