1938 BUGATTI TYPE 57 STELVIO. Photo Bonhams.
Coachwork by Gangloff. Chassis no. 57715. 3,257cc DOHC Supercharged Inline 8-Cylinder Engine. Dual Throat Updraft Stromberg UUR-2 Carburetor.170bhp at 5,500rpm. 4-Speed Cotal Pre-Selector Manual Transmission. Semi-Elliptic Leaf Springs with Rigid Front Axle – Live Rear Axle. 4-Wheel Cable Operated Drum Brakes. Estimate US$ 1.1 million - 1.3 million (€820,000 - 970,000)
*Owned by pioneering collector Bob Roberts for half a century
*Uprated to supercharged Type 57C spec with a Cotal pre-selector in 1964
*Only three owners since 1950
*Desirable, enjoyable Stelvio Cabriolet coachwork
*The quintessential Bugatti road car
THE BUGATTI TYPE 57
The Type 57 Bugatti, introduced in 1934, marked Jean Bugatti's emergence as Bugatti's leader and creative force. It was the first new model built under his direction and it incorporated many features new to Bugatti. Its dual overhead camshaft eight-cylinder engine had dimensions of 72x100mm, offering 3,257cc displacement. The crankshaft ran in five main bearings. The camshafts were driven by a train of helical-tooth gears at the engine's rear with a further crankshaft bearing behind them. Finger cam followers minimized side thrust on the valve stems.
The Type 57 also marked Bugatti's first use of a transmission fixed to the engine crankcase and a single plate clutch. The top three gears in the four-speed gearbox were constant mesh. Jean created a novel independent front suspension system using transverse leaf springs for the first two examples of the Type 57 before Le Patron spied it and insisted it be replaced by a proper Bugatti hollow tubular live axle. Thenceforth suspension was traditional Bugatti semi-elliptical front and reversed quarter-elliptical rear leaf springs with cable-operated mechanical drum brakes.
Much of the Type 57's commercial success may be attributed to Jean Bugatti's sensitive, flowing coachwork which graced the most famous of the chassis' examples. Atalante two-seat coupé, Ventoux four-seat coupé, Stelvio cabriolet and the Galibier sedan vied with the best of France's and Europe's formidable coachbuilders' creations and comprised the bulk of Type 57 production. Bugatti's clients could have the best, but overwhelmingly they chose Jean Bugatti's designs on the Type 57.
Despite financial travail, development of the Type 57 continued with introduction of a stiffened frame and rubber-mounted engine along with the supercharged 160hp Type 57C in 1936. In 1938 the nearly unthinkable happened in Molsheim when Bugatti finally adopted Lockheed hydraulically actuated brakes and replaced the beautiful and lightweight but expensive aluminum-spoked wheels and brake drums with Rudge-Whitworth center-lock wire wheels and separate brake drums.
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
This elegant example of the desirable Stelvio Cabriolet has enjoyed careful ownership by only a handful of keepers in the last six and a half decades. Chassis 57715 was invoiced on November 22nd, 1938 as a bare chassis to British Bugatti distributor Col. Charles Sorel of London.
Carrosserie Gangloff in Colmar, France was selected to build the Stelvio body on 57715. Bugatti entrusted the coachbuilder founded by Georges Gangloff in 1903 with clothing many of its motorcars thanks in part to their convenient location near Bugatti's Molsheim factory and the skill of its craftsmen, who also bodied motorcars for Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce, Isotta-Fraschini, Delage, Minerva and others. Of note, Gangloff would long outlive Bugatti, lasting to this day building trailers and railroad coaches.
While its early UK history remains unknown, the bulk of 57715's post-WWII ownership was in the care of pioneering car collector Bob Roberts. Mr. Roberts, the founder of the celebrated British Midland Motors Museum, was an early enthusiast and collector of what were deemed at the time to be just "funny old cars". Roberts purchased 57715 in 1950 kept the car for a full four decades until his death in 1990. The car would remain in the Roberts family in the UK for half a century.
During Mr. Roberts' long ownership, a few upgrades were made to improve the performance of the car. In 1964, the engine was uprated to supercharged 57C specification. A popular modification, Bugatti changed many of its own cars at the factory to this hotter spec in its heyday. Accounts from this period reportedly said that the supercharger generated three to four pounds of boost pressure at 1.17 times the crankshaft speed. In place of the standard, sliding gear four-speed manual, power from the hotter motor was routed through a Cotal electromagnetic pre-selector four-speed gearbox — another popular retrofit that greatly improves the motoring experience. With the improved motor and pre-selector transmission, Mr. Roberts was often seen enjoying his Bugatti with his wife Audrey in the passenger seat.
After his death, the car remained with the Roberts family until it was sold from his estate in 2000 to a Mr. Schermerhorn. With its first new owner in half a century, the Bugatti would stay with Mr. Schermerhorn for nearly a decade before it was sold to its first American owner in the fall of 2009.
As handsome as ever, the older restoration on this example has held up well over the years. Carefully maintained and sparingly driven by its last two keepers, this supremely sophisticated and attractive machine is perhaps the archetypal Bugatti road car — a practical sports car incorporating speed, style, and grace, and the best of pre-war French master coachwork.
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