From Aerolithe to EXK 6
A celebration of beauty is the purpose. The enduring precise exact beauty of five cars that have delighted the eyes of so many and celebrated all the senses of so few, deeply, deeply fortunate men. Unconventional though, for the Atlantic the voluptuous overripe sensuousness of a Teardrop Talbot-Lago would be superfluous, nor could the serene elegance of a Delage Aerosport sooth the urgent intensity. Just look at that profile of the Atlantic; the roofline’s dramatic plunge down towards where the rear fenders meet with such economy of line, and then, just for a moment, revel in the tightness of it all. Let your eyes delight in that central spine and the same motif defining the wings; never before has the simple act of joining two metal panels been so utterly indistinguishable from high art. It is this enduring beauty I wish to celebrate. Caveat: should you be in the lucky position to own a copy of Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier’s Bugatti 57 Sport, you will find nothing new here. But should you not, I have tried to provide you with the highlights of the rather magical tale of the Aerolithe and her four daughters.
Author’s note: After finishing this essay, I found that the author L G Matthews jnr. has already covered the story of the Atlantics in a book titled : Bugatti Yesterday And Today – The Atlantic and Other Articles. Probably a good thing I discovered this after I wrote mine, otherwise I would have lacked the courage to revisit a subject so expertly explained by a researcher and historian of Mr. Matthew’s caliber. And just to really drive the point home, most of his research was done by interviewing, well, everyone, it seems. And , of course, by careful study of the original factory documents. Mr. Matthews was there; he touched the cloth; then he wrote.
Myself, on the other hand, merely read some books and then, quicker than you can say ‘Plagiarist!’ self delusion convinced me I can write. Kindly keep that in mind should you choose to read on.
Chassis Number: 57533
Engine No : 226S
Bugatti Aerolithe on the Paris Salon 1935
Type 57S Atlantic no.1
Delivered to its first owner, Lord Victor Rothschild on the 2nd of September
1936, this is the metallic blue beauty that would become the 2003 Car of the
Show at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours. Owned since 1971 by Dr Peter
Williams it was only after he won at Pebble Beach that I finally thought I knew
the history of all the Atlantics. Not my first wrong assumption as far as
Bugattis are concerned, and, I dare say, it wont be my last either. But before
we get to 57374’s fascinating history I wonder if I may persuade you to take a
moment and look at some of the images taken of her since her 2003 triumph.
Observe how the light dances over those sharp creases and caress the softer
curves. Notice how that beautiful metallic blue hue exposes the many subtle
curves and lines, and then hides them again depending on how the light catches
it. Mesmerizing is it not? “Age shall not whither her” indeed.
This is the fabled “new” Atlantic discovered by Pierre-Yves Laugier. Reading and
rereading Laugier’s chapters on 57453 and 57473 I am struck by the comprehensive
research and the sensitive interpretation of these facts. I still fervently
maintain that these two chapters alone, firmly places the esteemed Mr Laugier as
the pre-eminent Bugatti historian of our time, yes, even more gifted than Conway.
He really is that good. What follows is the result of this man’s research; all I
did was to acquire a copy of Bugatti 57 Sport. Now for the real bombshell; all
the photos you have seen of a black Bugatti Atlantic (The 1938 catalogue and the
ones taken in the forests of the Vosges for instance) are of this car, but
attributed to 57473. This happened due to the belief that no photographs exist
of 57473 , making any comparisons impossible. Laugier has now found images of
the Holzschuch Atlantic (pages 110 & 113) and it can be seen at a glance that
they are two different cars.
Type 57S Atlantic no. 3
Jacques Holzschuch took delivery of Atlantic 57473 on the 13th of December 1936. His car left the works on the 1st of December, was registered with the registration plate 3924 RK 7 on the 9th and was delivered to its owner on the 11th , but there still remained some road tests to be completed, so the actual delivery date is therefore the 13th of December 1936. On either the 13th or the 14th Mr. and Mrs. Holzschuch left for Paris. The following year, towards the end of March, while holidaying on the French Riviera, the couple entered 57473 in the Juan-les-Pins Concours d’Elegance. Here, parked in front of the Grand Hotel Provencal, the only known photographs of 57473 were taken.
