What you are looking at here is arguably the most valuable car in the world. That sort of thing is very difficult to pin down, with so few of them in existence and no post-recession sales numbers to look at, but it is generally agreed to be the most valuable car in the world. The Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic has, as a result, come to be seen as one of the ultimate symbols of prewar automotive elegance, more rolling statue than car, and for once that isn’t hyperbole.
I myself once saw the Atlantic belonging to Ralph Lauren on display in an actual art museum (the Cleveland Museum of Art had a whole exhibit dedicated to the Bugatti family in 1999), where it was treated the same as the sculptures on display nearby.
Of course, there are a lot of seriously beautiful prewar cars, some even more rare than the Atlantic, that aren’t nearly so valuable. It’s difficult to say just what it is that makes this one so much more valuable than the rest. There is a combination of different factors at work, and some of them defy explanation. Ultimately, it’s so valuable because someone is willing to pay whatever it takes to own it.
Continue reading to learn more about the Bugatti 57sc Atlantic Coupe.
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.
Bugatti introduced the legendary Type 57 in 1934, laying the groundwork for some of its most iconic cars, including the Atlantic and Atalante. In true Bugatti fashion, the chassis of this high-performance road car was proven on the race track. The Type 57G took to the track in 1937, with an enclosed body that was quickly dubbed the "Tank." The Type 57G did Bugatti proud, winning the French Grand Prix in 1936 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1937 and 1939. The Le Mans victory was the first major international win for Bugatti. Just three Type 57G Tanks were produced, but what the car lacked in production numbers it more than made up for in results. Some accounts say that the Type 57Gs won every major race they were entered in. At the end of the 1939 Le Mans race, Bugatti was 26 miles ahead of the second-place car.
One of the streamliners disappeared after the Paris Auto Salon in 1936, and another Type 57G was destroyed in a tragic testing crash that killed Jean Bugatti shortly after it had won Le Mans in 1939. Legend has it that the last Type 57G Tank survived WWII thanks to the forward-thinking Bugatti family, who buried the vehicle underground for the duration of the conflict.
The shape and paint scheme of the Type 57G Tank also influenced the modern Bugatti Veyron, in the form of the first "Legends" limited-edition car introduced in 2013. The new car had very different dimensions, but there’s a clear lineage between the two vehicles, most evident with the Legends edition 2013 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse "Jean-Pierre Wimille," whose blue-on-blue livery matches that of the surviving Tank.
Continue reading to learn more about the 1937 Bugatti Type 57 G Tank.
The automobile was not even thirty years old when racing had taken a firm hold on enthusiasts. Enzo Ferrari was driving his performance cars to championships all over the world and others wanted in on the action. Ettore Bugatti was one of these men and he decided to take on Ferrari in a very different way than the others. He initially started with smaller, lighter, and less powerful cars than the Ferrari racecars of the time. This allowed the cars to be more nimble on the track and even finish second behind Ferrari in the Grand Prix du Mans of 1911.
This major accomplishment gave Ettore Bugatti the supporters and money necessary to continue his small operation in Molsheim. He began to produce stronger competitors and won more races every year. By 1920, Bugatti had its own Grand Prix championship under its belt and was ready to expand the company into different areas.
Ettore was a very respected man and ran his company with an iron fist, Le Patron as he was known, acted as a member of the upper crust and often invited them for factory tours and extravagant meals. According to Bugatti lore, at one of these dinners a woman remarked, “Everyone knows you build the greatest racing cars in the world. But for a town carriage of real elegance, one must go to Rolls-Royce or Daimler, isn’t that so?” This statement must have enraged Ettore, whether he showed it or not to his guests, he knew this was true. His company had been one-dimensional for many years and it was time to take some risks in the public sector. What came next is one of the most revered luxury automobiles ever made, the Royale.
Hit the jump for more details on the Bugatti Royale.
Ten years after its introduction, Bugatti’s three car line-up was ready for it second major revision. Where the 1913 revisions concentrated on the chassis and bodywork, the second concentrated on the engine. As one of the first engines in history, the new engine featured 4 valves per cylinder. The 16-valve engine was originally developed in 1914, but the First World War interfeered and Ettore Bugatti buried the engines.