The Bugatti Atlantic - and its Mystery...
The Bugatti Atlantic. One of the most beautiful, iconic, and valuable cars on the road today. Based on the Bugatti Type 57, it truly showcased the coachbuilding capabilities of Ettore Bugatti and his team. It was ahead of its time, with a handcrafted and streamlined body for maximum velocity made out of a high-tech lightweight metal alloy called Magnesium Elektron, configured specifically for the Atlantic. The car's body panels weren't welded, they were riveted together, as Elektron was prone to combustion when exposed to high temperatures, which gave the car its signature seam.
Only four were built in total. The car is so valuable today that people are willing to pay eight-figure prices just to own one of those exclusive and timeless machines dating all the way back to 1935. The Atlantic is regarded as one of the most beautiful of all time despite being over 75 years old. Out of the four Atlantics ever made, only three could be seen today. The whereabouts of the fourth one still remains a mystery till this day...
The Bugatti Aerolithe Concept
In the year 1935, Jean Bugatti, Ettore Bugatti's brother, and the co-founder of the Bugatti brand, designed the Bugatti Aerolithe. Feautring Jean's "SuperProfile coupé design approach, its looks stood out from all of the big and boxy cars on the road at that time. It featured an aerodynamically-focused design, with flowing lines, strong creases and its iconic dorsal seam running across the car from its front end to its back end. It was the most beautiful car ever built back in its day.
The car was built out of a material seldomly used in the automotive industry, or in manufacturing as a whole. The Aerolithe was made out of Elektron, a composite magnesium-based material known for being very lightweight and durable. The car earned its signature seam thanks to Elektron being extremely flammable when exposed to high temperatures. Because engineers couldn't weld the car, they riveted them instead.
The car made its first debut at the 1935 Paris Motor Show. Because of its alien shape, only a few people were interested in the Aerolithe. However, after people drove it, they were blown away by the car's performance, being able to accelerate quicker off the line thanks to its aerodynamic design and powerful engine. The Aerolithe had gotten its name from the French phrase, "Rapide comme une aérolithe", or "As fast as a meteorite." It was quickly adopted by Bugatti soon after.
The Bugatti Atlantic
The production variant of the Bugatti Atlantic didn't stray away much from the concept it was based on, the Aerolithe. It still featured that curvaceous, aerodynamic design, only this time, it was built out of aluminium. Its dorsal seams were retrained for aesthetic purposes and gave the car its iconic shape.
The Atlantic was named after Jean Bugatti's personal friend, French pilot Jean Mermoz. He was a pioneer in French aviation, being the first pilot in the world to cross the South Atlantic ocean. Unfortunately, in 1936, Mermoz and his crew crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after an engine failure had occurred on board. Originally, the was named the Bugatti Aéro Coupé. However, after hearing the tragic news, Jean Bugatti renamed the car into the Bugatti Atlantic Coupé in memoriam of his fallen friend.
Only four Atantic Coupés were ever built, each of them having a rich history trailing behind them with one that met a mysterious end...
The first Bugatti Atlantic, labeled as Chassis #57374, rolled off the production line in September 1936, sold to Victor Rothschild, a Royal Dutch Shell executive. Initially, the car wasn't built with the "C" specification, but with components sourced from the Aérolithe concept, the most notable of which being the chrome accents on either side of the grille. A few years later, the car was brought back to Molsheim, France to have the "C" specification fitted.
The car was abandoned in the middle of a field in 1941 after a supercharger had malfunctioned and exploded. It was sold to a mechanic, where the car was fixed and resold. In 1945, it was sold to a wealthy doctor and transported into the United States. It was then sold to Bugatti enthusiast Mike Oliver, repainted in a dark red shade. After his death in the year 1970, the car was resold to pilot Briggs Cunningham and soon, to car collector Peter Williamson. Under his ownership, he brought the car back to its original state and exhibited to the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where it won the "Best of Show" award.
Unfortunately, Williamson died a year later. The car remained under his family's possession until 2010 where it was put under the hammer for a whooping $30 million to car collector Peter Mullin. Today, the car is displayed at the Peter Mullin Automotive Museum in California.
Chassis #57473 rolled off the production line in December 1936, delivered to its first owner, Mr. Jacques Holzschuch. One year later, he entered his car into the "Juan-Les-Pins Concours d'Elegance" event where the vehicle received the "Grand Prix d'Honneur" award. In 1939, the car had undergone a significant styling change, believed to have been done by Italian designer Giuseppe Figoni.
Unfortunately, Mr. Holzschuch and his wife were killed as World War 2 raged. After the war had died down, businessman Cannes Robert Verkerke purchased the car alongside the mansion that was previously owned by Mr. Holzschuch. It entered the 3rd International Speed Circuit for touring cars race in Nice, France. It was marked as DNF. Verkerke sold the car and in the next couple of years, the car had more than three owners until it was sold to Bugatti enthusiast René Chatard in 1952.
Unfortunately, Chassis #57473 was hit by a train near Glen, France. Chatard and a female occupant were killed, and the car was completely destroyed. Its remains were sold as scrap metal. However, a French collector purchased the remains of the car and gave it a full restoration in 1977.
In 2006, an anonymous car collector bought the car and gave it a thorough restoration conducted by specialist Paul Russell to be brought back to Chatard's original specification. In 2010, the car was exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, where, unfortunately, it didn't win any prize, being considered a replica as it was restored from almost nothing with new parts being installed. Today, Chassis #57473 is displayed at the Torrota private collection in Spain.
The final Bugatti Atlantic, Chassis #57591, was built in May 1938 and sold to British tennis player Richard pope. The car had distinct features when compared to other Atlantics on the road. It distinguishes itself from the other Atlantics thanks to its "facelift" at its front end and the absence of rear fender covers. The car was sent back to Molsheim, France to have the "C" specification fitted. He would usually loan his car to Bugatti specialist Barrie Price throughout his ownership.
Eventually, Price bought the car in 1967. During his ownership, it was involved in a light crash and that got it stuck in a ditch. It was resold to businessman Anthony Bamford, and was resold to another collector shortly after. Eventually, world renowned fashion designer Ralph Lauren bought the car in 1998. He then commissions specialist Paul Russell to give the car a full restoration. After its restoration was complete, the car was given a new coat of black paint at Lauren's request. The car won two awards, the "Best of Show" award at the 1990 Concours d'Elegance and the "Best of Show" award at the Villa d'Este in 2013. It is still owned by Ralph Lauren until today.
The Missing Bugatti Atlantic - Chassis #57453
This Bugatti Atlantic, Chassis #57453, belonged to Jean Bugatti, the father of the Bugatti Atlantic. It was known as "La Voiture Noire", or The Black Car in French. The history of this specific car has been shrouded in mystery apart from its first years of production. It was the first Atlantic to be fitted with the "C" specification out of the production line. Chassis #57453 became the brand's poster car, and was exhibited at the 1937 Nice and Lyon Motor Shows.
Bugatti gave the car to racing driver Robert Benoist as a prize after winning the 1937 24 Hours of Le Mans. After a while, he gave the car to his close friend and race teammate, William Grover-Williams. Despite Chassis #57453 being regularly used, it never had a registered owner. In 1939, Williams and his wife fled to England after World War 2 had broke out. The car was last seen after being returned to the Bugatti factory in Molsheim, France. The last mention about Chassis #57453 was on a list of cars sent to Bordeaux, France during the French Exodus in 1941, with its chassis number changed to Chassis #57454.
Its whereabouts are still unknown till this day...