Bugatti Atlantic #3: An important car reappears

Photos by Michael T. Lynch

"Provenance" is an important word in the world of collectible automobiles. It means a traceable history that leaves no question regarding the authenticity of a vehicle's ownership trail and its possible accomplishments or lack thereof. Unquestioned provenance is required to compete in world class events such as Pebble Beach.

Arguably the most beautiful and important car of the pre-WWII era is the Bugatti Type 57S Atlantic. It is so rare as to be considered priceless. One recently changed hands for an undisclosed amount judged to be between 30 and 40 million dollars.

Chassis number 57473 is an Atlantic with a fascinating history. The third of four such cars, it was built in 1936 for Jacques and Yvonne Holtzschuchs of Paris. A picture exists of the car and Madame Holtzschuchs at the Concours de Juan les Pins in the South of France in 1937 where the car won the "Grand Prix d'Honneur." It next surfaced in 1951 in a race in Nice, restyled inside and out and now in French racing blue livery.

Prior to it being purchased by Rene Chatard, a Bugatti collector and owner of a fashion boutique in Paris, little is known of the car's other owners. Chatard registered the car in the name of his mistress, Marguerite Schneider. On August 22, 1955, at 10:45 PM the car was struck by a train in the city of Gein, in the Loire Valley. Tragically, Mr. Chatard and his female companion, Jeanine Vacheron, were killed. 

The car was sequestered by the French railway system pending an investigation. Chatard eventually was deemed responsible for the accident, and, after several years, the legal dispute between Madame Chatard and Mademoiselle Schneider was settled in favor of the latter. The remains were purchased from a scrap yard by a knowledgeable Bugatti collector named Paul Andre Berson in 1965. Berson set about restoring the car by replacing the parts of the car that were damaged. He sold the completed car in 1977 to Nicholas Seydoux, another collector. Berson later set about building a second car with the parts he had salvaged from the first. 57473's current owner purchased both and brought them to noted New England restoration experts, Paul Russell and Company, of Essex, Massachusetts.

New England area motorsports enthusiasts will recall the exciting exhibit of the Ralph Lauren cars at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2005. The stunning black Bugatti Atlantic was a Paul Russell and Company restoration that won "Best in Show" at Pebble Beach in 1990. Their knowledge of and access to that car facilitated the task of bringing Bugatti Atlantic #3 to Pebble Beach this year. 

57473 was exhibited on the Pebble Beach lawn and gave everyone who viewed it a great deal of pleasure. Enthusiasts owe the current owner and Paul Russell and Company a debt of thanks for bringing this important car back to life.

To learn more please go to:http://www.paulrussell.com/articles.html  Select “Restoring History: My Insights on Resurrecting a Bugatti Atlantic”, by Paul Russell, Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance Insider, June 2010
Michael Lynch also has pictures and details in his story on www.velocetoday.com

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MMR