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Is Bugatti building a one-off 'Type 57' hypercar?
If so, this could very well be the most expensive car ever made...
Bugatti’s Instagram feed has been mysteriously busy this past few days. It’s the company’s 110th anniversary this year so expect some serious heat around that, but right now the focus is firmly on the Type 57 Atlantic, arguably the most desirable and valuable car on the planet.
Follow the clues and it seems likely something special might be coming down the pipe in time for next week’s Geneva motor show. Here’s what Bugatti’s deputy design director Etienne Salome has to say. “When the team and myself started to design this car, we really wondered, ‘what if Jean would still be there, how would he translate the timeless elegance of his own private Atlantic onto a modern-day Bugatti?’”
This car? What car? When? Who? Let’s head back to Instagram and pick up the trail. First, there’s a glimpse from a film. The 2017 action thriller Overdrive had passed me by, but in it Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) and Ana de Armas (the holographic robot lady from Blade Runner 2049) are tasked with relieving a French crime lord of his car, yes, a Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic. There’s a bit in which said car has to out-run a collapsing bridge, no way for this four-wheeled unicorn to meet its fate.
Although in this case truth is actually stranger than fiction. Only four T57 Atlantics were ever made, as Bugatti’s enigmatic social media proceeds to remind us. These were chassis no: 57473, sold to Parisian entrepreneur Jacques Holzschuh (later chopped in half when it got stuck on a railway crossing), 57591 which went to British barrister Richard Pope and is now owned by fashion titan Ralph Lauren, and 57374, delivered new to Baron Victor Rothschild, which is owned these days by renowned collector Peter Mullin.
And the fourth? Well, that’s the mysterious ‘La Voiture Noire’, a Type 57 SC Atlantic built and owned by the man who’d designed it, Ettore Bugatti’s son Jean. Jean, history records, was killed in August 1939 while driving the very Bugatti that had won the Le Mans 24 hours race earlier that year, as he attempted to avoid a cyclist in a village not far from the Bugatti factory.
The Atlantic is regarded as his masterpiece, a car whose sublime form was inspired by aviation and used aerospace techniques in its design and construction. The T57 could be ordered as the Galibier four-door saloon, Stelvio convertible, Ventoux two-door saloon, and Atalante coupe, but the Atlantic is the Holy Grail, recognisable by the dorsal seam that bisects the entire body, its delicate form, and that horse-shoe grille. None of the four cars was the same, as was the fashion in late 1930s automotive haute couture, but each represented the apogee of the motor car at the time.
Jean Bugatti’s personal car was used by him, his friends, and some of Bugatti’s grand prix drivers, so it has arguably the best provenance of the four. Or it would have, if anyone knew where the hell it was. When the German army seized Bugatti’s Molsheim factory in 1940, as many of the company’s assets as possible were scrambled together and put on a train to Bordeaux. This included La Voiture Noire, which somehow went missing along the way and hasn’t been seen since. This makes it one of the greatest mysteries in the car world, a prize beyond measure should any automotive Indiana Jones locate it. Ralph Lauren reportedly turned down an offer north of $100m for his Atlantic…
Given Salome’s comments, what this all surely points to is a modern-day ‘La Voiture Noire’. When you factor in Bugatti boss Stephan Winkelmann’s penchant for ultra-low volume and/or one-off specials (Lamborghini did a number of these under his watch), if we were gambling sorts we’d put money on a T57 Atlantic-inspired car detonating the internet next week. And when your sleuthing brings you to that point, the prospect of such a thing is truly mind-boggling. Not least because a putative one-off Bugatti is almost certainly going to be the single most expensive car ever made.
We’re sticking it all on black…