Bugatti’s brilliant Type 57 made its debut in 1934 marking a significant milestone for the storied French marque. After years of building a varied mix of touring sports and racing cars the Type 57 consolidated the lineup allowing Bugatti to offer a broader range of motorcars based upon a single platform. The design of the new high-performance Type 57 touring car was handed over by Ettore Bugatti to his talented son Jean – who was just 23 years old at the time. Jean and senior engineers Pichetto and Domboy were wholly responsible for the car’s ground-up specification including the chassis engine and even most of the factory coachwork designs. To compete in the market Bugatti needed a fresh design; one that retained the performance and style for which Bugatti was known while offering new levels of comfort and smooth operation. Type 57 would prove to be the final all-French design in the marque’s brief but brilliant history. Central to the Type 57 was an all-new twin-cam inline eight-cylinder engine displacing 3257 cubic centimeters. Only the basic layout was shared with earlier models as the block (with integrated head) and crankcase were all new designs. A series of bevel gears drove the camshafts which offered a level of refinement superior to the previous straight-cut style. In standard form the new engine was capable of a highly respectable 135 horsepower. While the Type 57 did not officially race the Type 59 Grand Prix cars shared its fundamental engine design. Bugatti’s traditional solid front axle was retained due to cost and development time while the ride and handling were dialed to suit the Type 57s purpose as a fast yet luxurious touring car. While American companies like Packard and Cadillac had begun to offer synchronized transmissions Bugatti retained a non-synchro gearbox but with quieter helical cut gears and a smoother change from the older dog-type gear-change of older models. Beside the yet amazing factory coachwork designs (Galibier, Ventoux, Stelvio, Aravis, Atalante), many customers preferred a more individual appearance provided by one of the famous European coachbuilders like Vanvooren, Letourneur & Marchand, Graber, Corsica, etc.. Bugatti produced more than 700 Type 57s yet sadly it would be the final all-French Bugatti as the company faltered in the face of yet another World War. The Bugatti Type 57 is counted among the most important collector cars of all time offering stunning looks electrifying performance and the sense of occasion that only comes with these incredible automobiles from the storied Molsheim Works.
The car on offer
Having long been a mystery, the car we have the pleasure to offer here recently revealed its secrets past after extensive investigative work carried out by various Bugatti historians as well as by ourselves. We have carried out a full-scale, no expense spared restoration of the entire coachwork.
The car sports the Vanvooren Type 57C cabriolet body (chassis 57757/engine 52C) that dates from the Paris Motor Show of October 1938, and was refitted around 1945, at the factory, onto a new Type 57 chassis (intended chassis 57780 / engine 546) that had been in stock since June 1939.
Chassis 57757/engine 52C, cabriolet Vanvooren, Salon 1938
The chassis has been delivered to the coachbuilder on 12 August 1938. The coachwork on this vehicle was built by the renowned Établissements Vanvooren, rue Pierre Lhomme à Courbevoie, in order to be displayed on the coachbuilder’s stand at the Paris Motor Show, held at the Grand Palais between 6 and 16 October 1938. Three photos of the car, taken in Bois de Boulogne in October 1938, were published in the November-December issue of the magazine Auto–Carrosserie. The body is described as being „black and blue in colour, with a blue leather interior“.
The car 57757/engine 52C was bought by D’Ieteren, the Bugatti agent from Brussels, on 30 September 1938. On 15 November 1938, the car was finally delivered to D’Ieteren in Brussels, for his client Mr Jean Washer, the famous Belgian tennis player of the 1920s, who paid 110 000 francs. His nephew discovered a photograph taken during the winter of 1939, showing Jean Washer, in gloves and helmet, posing next to his new acquisition, which was fitted with Belgian number plates.
Jean Washer (1894-1972)
Jean Washer, who was born on 22 August 1894 in Berchem and died on 22 March 1972 in Geneva, came from a family involved in the textile industry in Brussels. He started playing tennis after the war and his most successful year came in 1923 when he was ranked 9th worldwide. Professionally, he was responsible for the synthetic fibres department in the UCB Group UCB (Union Chimique Belge).
In 1928, Jean Washer acquired a splendid park in Drève de la Meute, Bois de Waterloo, in which the property „le Manoir“ was situated. On 10 May 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium. The country surrendered on 28 May and the occupying forces installed themselves in Wallonia. They set up their quarters in „Le Manoir“ and an officer confiscated the fast Type 57 cabriolet for his own use. It appears that the Bugatti then headed east with its officer, as we next come across the car at a coachbuilder north of Frankfurt.
