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*Please note that this car is titled as a 1938.
Formerly the Property of Alphonse Gandon, Jean De Dobbeleer and George Huguely
The Type 57S
As production of the Type 57, Bugatti’s most successful road-going model, entered its fourth year, a new model emerged in parallel to the standard line. Dubbed the Type 57S (S standing for surbaissé, or low), this radical Bugatti was extensively re-engineered to be a thoroughly sporting version – lighter, faster, shorter, lower, and more technically advanced than the existing Type 57.
The 57S frame was designed in such a way that the engine was mounted considerably closer to the ground than on the standard car, thereby lowering the center of gravity. The deep C-channel, gondola-shaped frame rails were of thinner material and thus significantly lighter than the Type 57 frame. A sophisticated dry-sump lubrication system did away with the high-capacity oil pan in favor of a remote oil tank governed by dual pumps. The 57S engine developed some 20–25 additional horsepower via a higher compression ratio and careful tuning. Additionally, the conventional distributor was discarded in favor of a high-performance Scintilla Vertex magneto, driven by the exhaust cam gear and tucked neatly behind the firewall, ahead of the dash. Ingeniously, the rear section of the 57S frame was designed so that the rear axle passed through an oval-shaped opening in each side rail, allowing the car to settle further down over the axle. The 57S also used a specifically designed exhaust system that utilized special baffles within a thinner casing and a horizontal row of five small-diameter tailpipes to maintain a minimal, but acceptable 10 cm of ground clearance.
The front suspension of the 57S was also significantly revised, as it utilized a semiindependent configuration of a two-piece hollow axle with precisely machined, tapered ends held within a central knurled collar. This unconventional axle worked in unison with highly complex de Ram shock absorbers that, through a combination of hydraulic pressure and metallic multi-plate discs, provided immediate and extremely effective damping. It has been widely noted that, in the late 1930s, a single de Ram shock absorber commanded the same price as an entry-level automobile.
The radical proportions of the 57S chassis afforded Jean Bugatti and other coachbuilders a wide range of new possibilities. With its low chassis and efficient mechanical packaging, the hood line and coachwork of a Type 57S typically sat several inches lower than a comparably styled Type 57. Furthermore, the low hood line of the 57S allowed the fenders to peak just above the top of the vee’d radiator shell, and the coachwork completely enveloped the frame.
The result was a car that appeared impossibly low and sublimely dramatic. Fitted with a supercharger, the 57SC developed some 200 HP and, as expected, performance was brisk. Colonel Godfrey Giles, one of the founders of the Bugatti Owner’s Club and an original owner of a Type 57SC, beautifully expressed his impressions of the new Bugatti model following a test run with the factory demonstrator:
“It was with considerable excitement that I heard from Colonel Sorel that the type 57S Electron Coupé which was exhibited at the Motor Show and returned to England for a few days in the capable hands of Mr. Williams of the Scuderia Bugatti, and that, should I wish it, the car would call for me and take me for a run round the houses! I most definitely did wish it, and the beautiful little car arrived…With regard to the run it is difficult not to describe it without breaking into superlatives…
We went up the Finchley road and occasionally when opportunity permitted third was engaged and with a more generous throttle opening the seat hit me hard in the back. Clear of the speed limit and after waiting for colour lights the car was started in bottom gear and the engine run up to about 5,000 r.p.m. in each gear, the effect was fantastic. Very little noise from the engine, no noise from the exhaust, no sound from the gears and perfect gear changes and in an incredibly short time from 0-m.p.h. we were travelling at 115 m.p.h….Down to second up to third, and again up into top and again up to 100 m.p.h., and so we proceeded to the end of the Barnet by-pass, varying from 20 to 40 m.p.h. to 100 m.p.h. in the same way as most cars travel between 20 and 50 m.p.h….Reluctantly we turned round and repeated the performance back to Finchley and again trickled through the West End traffic on top gear without a sound. Truly an extraordinary car with a dual personality and handled by a superb driver.”
Constructed in Molsheim in April 1937, chassis no. 57523 was originally equipped with frame number 27 and engine number 23S. The completed 57S chassis was then fashioned with the magnificent, Jean Bugatti-designed Atalante coachwork – a striking two-passenger coupe named after an Arcadian princess from Greek mythology.
A brilliant design on the standard Type 57, the Atalante transforms into a true masterpiece on the 57S. A lithe, ethereal beauty, the Type 57S Atalante is among the most attractive, ideally proportioned and sporting bodies ever fitted to a Bugatti chassis. Many would argue that the Atalante is second only to the ultra-rare Atlantic, which was also designed by Jean Bugatti for use on the 57S.
