Ask any pre-war car fan what marque he or she would most like to discover tucked away in a barn, and there’s a good chance that Bugatti will be at (or at least near) the top of the list. And considering that fewer than 8000 were built and that all were expensive and rare in their day, a surprising number seem to re-emerge after decades in obscurity.
Among the most celebrated of those rediscovered in recent times is the 1937 Type 57S Atalante originally owned by aristocrat British racing driver Earl Howe (sold by Gooding and Co last September for £7.8m); a ‘regular’ Type 57 that was among the 59-strong collection of neglected barn finds in the Baillon collection auctioned in 2015; and, famously, the 1925 Type 22 that was hauled out of Lake Maggiore in 2008 – after 75 years under the surface of the water.
The lost Bugattis just keep on coming, as evinced by the Type 57S pictured here that’s due to cross the block as the star of the Legends of the Road sale being held by Bonhams at its New Bond Street HQ on February 19.
Unused for the past half century, the 1937 car – one of 42 S models built – was originally owned by Robert Ropner of the Teessidebased Ropner shipping family. He ordered it through Mayfair dealer Jack Barclay, specifying four-seater bodywork by London coachbuilder Corsica (which also bodied seven other examples of the Type 57S).
In its day, the 3.3-litre 57S was about the quickest road car available – a fact that must have appealed to its second owner Rodney Clarke, who went on to found the Connaught grand prix team in 1950.
Clarke bought the car in 1945 but crashed it, selling it to HH Coglan the following year. Coglan rebuilt it, ran it until 1953 and then passed it on to a buyer in Essex, the memorably named Dr KGA Cock who, after suffering major gearbox problems, sold the Bugatti to the respected Staffordshire-based engineer and ‘Bugattiste’ Bill Turnbull in 1969 – and it is from his estate that the car is now being offered.
Shortly after buying it, Turnbull set about piecing together its history by gathering information from previous owners, and it was subsequently discovered that his Type 57S was more special than any of the others, since it was built onto one of the three lightweight chassis produced for the grand prix-winning, Le Mans-winning and record-breaking Type 57G ‘Tank’ streamliners of 1936.
As is often the case, however, the rebuild dragged on and, although Turnbull came close to completing it, he failed to do so before his death. He had, however, enlisted the assistance of a gearbox specialist from the Mercedes Formula 1 team to help him solve the problem he had discovered during the drive home after buying the car in 1969.
Hopefully the next owner will have the resources to complete the finishing touches quickly and get this incredibly special and remarkably original Bugatti back on the road. Because, as Sholto Gilbertson of Bonhams suggests, “This could well be the last ‘hidden’ pre-war Bugatti of note.”
Although we bet there are a few more squirrelled away, just waiting to be found.
1937 Bugatti Type 57S – On sale with Bonhams, London, February 19. Estimate £5m-£7m. bonhams.com
In the market for a pre-war sporty number?
Perhaps the idea of a seven-figure car might not go down well at home. Try these…
1935 Railton Straight Eight Special
With the same owner for the past 40 years, this midnight blue 2+2 has seen much restoration. With its 4.2-litre Hudson engine, it is ideal for hillclimbs and sprints.
1934 Lagonda Rapier
One of the finest small sports cars of its era, its 1100cc engine was built for Lagonda by Coventry Climax. This model is in good working condition.
1930 Aston Martin Team Car LM4
An ex-works team car, LM4 raced in the early 1930s. It was rebuilt in the ’90s and recently fitted with a new engine. The original racing engine is part of the sale.
1939 Mercedes-Benz 320 Cabriolet A
The E-Class of its day, this open-top has seen a recent nut-and-bolt restoration, having been found 30 years ago in the Czech Republic. Swift and luxurious.