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Beauty Defined: The 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

We’re gearing up for a few special events later this summer, and in my research and preparation for those events, I came across a photo of a gorgeous ’30s Bugatti.  It reminded me that I had yet to share one of my favorite vintage French cars with you – the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic – and this example currently resides at the Mullin Automotive Museum.


Each time I am face to face (or, rather, face to grille) with a seriously beautiful vintage Bugatti like this ’36 Atlantic, my heart actually skips a beat and I am literally breathless for a moment.  I get lost in the incredible thought, design, and craftsmanship of cars like these, staring intensely at it (for far too long) from every angle, anxious to take in every last detail.


Only four Type 57SC Atlantics were made, and of those four, only two still exist.  One is owned by designer Ralph Lauren, while the other was purchased from the Williamson family in 2010 for a sum of $30-40 million.  Thankfully, the buyer has graciously put this Bugatti on display at the Mullin, and the museum provides excellent detail on this automotive work of art…


“This exquisite Bugatti was delivered to Lord Victor Rothschild in England on September 2, 1936.  Three years later, in 1939, Mr. Rothschild had the Bugatti factory install a Roots supercharger from a Type 55 engine, upgrading the model to a Type 57SC.


Having blown up the engine, he nevertheless kept the car in storage in England until 1941, when he sold it to his countryman Mr. T.P. Tunnard Moore.  Mr. Moore and Robert Arbuthnot, a sometime racer of Brooklands, were partners of High Speed Motors of London.


At some point, Mr. Moore sold the car to Arbuthnot, who in turn sold it to Rodney Clarke of Continental Cars, Ltd., in 1944.  A year later, Mr. Clarke sold the Type 57SC to Mr. Robert Oliver, a wealthy American doing duty in France as a member of the US Army Medical Corps.


In August 1956, Mr. Oliver had 57374 shipped to the United States, where he received it in New York and proceeded to drive it home to Los Angeles.  In 1953, Mr. Oliver shipped the car back to the Bugatti factory, where its engine was completely rebuilt and the correct Type 57SC supercharger and hydraulic brakes were installed.


Following Mr. Oliver’s passing the Atlantic was sold in 1971 through public auction to Dr. Peter Williamson, who paid an unprecedented $59,000.  Following refurbishment the car was shown at Pebble Beach in 2003 and won ‘Best in Show.'”


No matter how gorgeous this Bugatti looks in photos, pictures simply do not do it justice.  If you have an affinity for vintage Bugattis, seeing this epic beauty in person should be on your automotive bucket list.  If you’re lucky enough to be able to visit the Mullin, you’ll be delighted by their knowledgeable docents, who are filled with incredible side stories and back histories on these vehicles.  As legend has it, according to one of their docents, Gianoberto “Jean” Bugatti, came up with the teardrop shape of this car after seeing a tear fall down his wife’s cheek, which he thought would make a beautiful and aerodynamic design to integrate into his next car.


Jean, the eldest son of Etorre Bugatti, combined forces with his father to produce elegant autos like this one – Jean contributed the design, while Etorre took charge of the engineering.  Sadly, in 1939, just three years after the debut of this Type 57SC, Jean died in a crash while testing one of the family’s newest creations.  We can only imagine what else he would have created had he lived longer, but the legacy that lives on is certainly a grand one.

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