Monday, November 13, 2017

Up Close: 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

Above is the cover of a 1956 Trend Books, Inc. paperback publication.  Trend Books was part of R.E. Petersen's growing automobile-interest empire that began with Hot Rod magazine and added Motor Trend magazine a few years later, hence the word "Trend."  The writer, Robert J. Gottlieb, was a Los Angeles area attorney who had a popular monthly column in Motor Trend devoted to "classic" cars as defined by the Classic Car Club of America in those days (definitions have evolved since then).

I strongly suspect that the car featured on the cover, a Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, was unknown to most American car fans under age 30 or 35 in 1956.  It must have been a revelation (though the same photo, cropped and in smudgy black and white, was buried near the end of a 1953 paperback from Petersen: "Classic Cars and Antiques").  More background on Atlantics, including an explanation for all those visible rivets and details of the three surviving cars, can be found here.

I have viewed both surviving 57SC cars ("C" designated the supercharged version).  One was at Pebble Beach where Ralph Lauren displayed his car.  Ralph stood near it dressed in a natty dark blue blazer.  A few years later I saw Ralph at Pebble helping his crew push his Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 to a different location.  Ralph is a real car mensch.

The car on the cover pictured above, now meticulously restored, will be on view until 13 January 2018 at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles along with a host of other Bugattis (details here).

The extremely rare and extremely valuable 1936 Atlantic is owned by Peter Mullin and others in the form of an organization named Atlantic LLC.  It normally resides in the Mullin Automotive Museum (its web page dealing with the Atlantic is here).

As for the Atlantic's design, I cannot call it beautiful.  Instead, I find it astonishing ... in a highly positive sense.  Other descriptive words I can easily apply to it are exciting, dramatic, and fascinating.

Below are photos I took of it at the Petersen museum earlier this year.


Side view.  The diver's head position is about 3/4 of the distance from the front to the rear and the firewall/cowling is about halfway between the ends.  The radiator/grille is classically positioned close to the front axle line.

High-end French cars in the 1930s usually were right-hand drive even though in France cars drove on the right sides of streets and roads.  The flanges and rivets were needed because the bodywork metal alloy could not be welded.

Note the contrast between the teardrop fender and the sharp-edged hood.

At least one Atlantic -- perhaps Ralph's -- had a front bumper for a while.  The grille is not a classic Bugatti horseshoe: other Type 57s also featured the pointed bottom profile seen here.

The Atlantic's dramatic sculpted forms are most evident towards the rear.

The museum's lighting was quirky, as is often the case.  However, it worked to my advantage here.

From the other side.  The dramatic integrative sculpting of the fenders and trunk is offset and perhaps heightened by the riveted flange extending over the top of the car.  Designing an attractive/practical rear bumper would have been impossible even for Jean Bugatti in 1935 or 36.  However, one Atlantic had a crude, temporary rear bumper for a while, apparently to make it street-legal.

Aft view.  The rounded trunk lid was functional.  Its latch is by the bottom edge.

Detail of the trunk latch.  Very simple to open or close.  Using two fingers grasping the little arms extending from the U-shaped bracket, the bracket is lifted from one notch on the flange/spine and dropped into the other notch close by on the other side of the flange's cut.

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