My first time going to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance was back in 2003. There were some incredible classic cars on the 18th fairway, with Ford celebrating its 100th anniversary and Bugatti as the featured marque. In the multitude of millions of dollars worth of cars, though, there was one car that stood out from all the others – Peter Williamson's 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. Despite my complete lack of knowledge of pre-war cars at the time, even I could recognize that the car had a presence about it that no other vehicle at the show could boast. My intuition was right, and the Bugatti eventually went on to win the coveted Best of Show award that year.
The Bugatti made the news again earlier this year when Gooding & Company announced it had sold the car to an unnamed buyer in the range of a record $30-$40 million. Soon after, it was announced that the car would be on display at the recently-opened Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, CA. Since I'm always looking for an excuse for the museum to let me look at their incredible collection of cars, I called them up and convinced them to let me have a look.
After an hour of inspecting and photographing every inch of the car, I'm declaring the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic worthy of its title as the world's most expensive car. Hit the jump for my top ten reasons why.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
There's no single reason why this particular Bugatti commanded the price tag it did, but instead it was a multitude of factors. There are perhaps dozens of other cars that can match or perhaps even exceed some of the reasons listed below, but none can compare to this Type 57 SC's overall worth and significance.
10. Rolling Art
If you consider the Type 57SC Atlantic to be a piece of rolling artwork, which it should be, the price tag doesn't seem so enormous. With inflation considered, even $40 million doesn't crack the list of top 40 most expensive paintings.
9. The Ultimate Supercar of Its Time
The performance stats of the Type 57SC Atlantic don't seem impressive by today's standards, but in 1936 the car's specs were world class. The supercharged 3.2-liter straight-8 produced 210 horsepower @ 5500 rpm, and it's top speed of nearly 130 mph made it the fastest road car of its time.
The Type 57SC Atlantic was revolutionary for both its design and its technology. The hand-formed aluminum teardrop body remains one of the most unique automotive designs in history, and the center spine actually connects the two halves of the body together. The car also featured items like 15-inch drum brakes and advanced shock absorbers.
7. The Name
Few car companies have the history and brand image of Bugatti. Founder Ettore Bugatti started racing automobiles in 1899, and by 1900 had won his first race with a car of his own design. Bugatti went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time in 1920. Throughout the 1930s, the company produced some of the most impressive and elegant road cars ever built. Ettore was known to say, "Nothing is too beautiful, nothing is too expensive." The brand carries that same motto today with the Veyron.
Depending on who you ask, there are either two, three or four Type 57SC Atlantics in existence. The car you see here, chassis 57374, is the first production car and is rumored to have several components from the Bugatti Aerolithe Electron Coupe prototype that debuted at the 1935 Paris Motor Show. The second car, chassis 57473, was shown at the 1937 Nice Auto Salon, but speculation suggests that the car was dismantled before the war. It's current whereabouts are unknown. The third Type 57SC, which was on display at this year's Pebble Beach Concours, was completely destroyed in a collision with a train. The car was reconstructed, but almost none of the car is original. Finally, the fourth car is owned by Ralph Lauren. It has been fully restored and won the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 1990.
The most expensive cars in the world always seem to have an air of mystery about them. The new owner of the car remains a mystery, as well as the price that he/she paid for it. The same can be said for many of the world's most expensive cars. Most of the high-end sales are done behind closed doors, with the buyer and transaction amount going unannounced.
As mentioned above, this particular Type 57SC Atlantic is by far the most original car available. Ralph Lauren's car was meticulously restored (almost too much, according to some car collectors). Up close, it's easy to see the imperfections of this car. For example, the rivets that hold the "backbone" in place are unevenly spaced. Even so, the car is in incredible condition and most would likely assume it had undergone a complete restoration.
3. Pebble Beach Winner
There are just fifty cars that can claim to be Best of Show at Pebble Beach, and it's undoubtedly a qualification that needs to be on the resume of any car that wants to be nominated as one the world's best. The Type 57SC Atlantic easily claimed its place on this list and would undoubtedly be considered one of the best in this exclusive group of cars.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When some see the Type 57SC Atlantic they see the world's most beautiful car. Others see a strangely proportioned, funky looking old car. If you look to the experts – the judges at Pebble Beach – they'll tell you it's a beautiful automobile. One thing that's undeniable is the car's presence. It stood out at Pebble Beach, and we couldn't help but notice the same thing at the Mullin Museum. Take a look through our gallery below and judge for yourself.
1. Once in a Lifetime
Cars like the Atlantic rarely change hands, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when one does come up for sale. This particular car has only had three owners since 1945. When it last sold back in 1971, the $59,000 price tag set a world record. Looks like things haven't changed much since then.