1939 BUGATTI TYPE 57 ARAVIS CABRIOLET
COACHWORK BY LETOURNEUR ET MARCHAND
Chassis No. 57732
Engine No. 534
Burgundy over cream with burgundy leather interior
Engine: straight eight, twin overhead camshafts, sixteen valves, 3257cc., 135bhp at 4,500rpm; Gearbox: four-speed manual, center change; Suspension: beam front axle with semi-elliptic springs, live rear axle with reversed quarter-elliptic springs, telescopic shock absorbers front and rear; Brakes: four wheel finned drum brakes with hydraulic actuation. Right hand drive.
Introduced in 1934, the Type 57 Bugatti soon established itself as one of the most desirable high performance touring cars of its period. The ultimate version of this remarkably successful model, the Series II, was introduced in the latter half of 1938, in good time for the 1939 model year. While earlier versions of the model retained the marque's traditional cable brakes and friction shock absorbers the new Series III benefited from the application of more modern hydraulic systems with the fitment of Lockheed-Bugatti brakes and Alinquant telescopic shock absorbers. The engine however was carried over essentially unchanged from the Series II, retaining its flexible chassis mounting in contrast to the rigidly mounted unit of the original version. In consequence later chassis frames were stiffened considerably when compared with the Series I model, principally by the addition of a cruciform center section, and several other minor but significant changes ensured that the car was progressively improved throughout its five-year production run.
Discounting the much more expensive and consequently far rarer Type 57S sports model, the number of Type 57 Bugattis constructed was around 660, the exact figure remaining indeterminate from the incomplete surviving factory records. Of the three versions the Series III was produced in the least numbers, probably no more than around 120 examples in total, on account of production being terminated suddenly after little more than a year when war broke out in September 1939. Of the total number of Type 57's produced the great majority, about 500 examples, were delivered with factory built or supplied coachwork, the remainder being made available to outside coachbuilders whose wealthy clientele were able to enjoy the luxury of having designed and fabricated coachwork to their individual choice.
From the outset of production in 1934 three body styles were offered by the factory, the Galibier pillarless four-door saloon, the Ventoux two-door coupe and its cabriolet equivalent the Stelvio. These latter two were characterized by their steeply raked windscreens. The Stelvio bodies were built by Gangloff of Colmar while the others were produced in-house at the Molsheim factory. Two of these four-seater models took their names from famous Alpine passes while the Ventoux was named after the mountain in the south-coast of France where speed hill-climbs had been contested from the early days of the century, and where Bugatti's racing models had enjoyed many successes.
The following year the Atalante fixed head coupe was added to the range, this being the first standard two-seater of the model to be offered by the factory. It was destined to be produced in much lower numbers than its three stable-mates, a total of only 37 examples rolling out of the factory during its four-year production run. Construction of its coachwork was shared between Gangloff in Colmar and Bugatti at Molsheim.
The Aravis cabriolet was the fifth and final style of coachwork to be offered by the factory on the Type 57 chassis and did not appear until late 1938 when Series III production was already under way. Officially classified as two to three-seater and with its smoothly elegant lines devoid of running boards, the Aravis is generally acknowledged as having by far the best balanced and most stylish coachwork offered by the factory on its Type 57 model.
Until recent years the accepted wisdom in Bugatti circles was that the Aravis was built by Gangloff in very small numbers, Barrie Price's 1992 standard reference book on the Type 57 suggesting that just three examples were produced. However it is now recognized that not only did Gangloff build four examples, two of which were in supercharged Type 57C form, but that a further seven were commissioned from the Levallois coachbuilders Letourneur & Marchand, of which also two were supercharged. The reason for this long misunderstanding is that in the factory records these seven cars are usually shown as being delivered in chassis form without reference to their subsequent coachwork to Letourneur & Marchand, who produced several other body styles for Bugattis, and it is the more recently discovered records of this Parisien coachbuilder which confirm that they were indeed Aravis models.
The example here offered, chassis no. 57732, was in chassis number sequence the fourth Letourneur & Marchand Aravis although chronologically it was the penultimate of the seven chassis to be delivered to this coachbuilder. The first, chassis no. 57692, was displayed on the Bugatti stand at the Paris Salon in October 1938 and featured prominently in their 1939 catalogue while the chassis of this car was not delivered until 10th February 1939 and not completed until 15th August. It was finished in blue with a red leather interior.
As far as is known this car was still unsold on the outbreak of war a mere three weeks later. In fact, its first recorded reference in private ownership was its registration in Paris with the number 3146 DX 75 on 25th April 1955. Then six months later, on 16th October, it was re-registered 8416 EM 78 in Bézons, near Paris, when its owner, who retained the car until 1962, moved house. In the early 1970s this Aravis belonged to Mr. Balleret of Reuil Malmaison and was sold by his daughter in the early 1980s to Michel Roquet of Monaco. At this time the car was complete but not running. Upon purchase Mr. Roquet commissioned a full restoration, the engine being done by the Bugatti specialist Laurent Rondoni of Carpentras (near Mont Ventoux). The coachwork was carried out to its present high standard by the renowned Lecoq facility of Paris. The Aravis was regularly maintained by Rondoni while part of the Roquet collection before being sold to the current owner last year.
Although all four of the Gangloff-built Aravis have survived to the present day, all currently being in the U.S.A., only two of the other six built by Letourneur & Marchand are still in existence and they are presently both located in Europe. Accordingly it is a truism that this particular example of the Aravis is unique in America, although in fact with so few of these hand-crafted bodies produced it is probable that no two examples were exactly identical. The combination of its established rarity with its unquestioned provenance, style and condition both mechanical and cosmetic results in this being a highly desirable motor car on all counts.