Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic is Best of the Best 2018
The 1936 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic has won the 2018 Peninsula Classics Best of the Best Award. Presented in Paris on February 8, 2018, the award honors a vehicle that has been electrifying the classic car world since the 1970s. So, what makes this car such a deserving winner? We’ve put together some facts:
US Bugatti collector Peter Williamson, who owned the prize-winning car from 1971, used to drive it quite often. The former president of the American Bugatti Club spent a long time looking into its history and only decided late on to commission a thorough restoration. He hired respected brand specialists Jim Strasberg of High Mountain Classics in Colorado and Scott Sargent in Vermont to do the job.
Their efforts were rewarded in 2003 – more than 30 years after the car was purchased – with the Best-of-Show prize at the Pebble Beach Concours. The car has been a subject of discussion in collectors’ circles for decades. It’s usually referred to not by its chassis number 57374, but simply as the Williamson Bugatti.
Following the collector’s death, the Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic ended up in the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard (California). Peter Mullin, one of the car’s co-owners, has a weakness for French Art Deco vehicles, as the exhibits in his museum show only too well. The second co-owner is Robson Walton, The Bugatti is rather an exception in his collection. According to publicly available sources, Walton usually collects high-caliber sports cars from the 1950s and 1960s.
Following its win in 2003, the Bugatti lined up for another concours in January 2017, this time in Scottsdale. It was victorious once again, and repeated the success later the same year at Arts & Elegance in Château de Chantilly.
Bugatti was never a large-scale manufacturer – the Type 57 was produced by the sports car factory in Molsheim as a classic. Depending which source you take, between 630 and 830 of them were produced from 1934 to 1940. Different body variants were used. The 1936 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic that won in Paris was the first of four vehicles clad in a coupe body designed by Jean Bugatti and made on site in Molsheim.
The 8-cylinder Bugatti delivered to Baron Rothschild in London was the only one of the quartet not to have a compressor, though the aristocrat later had Bugatti put one in, thus turning it into a full-fledged SC. Only two of the four vehicles survive; the other is owned by Ralph Lauren.
The Atlantic is a prime example of Art Deco car design. One key element of this look is the tear-drop shape of front and rear wheel arches. The car’s elegance is further enhanced by the comparatively low line of the radiator grille. One of the characteristic features of the bodywork is actually there for practical reasons: a distinctive ridge stretches from the radiator grill, across the bonnet and all the way to the rear. It even divides the windshield into two parts. Back in the mid-1930s, coachbuilders still had difficulties working on large sheets of Duraluminum (alloy with copper, magnesium and manganese). It was easier and safer (because the aluminium alloy is burnable) simply to rivet the two halves together, with the seam right down the center of the Atlantic. The Bugatti’s color is remarkable, too. Neither black nor two-tone, the silver-blue of the 57 still looks very modern, though its current paint job is in fact exactly the same as the one with which it first left the factory. The Bugatti’s interior welcomes passengers with blue leather seats and door trim, high-end wood paneling around the windows and dashboard, and pale carpeting.
The Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic was never cheap. When Williamson bought it at the Sotheby’s sale in 1971 for USD 59,000, it was the most expensive automobile ever sold at auction. The car’s value continued to make headlines in later years, most recently when it was sold to Peter Mullin and Robson Walton. Despite the usual secrecy that surrounds private sales, information about the purchase price leaked out. According to press reports, the deal brokered by David Gooding was for at least USD 30 million, possibly as much as USD 35 to 40 million.
The Best of the Best Award
The Peninsula Classics Best of the Best Award has only been awarded for the last three years. The list of cars that qualify as candidates is extremely exclusive. Only the Best of Show winners in a series of concours events worldwide are considered. Alongside Pebble Beach (US) and Villa d’Este (IT), the qualifying US events are Amelia Island, the Cavallino Classic and The Quail; in Europe the key events are the Concours of Elegance and Goodwood Style & Luxe (both UK), as well as Arts & Elegance at Chantilly Castle (France).
The winners are selected by a prominent jury that includes Ralph Lauren, Jay Leno, Nick Mason, the Earl of March, Ian Callum and Chris Bangle. This very special prize was initiated by four giants of the classic car scene: collector and founder of The Quail Michael Kadoorie, classic car consultant and judge Christian Philippsen, collector William “Chip” Connor, and Bruce Meyer of the Petersen Automotive Museum.
You can find more information about the car from its “biography” on the website of the Mullin Automotive Museum.
Comprehensive information about the event can be found on the website of the Peninsula Classics Best of the Best Award.
All photos courtesy of Peter Auto.