The Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic may be the most iconic of the Art Deco-era French teardrop coupes, but it isn't the only one. Which is a good thing, because there's only two or three of them in existence (and we had a photo session with one of them). The Talbot-Lago may not be as well known today – probably because the company's not around anymore – but it's arguably just as beautiful, and this one's crossing the auction block.
This particular example – a 1938 Talbot-Lago T150C-SS Teardrop Coupe – is one of only 11 examples that featured the second-series "New York" bodywork by coachbuilders Figoni et Falaschi that made the Talbot-Lago the poster child that it is. (This writer had a purple one up on his wall as a child.) Underneath the unspeakably gorgeous sheetmetal (one of only a handful with a factory-installed sunroof) sits a shortened race-bred chassis and a 140-horsepower 4.0-liter inline-six with pre-Mopar hemispherical combustion chambers and triple carbs, along with an independent front suspension. Chassis number 90112 was the subject of a full restoration completed in-house by RM Auctions, and was decorated at both Pebble Beach in 2009 and at Meadowbrook in 2010. And we even like the color...
As if that's not enough, there's a 1937 Bugatti 57SC Atalante Coupe (the slightly more common – but still rare by any other standard – production counterpart to the Atlantic) also on the docket. One of just 40 examples produced, chassis 57551 was named Best of Show at Pebble Beach in 1976. The pair join the Bertone Museum collection and the Ford GT40 Roadster on which we already reported at RM Auctions' inaugural sale on the shores of Lake Como at the prestigious Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este. Read more about the Talbot and the Bugatti in the press releases after the jump, and do be sure to check out the images in the high-res gallery below for a closer look.
[Source: RM Auctions | Images: shooterz.biz, Troy Wood/RM]
1938 Talbot-Lago T150C-SS Teardrop Coupe
140 bhp, 3,996 cc inline six-cylinder engine with hemispherical combustion chambers and triple Stromberg carburettors, Wilson four-speed pre-selector gearbox, independent front suspension with transverse leaf spring, leaf spring and live axle rear suspension, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 2,650 mm (104.33")
- A triple award winner at Pebble Beach in 2009 and Best of Show at Meadow Brook in 2010
- Shown at concours events in period
- Show-quality restoration by RM Auto Restoration
- One of only 11 examples with Second-Series "New York" Figoni coachwork
- Rare Factory sunroof
- Sophisticated race-bred, short-wheelbase T150-C SS Talbot-Lago chassis
The T150-C SS chassis is arguably one of Anthony Lago's greatest achievements. The "C" stood for competition, a reference to the marque's racing success, while "SS" signified "super sports," the short 2.65-metre wheelbase version of the competition chassis. Its race-bred six-cylinder engine featured an overhead valvetrain, hemispherical combustion chambers, high compression, triple carburettors and a large-capacity oil pan. Other competition items included a punched handbrake lever and a dual braking system. Intended for sporting two- or three-place coachwork, it was also the lightest chassis and offered exceptional road holding by virtue of its advanced independent front suspension, plus excellent braking.
Racing success certainly enhanced the appeal; it was this demand, combined with Lago's collaboration with the Figoni et Falaschi coachbuilding firm, that resulted in the creation of what many believe to be the most beautiful automobiles ever conceived.
Figoni et Falaschi: Masters of Elegance
There is little doubt that the era of exuberant French coachwork precipitated a tidal change in automotive design. Gone were the largely functional forms of the 1920s and early 1930s, replaced by the fanciful curves and sensuous lines that ushered in the era of the automobile as art form. Although others were versed in the style to one degree or another, the Parisian firm of Figoni et Falaschi remains widely regarded as the truest innovator of the groundbreaking new look.
Joseph Figoni began to turn his attention to Talbot-Lago. In 1937, Figoni and Lago signed an agreement to work together exclusively, and for a time they did. The finest product of their collaboration was the landmark "Teardrop" or "goutte d'eau coupé," with just 16 ultimately produced in two series. Regardless of the series, each Teardrop was coachbuilt, and consequently there are minor and even major variations from one car to another. For example, two were built with skirted front and rear wheels, some featured bullet headlamps between the radiator grille and fenders, while others featured headlamps recessed behind chrome grilles.
The first series, named "Jeancart" after the first patron of the design, was a lovely aerodynamic coupé with a slight notchback design. Five were built, with three on the T150-C SS chassis, one on the three-litre T23 chassis and one on the T150-C Lago Speciale long-wheelbase chassis.
The second series, débuted at the New York Auto Show and named "Model New York" in honour of the occasion, was quite similar in concept but featured an uninterrupted fastback profile. While not all such cars were officially designated "Model New York" by Figoni, all share the same appearance and characteristics, and consequently they are usually listed together by marque experts.
