Where is the last Bugatti Atlantic?

By: Alex Affat, Unique Cars magazine

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Bugatti Atlantic 57453 Bugatti Atlantic 57453

No trace of the car exists beyond 1938, and Bugatti estimate it to be worth AUD$162 million.

There famously were four Bugatti Atlantic coupes ever built between 1936 and 1938, making them one of the rarest, most sought-after, and most expensive classic collectibles in the history of the motor car.

One car is owned by Ralph Lauren, one survives now fully restored after previously being destroyed in a crash, and one was built for British banker Victor Rothschild.

The fourth, a black car – La Voiture Noire – hasn’t been seen since 1938.

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In the modern day of information there are fewer and fewer places on earth for historical cars to hide.

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Yet chassis 57453’s fate remains unknown. Bugatti – assuming it survives - estimate it to be worth AUD$162 million.

Bugatti just days ago pulled the cover off a special one-off ode to the lost Atlantic - a modern interpretation of La Voiture Noire - at the Geneva Motor show. It had a sticker price of AUD$26.7 million, and it’s already been sold.

Which got us thinking, where is the long-lost Bugatti Atlantic of which the new hypercar is based?

Hemmings has also been wondering, and has collated all known and alleged history.

They go on to point out that; by the 30s, Jean Bugatti – eldest son of founder Ettore Bugatti – was designing most of the marque’s cars. The Type 57 was penned to modernise the range, and would underpin everything from luxury touring cars to race cars.

One such car built upon the Type 57 was the 1935 Aerolithe Concept.

Originally designed out of a 90/10 Magnesium-Aluminium alloy, the body was light and strong, albeit impossible to weld. To bond the body panels, Jean came up with the now-iconic vertical seam that ran the length of the body, as well as the front fenders.

The Aerolithe concept went on to become the ultra-limited Aero Coupe, with its skin now made of aluminium. The vertical seem remained as a distinguished design element.

Two cars were completed by 1936, when Jean received news that his close friend – and pioneering aviator – Jean Mermoz had crashed and perished at sea. The  cars from then-on were named ‘Atlantic Coupes’ in honour of Mermoz’s feats and memory.

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The first Aero/Atlantic coupe, chassis 57374, was delivered to Victor Rothschild in 1936. The car went back to Bugatti to be fitted with a supercharger, but Rothschild blew the engine two years later and left the car in a field before selling it to a London mechanic. The car was rebuilt (sans unreliable forced-induction) and passed through a few owners before being sold in 1971 for USD$59,000 – the then-most expensive car in the world. Today it’s owned by Peter Mullin and Rob Walton.

The second car, and first to be produced after the Aero/Atlantic name change, was delivered to Jacques Holzchuh. Tragically, Holzchuh and his wife both died during The War, with the car passing through numerous owners before landing with Bugatti collector, Rene Chatard, in 1952. A few years later, Chatard and ‘lady friend’ Janine Vacheron, were driving the car in France, but were tragically struck by a train at a crossing. Both occupants were killed and the car was destroyed.

The scraps were bought in 1963 by a French collector who spent 14 years recreating the car. The car sold to its current owner in 2016 and now resides in a private collection.

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The final known Atlantic Coupe was built and delivered to British barrister and tennis star Richard Pope. This car too was taken back to the factory for a supercharger retrofit. Passing through a number of private collections, the car was famously bought by Ralph Lauren in 1988.

That leaves the final lost Atlantic coupe.

Chassis 57453 was the second Aero/Atlantic coupe produced by 1936 just prior to the Atlantic name change. It was Jean Bugatti’s personal car, delivered in October 1936.

It was the only black car delivered from factory – giving it the name La Voiture Noire, translated to ‘The Black Car’.

It was also the only Atlantic that was supercharged from factory. It was displayed at the 1937 Nice and Lyon Motor Shows, and was utilised in company brochures.

History essentially stops here. Some suggest that Jean Bugatti gifted the rare Atlantic to Robert Benoist, a Bugatti driver who won the 1937 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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History from 1938 grows even more mysterious, as Bugatti state that officially no trace of the car exists from henceforth. Some believe Benoist gifted the car again to fellow Bugatti racer William Grover-Williams, who returned the car to Bugatti’s facility in Molsheim when he left France for England in 1939. Some believe that the car was shipped from Molsheim to Bordeaux along with sever other Bugatti vehicles, possibly under a different chassis number in order to keep them safe as The War emerged.

Hemmings points out that, given the car was technically a factory demonstrator, La Voiture Noire never actually had a registered owner, meaning history sleuths and classic car hunters are unable to trace the car through existing records.

Also, Jean Bugatti’s untimely death in 1939 while testing a Bugatti Type 57C Tank, left the company in administrative shambles – at a time when the company’s survival was already incredibly unstable. Subsequently, you can see why factory records of the era are not entirely comprehensive.

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So, where is La Voiture Noire now?

Well, there is a chance that it was destroyed in the war, or scrapped.

But maybe it did make it out of Holsheim, and it’s sitting under 81 years of dust in a barn somewhere in Europe…

That would make it the most valuable singular barn find in history, and indeed, the most valuable car in the world.

 

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