1939 Bugatti 57 Cabriolet 4 places par Vanvooren600.000-800.000 EUR - No Reserve

1939  Bugatti  57 Cabriolet 4 places par Vanvooren

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French title
Chassis n° '57780'
Engine n° 546
Frame n° 438
Body n° 2940

- One of the last five Bugatti Type 57 built
- One of the legendary Bordeaux Orphans
- The last 4-seater Bugatti Cabriolet built by Vanvooren
- Exhibited at the Paris Motor Show
- Restoration to the highest level
- Award winner at Masterpieces / Schloss Dyck
- Fascinating history
- Fully documented
- From the Volante Collection
- No reserve

Reference Number 618211

as of 7/6/2020

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Lot 619

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Hôtel Hermitage Square Beaumarchais  Phone  +33 1 42 99 20 56  City  Monte-Carlo
98000 Monte-Carlo  Fax  +33 1 42 99 16 39  State  Paris
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Overview
Car 1939 Bugatti 57 Cabriolet 4 places par Vanvooren
VIN 57780 
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Known History

The extraordinary history of this car was long considered a mystery even among experts. With a great deal of research and the participation of many renowned Bugatti historians, it has been possible to unveil the story. Chassis '57780'/Engine 546 is one of the legendary Bordeaux Orphans - five fully assembled chassis without coachwork, completed in the late summer of 1939 at the Molsheim factory, which were transferred to Bordeaux in the course of the factory relocation and then no longer supplied to customers. In the 1940s, this chassis was fitted with the coachwork of another exceptional Bugatti Type 57 (a year older), the exhibition vehicle of the Établissements Vanvooren at the 1938 Paris Motor Show, where a unique 4-seater cabriolet with chassis 57757/52C was on display, destined for the Brussels Bugatti agency D'Ieteren and its customer Jean Washer.

 

Chassis n° '57780' / engine n° 546

With the assistance of Bugatti specialists Pierre-Yves Laugier, David Sewell, Julius Kruta, Helge Hauck, Kees Jansen, Sandy Leith and Patrick Arnaud, the current owner of the car, himself an automotive historian and Vanvooren specialist, has uncovered the remarkable 80-year history of this special Bugatti after years of meticulous work. It all begins with the last five Type 57s built at the Molsheim factory, whose story Kees Jansen describes in his article “The Fate of the Bordeaux Orphans”, published in 2014 in Bugantics Vol. 77, No. 2. It says there accordingly:

”With the threat of war in sight, the French government decided to impose a new policy: Bugatti was to be made part of the military operation being ordered to produce aviation parts for the French air force. As it was very close to the German border and an easy target for bombardments, the government decided to relocate the entire factory to Bordeaux. The current production of cars had to be stopped and Bugatti made an inventory of the remaining stock of cars and other material. Some cars were finished as rolling chassis, some were unfinished and a number of cars from clients that were present at that moment were also recorded.

Amongst others, the list included 5 finished cars (2 type 57 'C's, 3 non-supercharged type 57s). As usual, the rolling chassis were all denoted by their respective engine numbers. They were: Moteur 110C, 109C, 546, 539 and 547. None of the finished or unfinished rolling chassis were given a chassis number, which was usually only allotted at the very last moment when the chassis left the factory. And none of these would ever be given a chassis number by the factory, even at a later date. They had simply been stamped with the engine number, and the chassis numbers that were later used were 'numbers of convenience'. In the factory records (the 'Pracht Carnets') Pracht usually noted the chassis number in pencil and added the engine number, the customer and the delivery date later; this was made definite in ink once the car left the factory. For the non-supercharged cars, he had noted in pencil the following chassis numbers: 57780, 57781, 57782. He assigned the number '57780' to engine 546, and this is clearly what it would have become if the circumstances had not dictated otherwise. This car was the latest model, with vertical telescopic shock absorbers, factory hydraulic brakes (standard since 1938) and a type III 57 engine. It has always been, and still is, registered as 546.”

 

Chassis '57780'/546 is still completely original. It bears the frame number 438, which shows that the engine 546 was installed in the frame after June 1939. The number 546 can also be found on the rear axle differential. The engine block bears the number 446, which is also stamped on the original cylinder heads. The entire powertrain with all assembly numbers has not been changed since production over 80 years ago. For comparison: the famous last Bugatti Coupe Vanvooren 57835/102C has frame number 430 and engine block 432.