The Vanvooren body
During the car’s recent restoration, when the woodwork and seats were dismantled, the coachwork number was revealed. It was stencilled on the back of the seats, in blue crayon on the wood and lead pencil on other parts. In total, the Vanvooren number 2940 appeared on over ten pieces of the coachwork. It conforms to a Bugatti chassis number that was bodied during the autumn of 1938. Analysis of various parts of the body, carried out during the restoration commissioned by the Volante Collection, has revealed the rest of the story. On the inside of a door panel there is a long inscription: „Erwin Leun, Karosseriebauer, Giessen Klein Linden, Dammstraße 14, Deutschland“. At Leun’s workshop, the position of the spare wheel on the Bugatti was altered. It was hidden in the trunk rather than be visible on the left wing, making room for a large radio antenna – an aesthetic improvement as well. A tow bar was mounted at the back, which involved cutting out a few centimeters at the bottom of the rear bodywork. This was done to tow a trailer with a military radio transmitter. The name Hammerstein appears engraved in the metal of the two front seat sliders. This could be the name of a German officer from the military family Von Hammerstein, and be connected to the name of one of the officers who considered the car as loot.
The car has been successfully ‘recycled’ by the factory towards the end of the war: the Vanvooren body was re-fitted to one of the five new chassis that had been stored in Bordeaux in 1940. The number pencilled in the factory records (the ‘Pracht Carnets’) was 57780 with engine n°546 and this is clearly what it would have become had circumstances not dictated otherwise. By order of Hans Trippel, the chassis was taken back to Molsheim in 1941. It was a complete chassis with engine, gearbox and differential. The frame number, 438, shows us that the engine 546 has been fitted in the chassis some time after June 1939.
The current car, chassis and engine n°546, body ex-57757 cabriolet Vanvooren
It is extremely likely that at the end of the war, several Type 57 that had been requisitioned, poorly looked after or simply damaged while in storage, would have been returned to the Bugatti factory to be restored. New clients had the choice of getting their chassis restored or having their coachwork fitted to one of the new 1939 chassis that were still available. This is undoubtedly what happened to body number 57757, whose owner after the war chose a new Type 57 chassis. (One can suppose that the engine 52C was unusable as chassis 57757 was recovered by the factory and fitted with the engine ex-57404, and a fairly heavy four-seater Gangloff cabriolet body.)
After the war, we find the chassis with engine 546 fitted with the Vanvooren coachwork, in Austria. Paul Girardoni, owner of a large Austrian sugar refinery, bought the car in the early 1950s, and according to his wife, Olga Girardoni, this transaction took place in 1951. She remembers receiving the car as a present from her husband, and using it daily, as well as taking it to the factory in Molsheim several times to be serviced.
At this point, the car was green (Mrs Girardoni recalls it being „petrol-coloured“) with tan leather interior. Between 1952 and 1954 it was registered in Saint-Gilgen on lake Wolfgangsee, in the province of Salzburg, with the number S 33.696, and later in Burgenland, close to the factory, with the number B 31.133. Mrs Girardoni’s family albums include numerous photos of the car.
In 1965 the car was sold to the great Swedish collector Allan Söderström, from Malmo. When he died, the Bugatti was put up for sale by his son, and bought in 1996 through the dealer Jean-François du Montant by M. Pierre-Alain Bonnigal. During his ownership, the car was repainted dark blue.
The car was acquired by the VOLANTE Collection in 2014, through Bruno Vendiesse, to become a highlight of the VOLANTE Museum’s exhibition. We entrusted the Bugatti to the workshop of René Grosse for a full-scale two-year restoration that cost in excess of EUR 350,000. The coachwork was repainted in the original Nitrolac two-tone colour scheme, blue and black. The original Vanvooren interior was upholstered in specially embossed blue leather, made to original pattern. The rear of the car, modified during the war, was restored to its original configuration. Over 4,000 photographs were taken of different stages of the restoration, documenting the meticulous attention to detail taken by the team at Grosse’s workshop.
Renowned Vanvooren specialists, our approach to this project was as historians. The Museum, dedicated to fine pre-war motor cars, already included eight cars bodied by Vanvooren, and we were very familiar with the techniques used at the workshop in Courbevoie. Maybe there was no one more qualified to return this 1938 Paris Motor Show Vanvooren cabriolet to its former glory.
Consequently, this car won the Bugatti Award in a group of six Type 57s at last year’s Concours d’Élégance – Masterpieces at Schloss Dyck. A great recognition of the research and restoration work done.
Thanks to Pierre-Yves Laugier (Bugatti historian) for providing the major part of information.
With timeless styling and sophisticated engineering, the Type 57 is the ultimate road-going Bugatti and enjoys sought-after status among today’s collectors. This particular car, which features the improved third series chassis and elegant one-off Vanvooren bodywork, is an outstanding representative of the marque and model. Presented here is a well-documented Type 57 that has benefited from a full-scale restoration at the renowned workshop of René Grosse. For the collector in search of a superb example of the iconic Type 57 Bugatti, we encourage serious consideration of this outstanding and highly original Bugatti.
The VOLANTE Collection makes every effort to represent each vehicle accurately and with integrity. We also welcome third party inspections when necessary. Although we try to do our very best to be accurate in our description writing we are human and do make mistakes. Unless otherwise noted, all vehicles are sold AS IS, No Warranty Expressed or Implied. All sales final.