Chassis no. 90112: Speed and Beauty
Perfectly proportioned, these Teardrop Coupés mark the peak of the French streamlined design movement of the 1930s. Chassis 90112, the wonderful example offered here, is one of only 10 examples of the Style 9220 Model New York built on the short T150-C SS chassis (one additional car was built on the T23 Baby chassis). It is also one of just three surviving examples fitted from new with a factory-fitted sunroof. One of the most striking aspects of this design is the pair of graceful chrome grilles behind which the headlamps are hidden. A classic Figoni detail, it graces just a handful of the surviving cars.
In the world of French cars, chassis 90112 stands as one of the best Teardrops, having a continuous history from new and no history of fire, accident or deterioration. All of its major components remain intact and together, including its chassis, engine and Figoni coachwork. It was ordered new by M. Troussaint, Director of the Casino at Namur, Belgium, and delivered to him in May 1938. Notably, it was shown at the 1939 Brussels Concours d'Elegance, and it was presented at the 1939 Concours d'Elegance in Deauville, France.
With the onset of war and the fall of Belgium in the face of the German Blitzkrieg in May 1940, 90112 disappeared from view but eventually resurfaced in storage during the 1950s, prior to its acquisition by the Belgian royal family. Following the death of the King, a family member, who kept the car at their villa in Belgium, apparently inherited it. At some point in time, 90112 had been partially disassembled, in preparation for restoration, but the work was never undertaken, making 90112 one of the most original unrestored examples of its kind when the present owners acquired it during the mid-2000s.
RM Auto Restoration was tasked with returning 90112 to concours-quality condition. The project began with a thorough inventory and dismantling of the remarkably complete car. Most of the original wooden framework supporting the coachwork survived the intervening decades, and during the restoration, every joint was painstakingly dismantled, cleaned and refastened. Where wood rot had appeared, primarily in the lower portions of the doors, new pieces were fabricated in the exact manner of the originals and carefully installed. While the sheet-metal was complete, previous repairs were poor. Although much of the original sheet-metal was saved, some metalwork was required, with identical materials and workmanship used to ensure the faithful restoration of the coachwork.
The frame remained excellent, requiring little more than a thorough cleaning and refinishing. Similarly, the original chassis components were rebuilt and reinstalled, and every drivetrain component was rebuilt and cosmetically refurbished. Extensive research ensured that each detail was faithful to the original materials and finishes. To this end, several separate trips to visit other cars were made in order to photograph and document original features for authenticity.
The interior trim and upholstery are identical in form and pattern to the originals. The wooden trim was carefully repaired and properly refinished, and the carpet, headliner and upholstery were painstakingly cut and fitted to match the original patterns. Each instrument was restored, and a new electrical wiring harness was fabricated for the complete car. Each light, bezel and lens were carefully rebuilt and reinstalled. Hundreds of hours were dedicated to careful block sanding and preparation for painting. The finish is a correct shade of silver accented with a subtle grey two-tone.
In testament to the authenticity and quality of its restoration, 90112 earned no fewer than three awards at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, including the J.B. and Dorothy Nethercutt Most Elegant Closed Car Trophy, First in Class J-2: European Classic Closed and the Art Center College of Design Award. In 2010, 90112 continued its winning ways by earning the Breitling Watch Award for the Car of Timeless Beauty at Amelia Island in March, followed by Best in Class: European and Best of Show at the Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance in July.
Any surviving Talbot-Lago is a rare and delightful thing, particularly when it has been restored to such a high level. 90112 is exceptionally rare and attractive and is sure to garner invitations to the world's most exclusive concours events, where its combination of performance and breath-taking "teardrop" coachwork is sure to impress.
1937 Bugatti 57SC Atalante Coupe
200 hp, 3,257 cc supercharged DOHC inline eight-cylinder dry-sump engine, four-speed manual gearbox, hollow front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, live rear axle with reversed quarter-elliptic leaf springs and torque arm, and four-wheel cable-operated mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 2,980 mm (117.3")
- One of just over 40 Type 57S chassis built and one of only 17 Atalante Coupés
- Fascinating history; long-term ownership and restoration within Harrah Collection
- Best of Show, 26th Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance (1976)
- Fastidiously maintained within noted collection
- Documented by marque expert David Sewell
The Type 57 Bugatti was an entirely new design under the direction of Le Patron's talented son, Jean Bugatti. Production began in 1934 and continued until 1940. The Galibier sedan, Ventoux coach (two-door sedan) and Stelvio drophead coupé comprised the bulk of production, followed by the later Atalante Coupé, with coachwork built in Bugatti's Molsheim coachworks or by Gangloff in nearby Colmar. Demand for sporting versions prompted the Grand Raid Roadster in 1934, the Type 57T with torpedo coachwork in 1935 and, the ultimate variant, the Type 57S and SC.
