1934 Bugatti Type 57 Stelvio Cabriolet 164
Lot 213
1934 Bugatti Type 57 Double Cabriolet Stelvio 57164
Sold for US$ 326,000 inc. premium
Lot Details
1934 Bugatti Type 57 Double Cabriolet Stelvio
Coachwork by Gangloff of Colmar

Chassis no. 57164
Engine no. 63
Ettore Bugatti abandoned his Molsheim headquarters in 1936, retreating to Paris where he had for some time kept an apartment and drawing office, following a strike in the Bugatti factory which shut down production. He had always prided himself on being Le Patron, a father figure to his employees, and the rejection brought about by the strike and being forcibly kept from entering his own factory cut him to the quick.

Day-to-day management was ceded to his elder son, Jean. At the age of only twenty-six Jean already had become indispensible to Bugatti’s operation and to the design of its automobiles and other projects. His talents complemented and supplemented those of his father.

Jean’s skill first was revealed in the design of dramatic, flowing coachwork which balanced the architectural severity of his father’s elegant engines and finely finished but unembellished drivetrains and suspensions. He shared his father’s mechanical gifts, contributing much detailed design and development to the Type 41 Royales, to subsequent Bugatti automobiles and most particularly to the Bugatti railcars, the project which so radically altered the direction and fortunes of Bugatti.

The railcar project was a natural outgrowth of Ettore Bugatti’s questioning mind and restless spirit. By the early Thirties his automobiles were – he seems to have been convinced – perfected. Their continuing development was not the challenge their original concept, design, engineering and construction had been. Bugatti turned to other pursuits, particularly airplanes and watercraft, to exercise his considerable ingenuity. When in the early 30s the French national railway sought a series of lightweight high speed internal combustion powered self propelled passenger cars contracts were let to Michelin for rubber tired cars and to others including Bugatti.

The Bugatti rail cars, known as automotrices, were powered by the 12.8 liter engines originally designed for the Type 41 Royale. Several different versions were built including both four- and two-engined designs, all of them with streamlining reminiscent of the Bugatti ‘Tanks’ raced at LeMans.

As the Depression deepened the railcars kept Molsheim not only busy but actually had Bugatti adding to its work force to keep up with the delivery schedules. Hugh Conway, cited in Griffith Borgeson’s Bugatti, estimates production of automotrice engines at a total of 186 units , a huge contribution to the commercial survival of the Bugatti works in the Depression.

Another effect, however, is cited by Bugatti’s confidante W.F. Bradley in his book Ettore Bugatti who noted that the added workers included “extremists who cared nothing for craftsmanship, who scoffed at the ideas of a ‘family’ in any industrial organization” contributing an element which abetted if not instigated the strike that alienated Le Patron from Molsheim.

The strike was, however, but the catalyst for a change which was already well under way as Jean Bugatti’s influence expanded.

In the late Twenties and early Thirties models proliferated at Bugatti, with a variant for nearly every taste, style, application and pocketbook. There was a thread of variants with shared engines both naturally aspirated and supercharged, drivetrains, suspensions, chassis and suspensions, but they were parsed in fine and subtle distinctions. Today no one knows who managed Bugatti’s inventory to maintain a balance and not create expensive piles of parts for cars that were never ordered. Production planning, tooling and fixturing even in Bugatti’s atelier of craftsmen and artisans must have been a nightmare. What is plain in retrospect is that as Le Patron progressively withdrew from day-to-day operations his son Jean seized the initiative in both management and creativity.

The tragedy is that, having proved himself no less than – and perhaps more than – the worthy successor of his father, Jean Bugatti would die an untimely death at only thirty years of age while testing one of Bugatti’s Le Mans winning sports cars. He would never fulfill the promise which was his legacy.

The legacy which Jean Bugatti, still in his twenties, left was the Bugatti Type 57, the ultimate model in the Bugatti marque’s history.

The Type 57 is the culmination of the evolution of Bugatti’s twin cam straight eight engines. It evolved from the first twin cam Bugatti, the 1930 Type 50, followed by a variety of competition models in various displacements, all of them developed during Jean Bugatti’s early, formative years.

The Type 57 was introduced in 1934 while Ettore was still resident in Molsheim. It was developed almost exclusively under Jean Bugatti’s supervision and leadership and was intended as a single model replacement for the proliferation of models which characterized the Bugatti catalog in the Twenties and early Thirties.

The Type 57’s rationalized production brought some economies of scale to Molsheim allowing Bugatti to offer the Type 57 at an attractive price for its size, quality, performance and features. Combined with Jean Bugatti’s graceful, practical and streamlined coachwork in catalog styles the Bugatti Type 57 offered real value and was sufficiently flexible to be progressively developed during its six year life to keep it contemporary with the rapid evolution of quality automobiles during the late Thirties. Eventually some 680 Type 57 Bugattis in various models and series were built from 1934 until production ended with the onset of war in 1939.

The Bugatti Type 57 as introduced in 1934 was a 3,257cc straight eight with cylinder dimensions of 72mm bore and 100mm stroke contained within a traditional Bugatti iron cylinder block with integral head which mounted on a cast aluminum crankcase. Full pressure wet sump lubrication fed the plain bearings on the six main bearing crankshaft and plain connecting rod big end bearings. The dual overhead camshafts operating valves set at a 94 degree included angle were not unusual for Bugatti in 1934 but the drive was, a train of helical gears located at the rear of the block. All prior Bugattis had shaft and bevel gear driven overhead camshafts. Finger followers took the camshaft side thrust and operated the two valves per cylinder. The distributor and auxiliaries were located alongside the engine driven from the camshaft gear train.

