The Bugattis of Museu do Caramulo
Taking a peek inside the Silver cabinet...
Within the automotive realm, it is possible to identify a social hierarchy, identical to the rigid social class system of a few centuries ago. The prominent names of the industry, the aristocracy of the automotive world, lauded by their achievements in motorsport.
These names evoke a sense of wonder, a wish to become a custodian of a piece of that history.
Few names carry the same grandeur as Bugatti. Almost a century later, its presence in displays and collections, remains magnetic for any enthusiast of this sort of moving works of art.
Their road cars were defined by speed and elegance.
The Type 57
In 1935 the Type 57 was launched. An entirely new design conceived by Jean Bugatti, (son of Ettore) dawned a new era for the brand. It featured a better and quieter engine, clothed by sumptuous bodywork, creating a charming end result. Applying some of the knowledge gathered in racing, the new model was also faster and more powerful. Using double overhead camshafts and forced induction, some versions reached 210bhp and 130mph . In 1936 a new hydraulic braking system as introduced, a change which was opposed by Ettore.
The difficulties the company faced, took a turn for the worse in 1939, with Jean's tragic death, right before the outbreak of WW2, by 1940 the production of the Type 57 was halted, Molsheim closed its doors soon after.
After the war, the plant was in ruins, hurting the effort to revive the brand. In 1947 following the death of Ettore, brought the definitive decline of the brand. Eventually terminating operations in 1952, the name faded into the pages of history.
The Type 57 was arguably the pinnacle of road cars built in Molsheim, especially when discussing the legendary Aérolithe and Atlantic variants. Renowned for their rarity and uniqueness, they still amaze us to this day.
One other variant of Type 57 was christened Atalante, paying homage to the Greek goddess Atalanta. An elegant two-door coupé, intended to transport the rich and famous on long tours across Europe. Only 17 units were ever produced, one of which resides at Museu do Caramulo.
This unique Atalante, first ordered by Fernand Chaussivert and built in 1938.
The customer commissioned Vanvooren to clothe, the chassis carrying a supercharged straight 8. A slightly longer body was created, to satisfy the request of seating 3 passengers . The all aluminium bodywork is 37 centimetres longer than standard, making for an outstanding grand tourer.
Only three vehicles were produced with the elongated bodywork. This is the only coupé, the other two examples were convertibles, one of which was notably commissioned by the French state and offered as a wedding present to the Shah of Persia.
After keeping the car for a few years, Chaussivert sells his example to Alfredo Marinho, a well-known athlete from Oporto. Once in Portuguese soil, the Atalante was sold to Bento Amorim. In 1975 João de Lacerda acquires it. Following a complete restoration, it became a member of the permanent exhibit at Museu do Caramulo.
This unique automobile still belongs to the "silver cabinet" of Museu do Caramulo, a fitting metaphor for this precious piece.
Admiring it is an unusual experience. Considering all its details, the intricate lines and the way they fuse together. The perception of what this shape symbolises becomes blurred. Is It an automobile, sculpture or jewellery?
It might be a blend, perhaps it is a vehicle with a sculptural shape, handbuilt with the care and precision of a watchmaker.
The Atalante shares the collection with a few other Bugatti. Particularly another Type 57. The Stelvio, is a convertible version, with a body by Gangloff. Its finesse is analogous to the Vanvooren built relative, when placed side by side the differences are evident, however, it becomes impossible to choose a favourite. These cars are so unique, they become incomparable. Each one has its own individuality and charm, something that can not be quantified or evaluated.
The moderate use of chrome combined with the two-tone paintwork draws attention, yet it does not generate any visual noise. That is the charm of it, a distillation of pure class and elegance. It portrays wealth in a subdued manner. Probably that is the main reason why it became one of the favoured automobiles of the elite.