Other than the marque's name and their possession of the Bugatti family's estate in Molsheim, to be perfectly honest, the current Bugatti company has little to do with Ettore Bugatti and the magnificent machines that he and his son Jean made. That's why it was a bit of a mystery to see an official press release the other day from Bugatti about the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, Jean Bugatti's masterpiece, with no mention of their current übercar, the Chiron.
It's generally acknowledged that the Volkswagen group bought the rights to Bugatti so Porsche heir and former VW CEO Ferdinand Piech could have a vanity project making some of the fastest cars in the world.
Now comes an announcement on Bugatti's official Facebook page that sheds a little bit of light on that mystery. Accompanied by a plan-view sketch of the 57SC Atlantic, the post says, "Jean Bugatti’s 57 SC Atlantic cannot be re-created, but what do you think? Can we translate its design language into the 21st century?"
The announcement was accompanied by rumors that the car being teased will be a custom, one-off production for Mr. Piech, an ultimate vanity project. One would assume it would be based on Bugatti's production Chiron, whose mid-engine layout could probably be accommodated by the 57SC Atlantic's fastback shape.
The 57SC Atlantic was based on Jean Bugatti's long disappeared (but recently recreated) Aerolithe concept. The 57SC was a sporting yet elegant car. The S stood for "Surbaissé" (Lowered) and the C for "Compresseur", a supercharger. The Atlantic was named to honor the first Frenchman to fly across that ocean.
The Aerolithe's experimental body was fabricated from elektron, a magnesium alloy. Since magnesium is flammable and difficult to weld, Jean instead used exposed flanges and rivets to join body panels together. When the alloy proved to be too difficult to use on production vehicles, the four SC Atlantics that were made had aluminum bodies, but the distinctive flanges and rivets were retained, giving a slight industrial edginess to the flowing, art-deco body lines. One would assume that since they are part of the Atlantic's character, Piech's custom would have rivets and flanges as well.
There are three existing 57SC Atlantics. One is owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren, another is jointly owned by collector Peter Mullin and one of the Waltons of Walmart fame and the third, recreated from a car demolished at a railroad crossing, is in a private collection in Spain. They're among the most valuable cars in the world, with the Lauren car purchased for a reported $40 million.
When you have an ego the size of Ferdinand Piech's, how do you top the most valuable cars in the world? You use the resources of one of the biggest automobile manufacturers in the world to make something even more exclusive. Ralph Lauren doesn't own the only Bugatti 57SC Atlantic. If modern Bugatti creates a modern version of the 57SC Atlantic for Piech, I'm not expecting them to build more than one. It will be interesting to see what Bugatti will do if there is actually demand for the teased car.
Bugatti Atlantic Chassis 57374, the Rothschild Car