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Is this one-off Bugatti the world’s finest ‘replica’?

This restored/rebodied Aerolithe is a thing of absolute beauty

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Only four Type 57 Atlantic Coupes were ever produced by Bugatti. One of them went to Parisian entrepreneur Jacques Holzshuh, before meeting its end on a railway crossing. Another was delivered new to Baron Victor Rothschild and is owned today by American collector Peter Mullin. A third is currently in the hands of Ralph Lauren, while the fourth? Nobody knows. One of the great mysteries of the car world is the whereabouts of ‘La Voiture Noire’: Jean Bugatti’s very own Type 57 Atlantic.

But the car that previewed the lot of them is the one above. Sort of. It’s a rebodied, restored Bugatti ‘Aerolithe’; a prototype first shown off at the 1935 Paris Motor Show.

A man named David Grainger from The Guild of Automotive Restoration (working out of Canada) was commissioned to recreate the car that paved the way for the most famous pre-war car ever built. He had the original chassis of the Aerolithe – number 57104 – as well as its original 3.3-litre eight-cylinder engine, and rear axle. But no body.

Indeed, David’s team at The Guild had but 11 photos to work from… and had to adhere to coachbuilding standards of the day. Which means they had to fashion the body from magnesium, which is – by all accounts – incredibly difficult to work with. They spent years riveting and shaping the panels into that simply gorgeous Aerolithe form.

The interior too, had no reference point, so Grainger and his team based it on the Bugatti Atalante (a car which predated even the Aerolithe). The chassis and engine – the only original, 1930s Bugatti parts – were restored too, and the whole thing is said to have cost $5m. It was originally shown off only a few years ago.

It’s now being shown off again – hence why we’re showing you these pictures. The upcoming Atlanta Concours show in October will host the one-off, restored/replica Aerolithe. And, it remains as gorgeous today as it was a few years ago and, we suspect, when it was first revealed in 1935.

“With embellishment comes art,” said Grainger. Indeed. Is this the world’s finest replica? Don’t forget, Bugatti itself built a one-off that also paid homage to the Type 57, via the absolutely wild, one-off Chiron ‘La Voiture Noire’ too…

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