 

In 1941, after the occupation of France by the German Wehrmacht, the Bugatti inventory that had been transferred to Bordeaux, including the new chassis, was taken back to Molsheim by the order of Hans Trippel. It is not possible to date exactly when the car received its coachwork there. But there are indications that this happened during the time of the German occupation.

 

Vanvooren body n° 2940

Gustave Achille Vanvooren was born in Paris in 1857 and started working for his father's carriage building business at the age of 12. He took over in 1888 and by the turn of the century, the Carrosserie Vanvooren, based at 33 rue Marbeuf in Paris, had established a reputation for high quality and distinctive, luxury coachbuilding. In 1906, construction of carriages ceased and the company turned their attention to automobile coachwork, manufactured at new facilities at rue Pierre l'Homme, Courbevoie in the NW of Paris.

In 1922, a brilliant engineer from Lyon, Marius Joseph Daste took over the company and his patents revolutionized the world of coachbuilding. In 1929, together with his new partner René de Prandières, a former Bugatti race driver, he developed and patented a metal-panelled, flexible body, using 'Silentbloc' mountings and joints. In 1930 he introduced their pillarless four-door saloon design at the Paris and London Motor Shows. Patented as the 'Silent Travel' system, it was considered by many to be the best of the post-Weymann systems, successfully combining the advantages of a lightweight, flexible body with a quiet drive, housed in attractive coachwork.

In 1932 Daste moved to Hispano-Suiza, which led to a strong relationship between Vanvooren and the manufacturer. Between 1931 and 1937, approximately 200 of 450 Hispano-Suizas built were bodied by Vanvooren. De Prandières was on good terms with the established agent Dominic Lamberjack, and as a consequence, some 150 Bugattis were fitted with Vanvooren bodies, including at least 36 cars of the 57 and 57S types, 20 of which were 2- or 4-seater cabriolets. Between 1900 and 1950 Vanvooren created approximately 2500 unique bodies that were fitted to chassis belonging to over 40 different manufacturers. Today, it is thought that only about 150 Vanvooren cars are still in existence. Among them are famous cars, which today can be found in the most important collections of the world. All of them are unique pieces, which are committed to the restrained elegance of the Vanvooren design lines, and which always took into account the wishes of the customers. The quality was of the highest standard and beyond any doubt.

Body n° 2940, intended for the stand of the 'Carrosserie Vanvooren' at the 1938 Paris Motor Show, was completed in September 1938. It was mounted on Bugatti chassis 57757/52C with frame n° 339, which had been delivered from Molsheim on August 12th of that year. On 30 September, one week before the Salon, the car was sold for 110,000 francs to the Brussels agent D'Ieteren and his customer Jean Washer. It was then delivered to Belgium on 15 November 1938, and both the design sketch by Vanvooren and three advertising pictures of the car, taken in the Bois du Boulogne, have been preserved. They were kindly provided by the Washer family, as well as pictures of Jean Washer himself and, incredibly, a silver trophy that he had won during his time as a tennis pro. 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 (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. There the Bugatti found a home in November 1938. A photo taken during the winter of 1939 is showing Jean Washer, in gloves and helmet, posing next to his new acquisition, which was fitted with Belgian number plates. Half a year later, on May 10, 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 57C cabriolet for his own use. The next trace of the car is found in Germany, in a body shop north of Frankfurt.

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. In the chronology of Vanvooren body numbers, it corresponds exactly to a production date of September 1938. Analysis of various parts of the body has revealed the rest of the story. The inside of a door panel shows a long inscription written in Sütterlin, an old German script used only until the early 1940s: “Erwin Leun, Karosseriebauer, Giessen. Klein Linden, Dammstrasse 14, Deutschland”. The town of Klein Linden is located 400 km east of Waterloo, to the north of Frankfurt, and Leun's workshop is known for his work for the Wehrmacht during the war. Leun was commissioned to convert the Bugatti into an officer's radio car - a vehicle with large rod antennae and a cabinet-sized field radio on a trailer. For this purpose, the position of the spare wheel had to be altered, which was prominently located on the left fender. It was placed in a specially made mould in the trunk, the hole in the fender was closed. This gave space for the mounting of the 4m high rod antenna, whose drill holes and reinforcement plates became visible after the paint was removed. Aesthetically this change was a gain, because the car has a more elongated appearance without a spare wheel. A tow bar was welded on at the back, which involved cutting out a few centimetres at the bottom of the rear bodywork. 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 famous military family von Hammerstein, and be connected to the name of the officer who considered the car as loot and took it with him to Germany. The work at Leun's workshop was carried out in 1940/41. As for why the Vanvooren body was subsequently separated from its original chassis 57757/52C - there is a likely explanation for this.