How these photographs came to light is quite interesting. I quote Laugier: “Then, the skilled historian, Jean-Pierre Cornu, specialist of the Cote d’Azur Concours d’Elegance (the subject of his future book) showed us an article which appeared in the April 1937 “Revue de l’Automobile Club de Nice.” There was a photograph of Madame Holszschuch at the Juan-les-Pins Concours D’Elegance taken on March 31, 1937 beside Atlantic 57473S and in front of the Hotel Provencal. The photo showed that the Holzschuch’s Atlantic had two large chromed headlights on the front fenders, two small fog lights, two double blade bumpers and a 1936 Paris registration.” To this I can add that further differences reveals itself, nowhere more so than with the central spine. When compared with 57453 the spine stands considerably higher, all the way from the front of the bonnet, past the windscreen and up and over the roof. It would also seem that the rake of the windscreen is slightly steeper than the others, although this might be an illusion created by the spine’s more elegant curve from the back of the bonnet to the bottom of the windscreen. Something I do not understand though, concerns the rear fender; attached to the spine running along the edge of the rear fender, roughly above the rear axle, is what appears to be a most streamlined bullet shaped rear light. What purpose did it serve? Indicator or rear light?
Jacques Holzschuch died towards the end of the war, Laugier suggests 6 December 1945. This rings true, as does Mr. Laugier’s assertion that the car was not modified while in the possession of its first owner; these changes being effected in Cannes or Monaco probably shortly after the war ended. Figoni has been mentioned as the coachbuilder, and several sources claim these modification to have been effected during 1939. Until proven otherwise, I believe Laugier’s version of events.
At any rate, these modifications were already in place when acquired by Madame Marguerite Schneider on behalf of her lover, Monsieur Rene Chatard, on the 26th of March 1952. Rene Chatard was a most fascinating character; a serial philanderer, he kept his wife from finding out how many Bugattis he owned by registering them in the names of his mistresses! On the evening of the 22nd of August 1955 Rene Chatard and another of his mistresses, one Jeanine Vacheron, died in a collision with a train at a railway crossing called “de la prise d’eau” situated one and a half kilometers northwest of Gien on the Lorris road. It took ten years of legal wrangling before the remains of 57473 was officially acknowledged as the rightful property of Mrs. Marguerite Schneider. She sold the remains of the car to a scrap dealer in Gien.
It was at this scrap yard that a young engineer and Bugatti enthusiast, Paul-Andre Berson discovered 57473 and over a period of a year managed to salvage the original chassis, engine, gearbox and what remained of the body. He then set about recreating 57473 but seems to have used mostly parts from other cars, only using original components if, so it seems, they escaped the fatal accident unscathed. According to Dr Simon, when Mr. Berson’s car was examined by David Sewell and Christian Huet they concluded that only the De Ram shock absorbers could be confirmed to be original to 57473. Which would seem to indicate that very little of the original remains were incorporated in Mr. Berson’s rebuild. This is borne out by an article written by Mick Walsh in the May 2007 edition of Classic and Sports Car. The following is a quote from his monthly column “From the Cockpit” page 35. “Last year the Atlantic changed hands, but only after Swiss dealer Lukas Huni had engaged respected Bugatti enthusiasts to verify the car’s provenance. They tracked down Berson, who unearthed all the original parts he felt were beyond saving including much of the crumpled left side, the engine and ‘box. Priorities have changed since that rebuild and Huni has acquired all the parts for another major restoration. Like pieces of a chopped-up old master, the remaining Atlantic sections will be incorporated into the body. The plan is to return the car to its original Jean Bugatti style rather than the later incarnation when customized by Figoni between 1939 and 1946,” According to Mr. Walsh this restoration has been entrusted to Paul Russell. Perhaps he will do better this time than he did with 57591, after all, originality is of much greater importance now than it was in 1991. Matthews was told by Berson that no steel parts were recovered, therefore, no chassis was recovered. Hmmm, time will tell no?
