Okay, you sit bolt upright by today's standards, there's no headrest and the steering wheel is the size of a dustbin lid and about as nice to hold... BUT you feel pretty darned cool turning up at your mate's driving one of these babes.
The name Bugatti implies expensive continental glamour and the T57 from the thirties dished up film star looks with track car performance. I say old boy, on a long downward slope you could almost hit 100mph!
After the first world war Bugatti founder Ettore Bugatti’s son Jean had used his own design flair with his dad’s engineering expertise to create one of the most acclaimed – and expensive – ranges of cars in history.
A Supercharged Bugatti 57SC (one of only two built) is believed to be one of the most expensive cars ever, selling for an estimated $30 million at auction. Even a humble ‘standard’ 57 version sold recently in the UK for £3 million. It had been found covered in dust in a garage in Tyneside and hadn’t started for 50 years.
All Bugatti's 57s were pretty exclusive even when they were built. In fact, less than 700 of them were made in the six years from 1934. Owners included many of the rich and famous faces of the thirties, like British motor-racing MP Earl Howe and world-land-speed record chasers Malcolm and Donald Campbell.
Among the most prized Type 57 cars today are a handful of specially-made ‘S’ models. S didn’t stand for ‘Sport’ in those days, it meant ‘surbaissé’ in French – or ‘lowered’. These were cars with a revised chassis to make it ride closer to the road surface – giving more handling and performance potential.
Now this is where it gets even more complicated. The chassis or underpinnings of eight of these Bugatti Type 57S cars with lowered ride found they way to eminent British coachbuilders called Corsica.
This was the era when the very rich reacted to the arrival of mass-produced cars for the masses by ordering cars that were totally individual. Coachbuilding companies would build a car body on top of a factory–made chassis to create something unique for their customers. So in their North London workshops Corsica built eight different Bugatti 57s for various rich customers.
What they got was the best period design married to state-of-the-art mechanics. These Bugatti T57S Corsicas are often quoted as THE best example, not just of Corsica’s work, but of the whole Bugatti Type 57 Series.
The beautiful sweeping wheel arches lead to a pointed tail at the rear, the long bonnet features purposeful air-cooling grilles along the sides and, under the front number plate, car spotters could gasp at the daring and distinctive Type 57S V-shaped base to the radiator.
Nevertheless, even on such an acclaimed car, some details didn’t date well. The interior originally came with mock crocodile-skin leather, there were ‘spats’ or covers enclosing the rear wheels and you’ll struggle to find a photo of this car with the roof up. That’s because it had an awkward assembly once likened to a greenhouse that was too tall for the shape of the body. Today that’s not really a problem, because, of course, anyone owning a Type 57S knows it is far to valuable to take out in the rain.
The car shown above is yet another version of the Bugatti T57, the sweeping bodied coupe called the Atlantic. It had aluminium body panels with external rivets which were made into a decorative feature - a dorsal seam running the length of the car over the bonnet and down the back of the roof. Designer Ralph Lauren owns one and they are currently valued in the tens of millions. Are THEY the most beautiful pre-war cars?
Engine: 8-cylinder 3257cc
Design: front engine, rear-wheel drive, two-door convertible, saloon and coupe
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 10 secs
Top speed: 95mph/153kph