The first Type 57s employed a single carburetor (Stromberg UUR2 updraft) and a cast exhaust manifold and were rated at 135 brake horsepower at 5,000 rpm.

The clutch was another departure from historic Bugatti practice, being a conventional single plate design rather than Bugatti’s traditional multi-plate clutch inside a tiny flywheel. The 4-speed gearbox mounted directly to the engine, transferring power to the competition style rear axle through an open driveshaft with separate torque arm. A 3,300mm wheelbase separated the centerlines of the front and rear axles, with Bugatti’s favorite reversed quarter-elliptical leaf springs at the rear. Wire wheels contained, of course, cable-operated mechanical drum brakes.

Therein, however, lies a hint of the conflict underlying Bugatti’s change of generations from father to son. Jean Bugatti had originally proposed, constructed and tested not only hydraulic brakes but also a transverse leaf spring-based independent front suspension. The resulting discussions between father and son aren’t known but both features quickly disappeared to be replaced in production by Bugatti’s cable-operated mechanical drum brakes and a live axle front suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs.

Regardless of Ettore’s rejection of Jean’s enthusiasm for the latest technical fashions, the Bugatti Type 57 was an outstanding package incorporating all the valuable Bugatti attributes of elegant construction, craftsmanship, quality, handling and performance. What it might have lacked in the latest features were more than made up by Jean Bugatti’s three basic body designs, the Ventoux coach in two- and four-light versions, the pillarless four-door Galibier and the Stelvio cabriolet.

With their steeply raked windshields, radiators set back between the front wheels, long hoods, teardrop fenders and passenger compartments set in the back third of the wheelbase, they were purposeful, aggressive and radical. The panels of Jean Bugatti’s coachwork featured sweep panel breaks that facilitated dramatic multi-color paint.

The earliest Bugatti Type 57s were warmly received. Their commercial success encouraged Bugatti to build more specialized variants: the supercharged Type 57C, the short-chassis supercharged Type 57S and the ultimate sports model, the Type 57SC.

It is, however, the catalog Type 57s upon which the model’s illustrious reputation depends and it is the catalog coachwork which Jean Bugatti designed for the Type 57 that has cemented its reputation as one of the most desirable, attractive, distinctive automobiles of a period when creativity and individuality were encouraged.

Bugatti Type 57 chassis 57164 was completed in May 1934, one of the first one hundred of its type built. Its coachwork – which today would be generically described as a Stelvio Cabriolet – was entered on Bugatti’s books as a Double Cabriolet built by Gangloff of Colmar. Completed on August 14, 1934, it was built to the order of Bugatti dealer Descollas for its client Marcel Bertrand of Toulon, France to whom it was delivered on August 18, 1934.

Some prior owner history contends that it may have been shown on the Bugatti stand at the 1935 Paris show held in late 1934. Its delivery history does not support that contention.

In April 1936 it was purchased by a Monsieur Renaud of Marseille, France. French registration records have it next being re-registered in November 1954, indicating it may have remained in Renaud’s ownership through the war. In 1958 it began to pass through the hands of several dealers until it was bought by Lyman Greenlee in Anderson, Indiana in 1960 through Bugatti dealer Jean De Dobbeleer, still on its 1954 French registration number.

It came into the current family ownership only two years later and has been in their caring, sympathetic stewardship since then, a remarkable single family ownership provenance enduring for nearly a half century.

Its colors (Ivory with a Maroon accent and wire wheels), patina and overall presentation indicate that in the Fifties it got the cosmetic attention to paint and upholstery that a twenty year old Bugatti rated and that hasn’t been touched since. The faded Beige cloth top may have been replaced at some point; it survives today as an example of sensitive textile conservation.

The coachwork by Gangloff of Colmar is highly unusual and does not fit many of the characteristics of the rather loose definition of the Stelvio Cabriolet designed by Jean Bugatti and interpreted by Gangloff.

Many aspects reflect Bugatti practice including the steeply raked windshield, chrome radiator surround with chromed vertical shutters and teardrop fenders.

Others, however are highly unusual.
• Flat section fenders with centered splines
• Teardrop front fenders with defined separation from the narrow, subtle running boards
• Rear-hinged doors
• Rear wheel spats with teardrop accents echoed three times in the front fenders and twice in the rear
• Separately constructed bustle-style trunk
• Five window, four-seat coachwork
• Rear-mounted single spare wheel and tire
• The sweep panel which characterizes Jean Bugatti coachwork is worked subtly into the main body lines
• A top mechanism which appears to fold into a compact package almost flat with the coachwork.

It expresses a distinctively different visual identity and coachwork balance from the more representative Gangloff-bodied Stelvio Cabriolets, making it an important example for its configuration in addition to its exceptional original condition, reflecting its long term single family ownership.

The earliest series rigid engine mount, mechanical brake Type 57s with engines cast without provision for the supercharger drive are the foundation of the Bugatti Type 57 reputation. This very early Gangloff Double Cabriolet, s/n 57164, is not only emblematic of the very earliest series as conceived and created by Jean Bugatti but also a particularly sympathetically preserved, intact, rare example of a largely unrestored Bugatti Type 57.
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