In any event, the rebirth of 57473 to the specification as first ordered by
Jacques Holzschuch is something to be celebrated. A final thought; Mick Walsh
writes: “I’ll put money on a third Atlantic winning Pebble Beach before the end
of the decade.” Keep in mind that Mick Walsh accurately predicted both Sam
Mann’s Portout bodied Delage D8-120 Car of the Show (2005), and this years
winner, the Duesenberg Mormon Meteor, and you can see why I am looking forward
to 57473’s post restoration unveiling. At Pebble Beach 2008?
Chassis Number: 57591
Engine Number: 39S
From an amateur historian’s point of view this is the easiest of all of them. Its history is well known with few owners and it has never been crashed, modified or ruined until Ralph Lauren ordered Paul Russel to restore the very life out of her. Painted a thoroughly unoriginal black, with equally unoriginal black leather seats and carpets and sporting the most unappetizingly clinical restoration, it duly took top honors at Pebble Beach in 1991. But let us not dwell on such mindless vandalism, let us instead celebrate EXK 6 as she was for most of her life. Painted a rich sapphire blue, no wheel covers and sporting blue painted wire wheels, 57591 was delivered to her first owner, Mr Richard Pope during June of 1938, having ordered her on the 31st of March of the same year.
Although there are few remaining mysteries after she was delivered, there remain some discrepancies with the dates before she was delivered. If Pope ordered the car on 31/03/1938 why was it already being road tested during October of 1937? There are two possible explanations I can think of. Both Mr N Embericos and Lord Cholmondley showed interest in acquiring an Atlantic; the Embericos car, 57375 ended up being bodied by Corsica. Registered DGJ 877 this elegant roadster is still owned by Mr. Nigel Corner.(I think) It is possible that work was started on an Atlantic body before Embericos decided on Corsica instead, but that still does not explain why it was then fitted to 57591. On page 287 Dr, Simon argues that 57612 was to be an Atlantic for Lord and Lady Cholmondly. The manner of its finishing is very reminiscent of the Figoni bodied saloon 57739 delivered to Lady Cholmondly. Was this delivery instead of an Atlantic and would this explain why, when Richard Pope ordered his Atlantic, there was already a finished, or nearly finished car at the works?
This still does not explain why the car was only delivered seven months after it was ordered. A lot has been written about 57591 being slightly taller than the others, to provide Mr. Pope with the additional headroom he required., but we are only talking about 12mm or so; surely the extra space could have been found with a lot less effort by simply lowering the seats? About the only thing this author is sure of, is that Mr. Pope was persuaded to order an Atlantic due to the devaluation of the Franc, reducing the price of Bugattis delivered to Britain significantly. The T57S was reduced from 1100 pounds to 860 pounds for instance. But that still does not explain why 57591 was being road tested in Oct. 37. Any explanations will be gratefully received.
Richard Pope owned 57591 for nearly thirty years before selling it to Barrie Price who immediately picked the most dreary of all Bugatti blue shades to celebrate his acquiring EXK 6. (Actually this is not true; he only stripped it of its original color after he put the car in a ditch during a rally in 1970. What remains true is the dreariness of the new color and the removal of all traces of the original) Why this was thought necessary I do not know, but it leaves us with no way of identifying the exact shade of dark blue first used. While it is fact that both Laugier and Simon states the original color to be a non-metallic blue, and both state quite unequivocally whenever the color was metallic; 57602 and 57533 for instance, I maintain still that the deep sapphire blue was a metallic blue. As proof I submit the photo on page 261 of B. Simon. Standing next to EXK 5 (57592) the intricate play of light would seem to indicate a metallic hue; compare that with the defiant red of 57592 and notice how much less “complex” the color seems. This would also explain the very dark tone of the photo taken sometime during Mr. Pope’s ownership. (Laugier p.232) Flimsy evidence I agree, but keep in mind that I am a most arrogant human being, so therefore I shall state as a matter of fact (Very well, a matter of opinion then) that EXK 6 was originally painted a rich dark metallic blue.