The Sporting Type 57S
The surbaissé (lowered) Type 57S "Sport" chassis featured deep-section frame rails through which the rear axle passed, enabling further streamlining. Other advancements included a dry-sump oiling system derived from the T59 GP car. A Roots-type supercharger was also available, raising power output and top speed to 200 hp and some 120 mph, respectively. The T57S was introduced in late 1937 and just over 40 production examples were built in total, of which just 17 were fitted with elegant Atalante Coupé coachwork. Of total 57S production, only two cars were fitted from the factory with superchargers, rendering them "57SC" examples. The vast majority of supercharged Type 57S's, however, were upgraded to "SC" specification later in life.
Chassis no. 57551
This Bugatti, chassis 57551, has a remarkably complete and fascinating history. According to the definitive Bugatti: Les 57 Sport by Pierre-Yves Laugier, 57551 was the first of four Type 57 Atalante Coupés (57551, 57552, 57562 and 57573) produced with streamlined headlamps during the summer of 1937.
Road tested on 4 June, 1937, 57551 was completed and left Bugatti's Molsheim coachworks with Atalante coachwork on 23 July, 1937. Just three days later, it was delivered to first owner Mr. Jean Lévy, the Deputy Administrator of the family-owned "Grands Moulins de Strasbourg," a grain-milling company established by his father that still operates today.
Mr. Lévy used the Atalante until the outbreak of World War II and then hid it on a family-owned farm in Dordogne. The Lévy family transferred ownership of 57551 to Maurice Weber, a livestock feed manager at the Grands Moulins and a trusted friend, on 7 June, 1941. Mr. Weber hid the car for the war's duration, and on 8 March, 1946, it was sold in Paris, with the transaction believed to have been authorised by Jean Lévy himself. In July 1947, 57551 was sold to Mr. Pierre Pruvost of Bezons, France.
Mr. Pruvost retained 57551 for less than a year, and on 5 May, 1948, it was acquired by a Parisian owner and then displayed at the International Concours d'Elegance de Confort et de Technique de la Carrosserie, held 15 June, 1949, by which point its coachwork had been professionally restyled and modified, perhaps even by Figoni. On 9 December, 1949 it changed hands once more, before well-known French artist André Derain, a contemporary of Matisse and Vlaminck and a later colleague of Picasso, acquired the car in May 1951. Mr. Derain retained the car until May 1952 before 57551 found its way to Nice in November the following year, in the ownership of Mrs. Monique Weyener. While still in France, the gearbox was replaced, as was the crankcase, which has since been re-stamped with "30S," the correct number for this particular car, chassis 57551.
The car then passed through four additional known owners before it was shipped to the United States in 1959 for Colin Downe. In the spring of 1961, Mr. Downe sold the Atalante to casino magnate and noted classic-car collector William Harrah of Reno, Nevada. O.A. "Bunny" Phillips was assigned the task of restoring the car's chassis and mechanical components. Chassis 57551 was completely disassembled, and the body was removed from the chassis and stored in an airplane hangar in Reno. The frame and its components were found to have remained in excellent condition.
Mr. Phillips completed the chassis and the mechanicals and installed a factory original supercharger, elevating the car to the ultimate "SC" specification. The engine block was damaged and therefore replaced by a correct unit.
The body was returned to its original form and was beautifully refinished in the two-tone scheme of Patrol Cream and Lemon Oxide. The only deviation from the original form is the shape of the rear wings, which more closely resemble that of the Gangloff-bodied 57S and, again, was modified in period when the car was only about ten years old.
Completed on 27 August, 1976, the Bugatti was awarded Best of Show at the 26th Annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. In fact, 57551 was the last of Mr. Harrah's four Pebble Beach Best of Show-winning cars. It was displayed at Harrah's until eventually being acquired by Dr. Herbert W. Boyer of Mill Valley, California in January 1987. During his custodianship, Dr. Boyer kept 57551 at a small private garage in San Francisco, where it was carefully displayed and road-ready. Noted specialist Phil Reilly performed a complete engine rebuild during the mid-1990s, and ever since then, the Bugatti has been carefully and regularly exercised, albeit only for limited distances.
In 2002, the present owner commissioned a professional cosmetic refurbishment of the Atalante, returning the car to its fully restored glory. Today, it looks every bit as good as it did in the 1970s, a true testament to the meticulous care lavished on it since its Pebble Beach award-winning restoration was completed. With its fascinating and well-documented history from new, supercharged engine and wonderful presentation, this Type 57SC is certainly one of the most attractive, rare and best performing of all Bugatti road cars. It truly epitomises artistry in motion.