Though they were offered through the factory as a catalogued body style, no two 57S Atalantes are alike and each differs in subtle detail. This Atalante, body number 10, has several unique characteristics, the most immediately recognizable being its unusually large Scintilla headlamps, which project from the bodywork on voluptuous tubular forms and imbue the car with an undeniably elegant, dreamy-eyed appearance. The remarkable lights, combined with the body’s fully skirted rear fenders and a beautifully resolved rear-end treatment, make this a particularly appealing and distinctive Atalante – one that is immediately recognizable from its sisters.
As completed, 57523 was finished in a splendid monochromatic black livery and delivered to the official Bugatti agent on Avenue de Montaigne in Paris.
In May, the Atalante was sold to its first owner Alphonse Gandon, a successful wine and liquor merchant. An archetypal 57S owner, M. Gandon had owned at least one other Bugatti prior to his acquisition of 57523, a Figoni-bodied Type 55 Roadster with which Jacques Dupuy won the 1933 Paris-Nice race. A connoisseur who certainly appreciated artful design and quality in all aspects of life, M. Gandon’s private residence at 12 Rue Turgot was a lovely Art Deco house situated at the edge of a forest in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Early on, 57523 returned to Molsheim, where it received a Roots-type supercharger and became one of the very first 57SCs. As noted by Bugatti historian Julius Kruta, in the original Bugatti factory engine list there is a “C” marked next to this chassis number, indicating that this car must have had its blower added shortly after delivery.
On September 17, 1940, the Bugatti was registered in Ville d’Avray under Gaston Polonois; however, in April 1946, 57523 was re-registered by M. Gandon. Though nothing further is known of the circumstances, it is likely that M. Gandon owned the Bugatti throughout this entire period and merely had the car re-registered to protect it – or perhaps himself – during the war years.
Following M. Gandon’s ownership, the 57SC Atalante was sold to Jacques Longuet of Paris and was registered as “7815 BP 75” on December 2, 1952. The oldest surviving photographs of 57523 were taken during M. Longuet’s ownership and confirm that the 57SC Atalante participated in the very first International Bugatti Meeting, which included a rally from Maastricht to Le Mans in June 1958.
About this time, 57523 was sold to Jean De Dobbeleer of Brussels, Belgium. In the years following WWII, De Dobbeleer was Europe’s foremost Bugatti dealer. Between the late 1940s and the early 1970s, De Dobbeleer scoured Europe for Bugattis, buying, selling, and restoring innumerable cars including some of the most significant examples of the marque.
As noted by many Bugatti historians, the Belgian enthusiast had a keen preference for the latermodel Bugattis, primarily the exotic 57S models, of which he owned several outstanding variants.
In 1959, chassis no. 57523 was imported to the US by well-known Bugattist Gene Cesari, a man many consider among the most important contributors to America’s rich appreciation for the Bugatti marque. An academic, racer, and gentleman farmer, Mr. Cesari has been involved with Bugattis since 1953 and, in 1958, was even appointed as the firm’s official North American agent by Bugatti Automobiles Director General M. de Made. In late 1959 or 1960, Mr. Cesari sold the 57SC Atalante to George W. Huguely of Annapolis, Maryland. During this period, Mr. Huguely quietly assembled an impressive stable of important motorcars that included a Bugatti 57C Gangloff Cabriolet, two Mercedes-Benz (an S-Type and a 540K Special Roadster), three Duesenbergs (Clark Gable’s Bohman & Schwartz Roadster, a Fernandez & Darrin Convertible Victoria, and a Holbrook Town Car), and three Touring-bodied Alfa Romeos – a long-chassis 2.3 Le Mans Tourer, a short-chassis 2.9 Spider, and the 1948 Mille Miglia-winning 2.9 Berlinetta.
Shortly after Mr. Huguely purchased the Bugatti, his mechanic put a tablespoon of upper cylinder lubricant in each cylinder. Eventually, this resulted in a hydraulic lock, which caused damage to the block. As a result, Mr. Huguely removed the original engine and, some time later, sold the 57SC Atalante to Dr. Donald Vesley, a resident of Louisiana and Florida.
Like Huguely, Dr. Vesley owned a number of interesting classics – primarily supercharged Mercedes-Benz, Bugattis, and Duesenbergs. During his ownership, Mr. Vesley acquired a standard Type 57 engine, which he then converted to SC specifications – complete with dry-sump lubrication and a supercharger – and installed it in 57523.
Dr. Vesley eventually sold the 57SC Atalante through Ed Lucas of Troy, Michigan, to noted Illinois collector William Jacobs. In the 1990s, the Blackhawk Collection acquired 57523 from Mr. Jacobs and restored the car, refinishing it in a two-tone red and black color scheme.
In 2005, the current owner was presented with the opportunity to acquire 57523 and simultaneously reunite the Atalante with its original, matching-numbers engine. The engine, which had been repaired and subsequently installed in a Bugatti special, was finally acquired following a careful negotiation.
