Rétromobile proves that special masterpieces (barn-find Bugattis!) always find a buyer
As a sculptor, August Thomassen possessed an innate appreciation of form and line. His eye for beautiful shapes sparked a passion for Bugattis. He bought three of them in the 1950s, when mere mortals could still do such things, and tucked them away in a barn. They remained there, largely undriven and all but forgotten, until late last year when Matthieu Lamoure excavated them from behind 200 sandbags.
Joining the trio of Bugattis was a Citroën 5HP, a more utilitarian runabout with its own quirky beauty. Finding the cars, Lamoure said at the time, was “magical.” The cars were widely expected to bring $1 million at auction. They did exactly that earlier this month at Retromobile in Paris.
Finding even one Bugatti in a barn would be cause for celebration. Finding three caused a sensation. Thomassen, whose bust of Ettore Bugatti sits in the National Automobile Museum in Mulhouse, France, loved the cars for their aesthetic beauty, not their engineering, and seemed content to admire them, not drive them.
There’s so much to admire. The centerpiece of his collection was a 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet by Graber. Thomassen bought the gorgeous grand tourer, serial number 57500, in 1960. Even after decades of neglect, the car was largely intact and original, and auction house Artcurial described it as “a fantastic project.” It sold for $567,976.
Speaking of projects, Thomassen’s 1929 Bugatti Type 40 sold for $216,374 despite having no body. The car, serial number 40719, sustained extensive damage during a rally in 1984, and no one ever got around to completing the repairs. Yet there’s just enough of the wood frame intact to provide a glimpse of the cars once and future beauty.
Thomassen bought the Type 40 in 1958, one year after purchasing his first Bugatti, a 1932 Type 49 Berline 2/4-door by Vanvooren. Artcurial called the car, serial number 49487, a 1932 Paris Motor Show demonstrator car. It remains largely original and sold for $223,133.
The Artcurial sale included several other cars that anyone with an eye for beautiful shapes would admire. We’re partial to the 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport roadster by Corsica that sold for a cool $1.1 million, but we also love love love the 1966 Serenissima Spyder that brought $4,786,229. The car, serial No. 005, raced at Le Mans in 1966 and remains in largely the same condition as when the Serenissima team loaded it on the trailer after the race.
A 1928 Bentley 6.5 Liter Four Light Weymann Fabric Sports Saloon by Freestone & Webb, sold for $1.3 million. The car, serial number BR2353, was a bit unusual in that, unlike many Bentleys of the era, it retained its original enclosed bodywork. Most were fitted with open Le Mans racer-style bodies. And despite its age, the car had a mere 42,000 miles on the odometer.
For our money, the 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Berlinetta was the prettiest car to cross the block. The sleek red GT, perhaps best described as sex on wheels, sold for $18.9 million, just shy of the record $19.8 million paid for an 8C 2900 B Spyder in 2016.
That’s an astronomical sum for anyone who actually works for a living. The 1950 Citroën HY van, its San Rivo coffee livery and baby blue paint mottled by a patina of rust, sold for a far more affordable $49,500, making it something of a bargain.