1935 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante


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From the collection of the late Barry Burnett
1935 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante
Coachwork by Bugatti
Registration no. DYF 4
Chassis no. 57252

'The car sped along at 80mph with the comfort and quietness one associates with the Type 57... We were quite willing to believe that Jean Bugatti has achieved the 435 kilometres to Paris in just under 1½ hours in the Type 57 - an average of 77mph...' - Motor Sport, May 1939.

By the early 1930s Ettore Bugatti had established an unrivalled reputation for building cars with outstanding performance on road or track; the world's greatest racing drivers enjoying countless successes aboard the Molsheim factory's products and often choosing them for their everyday transport. Because of its lengthy run of success, Ettore Bugatti remained stubbornly committed to his single-cam engine, only adopting the more advanced double-overhead-camshaft method of valve actuation, after much prompting by his eldest son Jean, on the Type 50 of 1930. From then on Jean Bugatti took greater responsibility for design, his first car being the exquisite Type 55 roadster, a model ranking among the finest sports cars of the 1930s. He followed that with a design of equal stature, the Type 57. A larger car than the Type 55, the Type 57 was powered by a 3.3-litre, double-overhead-camshaft straight eight of modern design housed in Bugatti's familiar Vintage-style chassis. Showing the strong influence of Jean Bugatti, it at last gave the marque a civilised Grande Routière to match those of rivals Delage and Delahaye.

The Type 57 attracted coachwork of the finest quality executed in a startling variety of styles but was no mere rich man's plaything, as evidenced by two outright wins at Le Mans; proof, if it were needed, that ancestral virtues had not been abandoned when creating a car fit to rank alongside Rolls-Royce or Bentley. Its success is revealed by the production figures: some 670-or-so examples of all Type 57 models were produced between 1934 and 1940, and the post-war Type 101 was based on its chassis. However, although many Type 57s were fitted with bespoke bodies, the most popular coachwork was built to Jean Bugatti's designs by the marque's preferred carrossier, Gangloff of Colmar, just a few miles from the Bugatti works at Molsheim. Factory offerings on the Type 57 chassis included the Galibier four-door saloon, Stelvio cabriolet, four-seater Ventoux coupé, and two-seater Atalante faux cabriolet (coupé). In Greek mythology, the athletic huntress Atalanta would only marry a man that could out-run her; it is thus a most appropriate appellation for this fast, exotic and very stylish Bugatti.

The Type 57 in all its forms attracted discerning owners who were only satisfied with the best, among them speed king Sir Malcolm Campbell. Himself the owner of a Type 57, he wrote: 'If I was asked to give my opinion as to the best all-round super-sports car which is available on the market today, I should, without any hesitation whatever, say it was the 3.3 Bugatti... it cannot fail to attract the connoisseur or those who know how to handle the thoroughbred. It is a car in a class by itself.'

This fine Bugatti Type 57 – number '57252' – started life as one of 10 'Grand Raid' two-seater sports roadster chassis but actually left the factory as one of three completed with Atalante coachwork. As we have seen, the Type 57 had been intended as a Grande Routière rather than an out-and-out sports car. However, during the autumn of 1934 Bugatti began exploring the possibility of a building a Type 57 two-seater roadster, and on 15th September 1934 a design (number '1067') for such a model was produced. By the time the car was presented at the Paris Salon de l'Automobile in October '34, the name 'Grand Raid' had been adopted.

This car carries the earliest chassis number of the three Atalante versions made; the fate of the other two cars is not known. It should be noted that the name 'Atalante' was not recorded in the sales register until later on; early examples, including the three mentioned above, were classified simply as 'faux cabriolet' (i.e. fixed-head coupé). Factory records list the coachwork as 'Usine Fx cabriolet'.

'57252' left the factory on 18th May 1935 and went to the agent Monestier in Lyon, France for their client named Perrot. The next owner's name was Docime. Sold subsequently by Paris-based motor trader, Ben Saschoua, the Bugatti passed into the ownership of Michel Dovaz, whose fabulous collection is the subject of the book 'Fate of the Sleeping Beauties'. This car is featured in the book.

In 1956 the Bugatti was purchased from Dovaz by Jean De Dobbeleer, who sold it on in 1957 to a collector named Greenlee in the USA. Greenlee was followed by John North (1979), then Messrs Dixon, Jones, Guido Artom (Italy, 1988), Peter Rae (in the UK) and the late Barry Burnett (from 2008). Barry acquired the Type 57 from Peter Rae as a straight swap for a unique Delage.

Unusually, 57252' retains its original chassis, engine (number '195'), gearbox, and body, etc, all numbered and matching. The only component that has been changed is the rear axle/differential; indeed, the failure of the original differential in the 1950s and the Bugatti's resulting immobility is what preserved it in such remarkably complete and original condition.
Apart from some private correspondence on file, '57252' has evidently been relatively unknown for the last 50 years, even to the extent that it has been referred to as 'whereabouts unknown' in the last two authoritative works on the Type 57s and Grand Raid cars by Pierre Yves Laugier and by Simon/Kruta.

'57252' was completely restored during Peter Rae's ownership, there being numerous related invoices on file. Dating from 2005 to 2008, they were issued by various recognised specialists including SCA Classic Restoration, Mitchell Motors, KA Developments, Coachbuilt Horsepower Ltd, Ian Skinner Coachbuilding, Crosthwaite & Gardiner Ltd, Ivan Dutton, and Tula Engineering, the latter being responsible for the engine rebuild. Over £100,000 was spent on the engine alone!

The car was restored with extremely close attention paid to conservation and originality; everything possible has been conserved and every single component refurbished to the very highest possible standard. Sadly, the wings had endured a hard life and were deemed unusable, so new examples were faithfully fabricated to the original pattern. The complete rear axle was replaced using what is believed to be the last 'new old stock' example available, and the Bugatti also benefits from an overdrive conversion and fluid-filled damper by Ivan Dutton. This car now carries the registration 'DYF 4', which once graced the Type 57S belonging to Sir Malcolm Campbell.

Following a period in storage, the Bugatti has recently been serviced and brought to running condition by Edwards Motorsport. Offered with a comprehensive history file, this exceptional Type 57 Atalante would be an ideal candidate for touring, rallies, leisure driving and any of the world's most prestigious concours events: Pebble Beach, Villa d'Este, Amelia Island, etc.