Mr. Price could not have been very happy with EXK 6 as he seems to go to some length to complain about everything from the noise to the loss of performance due to the weight of the coachwork. Was the Atlantic body that much heavier than an Atalanta?( Matthews state that Price actually loved the Atlantic, but let us not forget that Mr. Price did write a thoroughly under whelming book about Types 46&50. My opinion stands.) Not that it matters, Price duly sold her to well known British industrialist Anthony Bamford after nearly a decade’s suffering. Bamford had it lightly restored, changed the color to a darker, non metallic blue and duly fitted chrome wire wheels. He did the same to the Count Trossi SSK, by the way. Acquired by Tom Price in 1981, he contacted Mr. Pope, who was 80 years old then, and he was able to provide Mr. Price with valuable feedback during the next restoration.
In 1988 Mr. Price decided to sell most of his cars because he felt they were not being used properly. Ralph Lauren bought 57591 for a vast sum of money and it was duly delivered to Paul Russel on July 11 1988. Laugier quotes a long report prepared by Paul Russel during the restoration of 57591, but the egregious change of color is not mentioned. The one advantage I have is that I do not have to keep quiet about the immorality of the modern Bugatti collector seeing that I am never going to need the cooperation of the Laurens and Kellers and Mozarts of this world to complete any research. Both Mr. Laugier and Dr Simon had to treat Lauren with extreme obsequiousness to obtain access to the car. Thanks to their hard work I am now in a position to pontificate to my heart’s content. Comparing images of EXK 6 both before and after Lauren’s rebuild, I am struck by how clinical she now looks. The last vestiges of her hand crafted look has been wiped away by careful adjustment of the original metal. The shut lines looks like they have been cut by laser, and the entire body is now flawlessly smooth. It looks mass produced. It was painted black. The interior is black. It destroyed the subtlety. Does this matter, I hear you ask? Yes it matters a great deal indeed, it matters as much as good manners and wearing clean underwear, that’s how much it matters.
And so continues history. The above must not be seen as the definitive story of
the Atlantics but rather an introduction. If the incompleteness of my writing
drives only a single reader to deeper research, I shall be most pleased.
Of the five cars built only two remain in original condition and they may very well soon be joined by 57473. The Aerolithe 57533 and the second Atlantic 57453 are not known to have survived. But many replicas have been created and if imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery then these replicas serve only to celebrate the originals.
Allow me to conclude with a quote from Yeats: “ Consider beauty a sufficient end”
11 November 2007 (changed quite a bit on 20/11/2007 though)
To list Pierre-Yves Laugier’s Bugatti 57 Sport simply as part of a bibliography is to sell it short. Without Laugier there would have been no chapter on 57453 and everything about 57473 would have been wrong. My entire article is primarily based on this remarkable book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Other works consulted are as follows:
The Bugatti Type 57S Evolution–Prototypes–Racing Cars–Production by Bernard Simon & Julius Kruta
Bugatti by Hugh Conway & Jacques Greilshamer.
Great Marques: Bugatti by Hugh Conway.
The Greatest Cars by Ralph Stein.
Great Cars of the Golden Age edited by Kevin Brazendale.
Classic and Sports Car : May 2007
Aerolithe presents big challenges by David Grainger, published in BugattiPage.
Bugatti Yesterday And Today – The Atlantic and Other Articles by L. G. Matthews, Jr. (I add this one last ,because I only read it after I finished the bibliography. Glorious, utterly glorious writing.) !!!!