In 2006, the 57SC Atalante was entrusted to Bob Mosier, one of the most respected restorers of important antiques and classics. In his typical fashion, Mosier completely restored this important Bugatti in a no-expense-spared manner, with great sensitivity to originality and authenticity. During the meticulous three-year process, every aspect of the Bugatti was addressed, from rebuilding the engine with the finest components available to restoring the complex Atalante coachwork.
In a recent conversation, Mosier remarked that, “this was one of those rare restorations, where the stars align and everything just comes together perfectly.” In fact, as the car was being restored, the original – and unique – Scintilla headlights, Marchal auxiliary lights, distinctive parking lights, and traditional “moustache” bumpers, which had been removed from the car before its arrival in the US, were sourced in Europe and rightfully returned to 57523.
Beyond these important features, this 57SC was found to be fundamentally sound, remarkably correct, and complete in all areas. The original body number (10) is stamped throughout the coachwork. According to Mosier, the Atalante retains nearly all of its original aluminum panels and, even more impressively, the majority of its original wooden framing. Furthermore, the original data tag is still affixed to the engine-turned firewall, and the engine displays the correct factory stamping on the lower sump (23S) as well as its numbered supercharger and indexed sub-assembly stampings.
In 2009, 57523 made its post-restoration debut at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. After completing the Tour d’Elegance without incident, the Atalante was displayed in Class E-2 (Bugatti Type 57 Special Coachwork) and earned both First in Class and the prestigious French Cup, a special honor awarded to the most significant car of French origin.
Since its impressive showing at Pebble Beach, the 57SC has been displayed selectively at the most prestigious concours and has never failed to attract accolades and honors. At the 2010 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, it was awarded Best in Class and its only subsequent outings – at the Santa Barbara and Avila Beach Concours d’Elegance – both resulted in Best of Show honors.
Most recently, the 57SC Atalante was entrusted to Sargent Metalworks in Fairlee, Vermont, to be refinished in its original black livery. Having maintained the famed Williamson Collection (which at its height included three 57S Bugattis) and restored the Pebble Beach Best of Show-winning Type 57SC Atlantic, Sargent Metalworks was uniquely qualified to perform this important task and approached the project with great enthusiasm.
Under Sargent Metalworks’ guidance and supervision, the Atalante was carefully disassembled and repainted by Warren Wolfe of Royal Coachworks in Anderson, South Carolina. From there, Mike Lemire of Richmond Upholstery refinished the headliner and carpeting to complement the beautiful antiqued tan hides and French walnut dashboard.
Finished in immaculate jet black and tastefully outfitted with painted wheel discs, the Atalante projects an elegantly tailored appearance that is ideally suited to its magnificent sculptural form, delicately drawn lines, and exquisite details. Prepared by two of the most respected restorers in the country and presented in faultless condition, 57523 offers its new caretaker the opportunity to acquire one of the very best examples of the legendary 57SC and an ideal ticket to the finest motoring events. Here is a motorcar that will be a star at any leading concours in the world, from Pebble Beach to Villa d’Este, as well as a spectacular and rewarding entry into the most exclusive tours, including the International Bugatti Rally and the Colorado Grand.
One of the most important and enigmatic manufacturers in the history of the automobile, the Bugatti marque is virtually synonymous with excellence. In just a few short decades, the eccentric Ettore Bugatti, along with his brilliant son Jean, elevated automotive production from the utilitarian work of engineers to a genuine artistic pursuit. All Bugattis bear the unmistakable signature of their maker and possess the qualities that one hopes to find in an automobile – inspired styling, superior engineering, quality craftsmanship, and thoroughbred performance.
As the culmination and pinnacle of Bugatti production, the Type 57S is universally acclaimed as an automotive masterpiece. It stands among the most important Bugatti automobiles ever built and, for over 60 years, collectors have regarded these precious few low-chassis Type 57s as the finest pre-war motorcars. With its advanced specifications, exceptional levels of performance, and spectacular range of Jean Bugatti-designed coachwork, the 57S truly embodies the spirit and traditions of the Bugatti marque, Le Pur-Sang des Automobiles.
In total, Bugatti built just 42 production 57S models between fall 1936 and spring 1938. Of these, just 17 examples were completed with Jean Bugatti’s incomparable Atalante coachwork, widely regarded as one of the most attractive, influential, and recognizable automotive designs of all time.
From this limited number, it is important to note that two 57S Atalantes have been forever lost and four are permanent fixtures in the Musée National de l’Automobile in Mulhouse, France. The 11 remaining examples are held in the world’s finest automobile collections and are not likely to trade hands in the foreseeable future.
In every respect, this 57SC Atalante is a true mechanical objet d’art – an exclusive and sporting Bugatti of unrivalled beauty, rarity, and sophistication, whose unquestioned authenticity, superb restoration, and magnetic presence place it among the top tier of collectible automobiles.
No world-class collection is complete without a Bugatti 57S. When the next example might become available is anyone’s guess, but it will almost certainly pale in comparison to this exceptional 57SC Atalante – one of the most beautiful, exotic, and important automobiles ever built.