Found in a sculptor’s barn, these 3 Bugattis could fetch $1M

1937 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet par Graber front 3/4

Dutch sculptor August Thomassen not only created beautiful art, he appreciated it in automobiles. Four of Thomassen’s cars—including three classic Bugattis worth $1 million—will be offered at Artcural’s Rétromobile sale on February 8 in Paris.

The cars have been hidden in the sculptor’s studio barn in Belgium for nearly six decades. His family was so concerned the cars might be stolen that they barricaded the barn’s two entrances with some 200 sandbags and a modern car. But when someone broke into the building last year, and with the 95-year-old Thomassen unable to drive, his family decided to sell the treasure trove.

Thomassen is a lifelong Bugatti fan, and his sculpted bust of company founder Ettore Bugatti resides at the National Automobile Museum in Mulhouse, France. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, Thomassen purchased a 1929 Bugatti Type 40, a 1932 Bugatti Type 49 limousine, and an all-original 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet. The fourth Thomassen automobile being auctioned is a 1925 Citroën Cabriolet.

Thomassen’s love for cars began early, as he tagged along with his father, a physician, whenever he delivered medication to patients in their community. Thomassen’s oldest sister was the first woman in their town (Maastricht, Netherlands) to receive a driver’s license. The Thomassen family also traveled often, particularly to France, where Thomassen has resided for years.

1929 Bugatti Type 40 rear 3/4
1929 Bugatti Type 40 engine
1929 Bugatti Type 40 front 3/4
Artcurial
1929 Bugatti Type 40

Thomassen’s daughter told the De Telegraaf newspaper that her father admired Bugatti automobiles for their engineering and unusual styling. Requesting that she not be identified, Thomassen’s daughter told the De Telegraaf that the cars may have been hidden, but they weren’t a secret.

“We regularly had enthusiasts at the door who wanted to buy the cars,” she says. “But my father refused to sell them. Even though we hardly had money as a family. You can safely say that we were poor.”

They won’t be any longer. The presale estimate for the Bugattis is €650,000–€930,000 ($746,596–$1,062,483). All are offered at no reserve.

The 1932 Type 49 and 1937 Type 57 both feature custom coachwork. The Type 49 by Vanvooren appeared the 1932 Paris Auto Show and is valued at $170K–$228K. The stunning all-original Type 57, one of Swiss coachbuilder Herman Graber’s most beautiful creations, could fetch as much as $700K.  

1932 Bugatti Type 49 Berline 2/4 portes Vanvooren front 3/4
1932 Bugatti Type 49 Berline 2/4 portes Vanvooren engine
1937 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet par Graber interior
1937 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet par Graber rear 3/4

Unlike the other two Bugattis, Thomassen frequently drove the 1929 Type 40 and crashed it in a rally in 1984. He was in the midst of repairing it and was creating his own bodywork, but he never finished the job. The car is being offered without body panels, only an exposed wood frame. Presale estimate is $114K–$149K.

Thomassen’s charming little 1925 Citroën Cabriolet is in need of mechanical work. The boattail-designed roadster is valued at $11K–$17K.

It seems appropriate that Thomassen’s cars are being auctioned in Paris. While his appreciation for beautiful automobiles led him to Bugatti, the automaker’s founder wasn’t the only artist in the Bugatti family. Like Thomassen, Ettore’s brother was a sculptor. Sadly, he suffered from depression and took his own life at the age of 31—in Paris, no less. Bugatti’s first name? Rembrandt.