Bugatti Type 57C Atalante – 1938

Bugatti Type 57C Atalante – 1938

Bugatti Type 57C Atalante – 1938

Marca : Bugatti
Modello : Type 57C
Versione : Atalante
Anno : 1938
Telaio N. : 57624
Motore N. : 448
Esemplari prodotti : 12
Carrozzeria : Bugatti
Progettista : 
Motore : 8 cilindri in linea
Cilindrata : 3.257 cc
Distribuzione : DOHC
Valvole Cilindro : .
Alimentazione : Compressore Roots
Potenza : 160 CV
Top speed Km/h :

Auction Result
2018 – Parigi – Artcurial – 2.903.200 €

The various factory registers allow us to trace the origins of the car on offer, as follows :

Bugatti coachwork factory book
The handwritten records of cars bodied by Bugatti in 1938 have been conserved. They tell us that in January 1938, two ” Coupé Atalante ” were built :
– Chassis 57598, in two-tone red livery, completed on 10 January,
– Chassis 57624, ” blue/black body – tan leather interior “, left the workshop on 28 January 1938.
It was the seventh Bugatti to leave the coachbuilders during 1938. At that time, between four and eight cars were built a month and 1938 was the last year that the ” 2-seater Coupé Atalante ” appeared in the Bugatti catalogue. There would be a couple of further examples assembled in 1939, for special orders, including one that was prepared for the New York Motor Show.
A total of 34 Atalantes were built on 57 or 57C chassis. The model had been presented to the press in April 1935, known then as a ” Faux-Cabriolet “, and not officially named Atalante until the Motor Show in October 1935. Only 17 examples of the Atalante coupé were built on a 57S chassis.

Monthly sales register
Chassis 57624, fitted with engine 448, was assembled in December 1937, and was sent to the coachbuilder at the start of 1938. The car was completed on 28 January 1938.

Delivery register
The vehicle 57624/448 coupé Atalante was transported from the factory to the Geneva Motor Show by train on 2 February 1938. The car had not been promised to, or bought by, the agent in Geneva, but sent by Molsheim for loan or display only. Having been finished just five days before being sent to the Motor Show, we can conclude that it was built specifically for the event, and consequently particular care was taken in its construction.
The car was officially sold on 5 April 1938 to the Bugatti dealer in Geneva, Jean Sechaud. The Sechaud Garage had taken over from Garage Blanc et Paiche around 1932 as the Bugatti representative in Geneva. There were many Type 57 sold new in Switzerland, but only two Atalante coupés put into circulation there: chassis numbers 57402 and 57624.

A Swiss history
Chassis 57624 was officially imported into Switzerland on 8 April 1938. It crossed the border at Saconnex (receipt number 7142). The vehicle was described as ” Coupé – weight 1473 kg “. There are no longer any proper registration records of Swiss cars from before the war, but cross-checking of statistics records has shown that in 1938, the first four Bugatti were imported in April. These were completed cars and not chassis. Of these four, one went to Lausanne and the other to Geneva, and 57624 was undoubtedly one of these two.
We have consulted Swiss police archives and found 57624 logged there, always registered in Geneva. We can suppose that the Bugatti was on the road in this canton from 1938, when new, through to 1948, when we come across the car again in the hands of an enthusiast by the name of de Marignac.

Chronology of Swiss owners
Gilbert de Marignac and his cousin Bernard Darier acquired this car around 1948. At that time, it was registered GE 11146. We traced Mr de Marignac, who now lives in Crans, near Céligny. He recalls : ” The car was bought by my cousin Darier. For some reason, I was the co-owner, although I rarely used it. However, I still remember it was lovely to drive. I seem to remember the car was green and was re-painted light brown. In 1950, I ended up working in America and lost track of the car, which was probably sold by my cousin at that time. ”
Darier is no longer alive. He was close to the Hentsch family, that owned one of the four Swiss private banks, Hentsch & Cie. Marignac and his brother Denis had married the two Van Bercham sisters, connected to the Pictet bank.

The next owner of 57624 was Alphonse Gontran-Weber who registered the vehicle with the number NE 2542 (Neuchâtel canton). He lives in Lugano today but comes from a town near Neuchâtel, called Boudry, and discovered this car in a large garage in the town around 1950. He told us that he owned the car with a friend of his, Bernard Darier. It is possible that Darier sold the car to Gontran-Weber while retaining the use of it. The chronology of the owners is, for the moment, consistent. Gontran-Weber remembers having raced at Monza in his Atalante 57. He was a wholesaler of precious stones, who travelled on business to Brazil and South Africa, and had offices in Geneva. He was also responsible for setting up the ” Gontran-Weber Trophy ” for motor racing. In two letters that he wrote to a Bugatti enthusiast in 1998, he remembers that at a later date a certain Charles Renaud won this trophy with the Aston Martin team at Monza !
Darier and Gontran owned several cars together including a Delahaye. When their partnership came to an end, Gontran-Weber chose to keep the Bugatti. He later sold it, through Hubert Patthey, to a close friend of the latter, Charles Renaud, also from the Neuchâtel region. He lived in Cortaillod, the village next to Boudry.
As the car remained in the same area, it retained the registration number NE 2542. In a long letter to one of the future owners of this car, Renaud states that he bought the car in Geneva in 1952. Gontran remembers seeing the car, damaged, in Basel or Geneva, some time after he sold it. Perhaps in the garage where Renaud would discover it ? Renaud's letter lists all the modifications and improvements he made to the vehicle during his ownership. The key elements of this work were:
– The supercharger was fitted at the factory in Molsheim
– The coachbuilder Köng in Basel restored and modified the body.