 

The assembly of chassis '57780'/546 with Vanvooren body 2940

There is a strong possibility that the work was carried out in the factory at Molsheim. The car's current chassis came from new stock that had been stored in Bordeaux in 1940, and taken back to Molsheim in 1941. An auction was organised at the factory that year and the body from chassis 57757/52C with frame 339, the ex-1938 Salon Vanvooren cabriolet, was put on the new chassis '57780'/546 with frame 438.

Thanks to the BIG (Bugatti Identification Group) today we know what happened to the old chassis. The rear axle 52C and the frame 339 appear to have been subsequently used on the car of an enthusiast from Colmar right after the war. It received engine 283 ex-57404 (a car that was also on the Bordeaux list and whose engine could possibly be purchased on the same occasion) and a Gangloff four-seater cabriolet body from 1938 - 1939. From then, that car became known under n° 57404. The engine 52C never appeared again. Therefore we may assume that the engine was blown and could not be used anymore, which gives us an explanation for the disassembly of the Vanvooren body of 57757/52C.

 

After the war

After the war, we find '57780'/546 with Vanvooren coachwork in Austria. Mr. Girardoni, owner of a large Austrian sugar refinery, bought the car in the early 1950s, and according to his wife 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 petrol-green with tan leather interior, the antennae and the tow bar had been removed. 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 and include some shots of the dashboard, which show it as being the 57C model - it had four small dials to the left and two larger ones flanking the steering wheel, all set on a lacquered wooden fascia, which would have been an option chosen by the coachbuilder. In 1965 the car was sold to the great Swedish collector Mr. Soderstrom, from Malmo. When he died, the Bugatti was put up for sale by his son, and bought in 1996 by Mr. Bonnigal. During his ownership, the car was repainted dark blue and was used on several occasions.

In 2014 the car became part of the Volante collection in Germany. The owner, a Vanvooren enthusiast and for many years archivist of the Carrosserie Vanvooren, united the Bugatti in his collection with a group of 9 other vehicles with Vanvooren coachwork, the largest group of this kind worldwide. He did so without knowing the special history of this Bugatti, solely out of appreciation for the coachbuilder. What he then found out in the course of the subsequent comprehensive restoration in cooperation with the Bugatti specialists inspired him all the more. A thorough analysis of the surfaces, carried out by Dr. Gundula Tutt, revealed remnants of both the original nitrocellulose paint and the original interior and leather upholstery. According to these specifications, the two original colours black and blue were remixed and the blue leather, which had a unique structure, was dyed and embossed in Italy by a specialist according to the historical model. The Bugatti was then entrusted to the workshop of René Grosse for a full-scale two-year restoration that cost in excess of 300,000 €. The seat set turned out to be original Vanvooren, it only had to be upholstered and covered anew. 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, who have been familiar with the manufacturing techniques of the Vanvooren workshop in Courbevoie for many years, thanks to the orders of the Volante collection. There was no-one more qualified to return this 1938 Paris Motor Show Vanvooren cabriolet to its former glory.

In 2018, the Volante collection successfully sold part of its vehicles at the Artcurial Retromobile sale. This exceptional Bugatti now presents another opportunity to purchase a historically unique vehicle from this high-quality collection. '57780'/546 was awarded at the FIVA A Concours “Masterpieces“ at Schloss Dyck in June 2018. In a group of no less than six Bugatti Type 57, the judges, led by Julius Kruta, honoured the car with the Bugatti Award - a wonderful recognition of the significance of this unique vehicle and the work carried out on it.

Since then the Bugatti has been on display in the Volante Collection and has not been moved. A service before putting it back on the road is recommended.

 

Photos © Peter Singhof