One wonders whether the car had been seriously damaged before, or shortly after Renaud bought it, as Gontran told us he saw the car in a dreadful state in the garage in question. We note that the curve of the rear wings, which on the original design, joins in the middle of the stern, is interrupted and separated by a band at the rear, on 57624, just as it is today. Looking at the back of the car in a photograph taken in the grounds of the château d'Ermenonville in 1958, it appears that this modification was there then, leading us to believe that it was part of the work carried out by Köng in 1952 or 1953.
In his letter, Renaud says that he sold 57624 to a Mr Marz from Bern, in 1957. We have discovered records of this owner in the Swiss police archives, under ” Marx, Dolmetscher. ” The Bugatti was registered BE 59930. According to the written recollections of Renaud, ” When I sold it to a certain M. Marx, from Bern, the vehicle was in perfect condition…Unfortunately he had to get rid of it shortly afterwards… ” We believe that Marx asked Renaud to take the car back and sell it for him, as we have traced the owner after Marx through the police records.
This was Roger-Georges Poinsot, from Carouge, a district of Geneva where he still lives. He worked in the family central heating business. Born in 1932, it was around 1954 that he bought his first Type 57 Bugatti, a 1935 Ventoux coach, which ended up at the scrap yard. He remembers the Atalante that followed it : ” In around 1955, I bought a black and yellow coupé 57 from C.Renaud of Basel. It was mechanically sound apart from the linkage, which began to flake off into the filter! I used it every day for some 15 000 km. It used 25 litres per 100 km. The rather large turning circle meant that to get round small squares, the car had to slide on four-wheels in first gear. I had to sell the Atalante for financial reasons after the birth of my son. It was a certain Mr Fatio, from Bellevue, who bought it. My concerns about the car were justified for, just after he bought it, I learnt that he had issues with the connecting rods. ” This account fits with Renaud taking the car back again before selling it on to Poinsot, who registered the Bugatti in Geneva with the number GE 56608.

The car then passed to the next owner, Jean-Louis Fatio, from an old Geneva family. He was a young student living in Bellevue in 1957 when his friend, Raymond Hyvert from Carouge, told him that his neighbour Poinsot was selling his coupé Atalante. The transaction was concluded the following Saturday for the sum of 5 000 FS, and 3 500 Fs handed over as a down payment. Fatio had used all his meagre student savings to buy this coveted Bugatti, despite some paternal opposition.
” Shortly after buying the car, on my first trip out in it, I had just got to the end of the straight road in Bellevue when I broke four rods. By chance, a friend overheard a conversation in a bar in Geneva in which Poinsot congratulated himself on selling his Bugatti which he knew had a linkage problem. I phoned him straight away and asked him either to take the car back or forget about the remaining 1 500 FS ; he accepted the second option.
The Atalante had rear bumpers from a Jaguar XK120, but the restoration dating from Renaud's ownership was of high quality and car looked magnificent. The job of fixing the engine was given to the former chief mechanic of the Garage Sechaud : Gaillepand. ”
The latter had been working for himself for several years in a small workshop in a basement, in rue du Roveray, Geneva. The Garage Sechaud was still operational but had moved to a large site at 16 rue Manoir, in the Eaux-Vives district. Gaillepand suggested to Fatio that the engine was mounted on small pink metal bearings. Having taken advice from the Bugatti factory, the work was carried out immaculately by the former Sechaud chief mechanic.
Fatio remembers that while he was on a rally at Le Mans in his Atalante, he met Charles Renaud, who was taking part in a 57SC. On the Hunaudières straight, he remembers overtaking Renaud's 57SC at over 200 km/h ! The aluminium-bodied, supercharged car was extremely quick.
Around 1960 – 1961, after a hugely enjoyable period spent behind the wheel of his restored Atalante, Fatio went to work in the US. He was, by then, already in contact with the great collector Milton Roth, of Long Beach, California. Roth had visited Fatio's family home in Messery, on the French side of the lake. While there Roth saw several Type 57 Bugattis stored by Fatio for Robert Baer. Baer was a dealer from Geneva who specialised in beautiful collectors' cars that Americans had been coveting since the early 1950s. While Fatio was in the US, his father organised the sale of 57624 to Milton Roth, through Robert Baer.

The Atalante's American history
The rest of the car's story is well known through the ” Bugatti Register 1962 ” of HG Conway, which names the Californian owner who bought the car in circa 1961 from Roth : Michael H. Strater, 3555 Dwight Way, Berkeley 4, California.
Fatio recalls visiting Roth in California in 1961 and remembers that Roth no longer owned the car then. It had changed hands for 3 500 $.
In 1963, the car sold to the future president of the American Bugatti Club, the renowned neurologist Peter Williamson, of Greenwich, CT. A full restoration of the car was carried out by the Bugatti specialist O. A. Phillips. This mechanic, working in the outskirts of Los Angeles, had been maintaining rare Californian Bugatti since 1931 ! The new livery in reversed red and black, dates from this period.

The coachwork bears the assembly number 25, making it the 25th Atalante, with a long Type 57 chassis, to leave the Bugatti workshops, of a series of 34 vehicles assembled between 1935 and 1939. Every possible combination of colours appear to have been tried out on the coachwork of this car : the original black/blue two-tone pattern is thought to have comprised an almost completely black body with doors and side panels on the bonnet in dark blue.
The Atalante coupé on a Type 57 chassis is one of the most beautiful Bugatti to appear at any Concours d'Elégance, and is also one of the most exclusive and desirable models built by Bugatti.
The vehicle on offer possesses all the features of the last Atalante models, with supercharged engine, aluminium body, hydraulic brakes and integrated lights. It will be delivered to its future owner with a wonderful file of period invoices, photographs, documents and correspondence with the factory.

Pierre-Yves Laugier
For Artcurial
November 2017

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