FORMERLY THE PROPERTY OF CHARLES CHAYNE
1937 BUGATTI TYPE 57S TWO-SEAT CABRIOLET
COACHWORK BY CARROSSERIE BUGATTI, ATALANTE TWO-SEAT CABRIOLET
Chassis No. 57482
Engine No. see text
Blue with red leather interior and white hood
Engine: Buick V8, see text; Gearbox: hydraulic three speed, see text; Suspension: articulated front axle beam with semi-elliptic springs, live rear axle with reversed quarter-elliptic springs, de Ram shock absorbers; Brakes: powered hydraulic drums. Right hand drive.
The Type 57S (S for Sport) Bugatti together with the preceding Type 55 model represent the two ultimate and most sought after sporting Bugattis of the thirties, with only about forty examples of each having been built. However, while the Type 55 was closely related to the concurrent Type 51 Grand Prix car and so suffered from the concomitant maintenance drawbacks of the racing car's roller bearing crankshaft and supercharger, the Type 57S, being developed from the already well established and proven Type 57 touring model, was to prove itself a far more civilized, yet equally high-performance, road-going sports car. Yet it differed fundamentally in so many respects from the standard touring version upon which it was based that English Type 57S authority, the late Ronnie Symondson, always maintained that it really should have been allocated its own discrete Type number.
The Type 57 Bugatti had been introduced for the 1934 season and was replaced by an improved Series II version complemented by the new Type 57S sports model at the Paris Salon in October 1936. The latter featured a lower and shorter chassis frame fitted with a remarkably low distinctive V-shaped radiator and a higher-powered dry-sump version of the standard model's 3.3-litre straight eight twin overhead camshafts engine. Both the compression ratio and power were raised on the Type 57 engines, increasing the power to 170bhp (as opposed to 135bhp for the
T57) and the Type 57SC was even greater, at an impressive 200bhp -
substantially more than the 8C 2.9 Alfas of the time. The popular press of the day exclaimed the virtues of the superb roadholding and powerful brakes coupled to 110mph-plus performance. The Type 57 was not intended for competition, but the popularity of sports car racing persuaded
Bugatti to build four 'tank shaped' cars with T57 engines. These cars
were highly successful in competition and had outright success at the
1,000km French Grand Prix in 1936 and won both the 1937 and 1939 Le Mans 24 Hour races. In 1937 Motor Sport magazine commented, When we tested the 1934 model, 105mph was reached on the road, the flying kilometre was clocked at 100mph.....the 57S has a truly astonishing performance being capable of 115mph, which is remarkably good for an unblown sports-car. Sir Malcolm Campbell noted at the same time, the 57S was an absolute joy to handle, and although designed for fast touring it is amazingly practical in London traffic, which is unusual for a car of this type.
With a price almost twice that of the standard model, sales were inevitably modest in number and continued only until early 1938 by which time just forty-two examples had been produced. Far and away the most popular coachwork fitted to these chassis was the attractive Atalante offered in both open and closed form and built either in-house by the Bugatti factory itself or, in a few cases, by local Alsatian coachbuilders Gangloff of Colmar.
This particular example, chassis number 57482, is fitted with original factory-built cabriolet coachwork. Fitted with engine number 13S, it was invoiced by the factory on 14th May 1937 for delivery directly to its first owner who, according to the factory records, was named Halphen. Presumably the car remained in his ownership until the outbreak of the war a mere two years later and remained unused throughout the period of hostilities, but unfortunately nothing more specific is known of its early history.
However, circa 1955 or possibly earlier it can be concluded that the car had arrived in the U.S.A. as it was owned for over twenty years by Charles Chayne of Michigan, the Engineering Vice-President of General Motors and a great Bugatti enthusiast. He also owned the Bugatti T41 Royale, chassis number 41121. He had GM update and restore many of his cars, including the Royale which was fitted with hydraulic brakes and more efficient manifolding, and his 50hp Simplex. Thus the T57 formed the basis of a research project by General Motors who utilized it as a test bed for a prototype alloy-blocked V8 engine which, together with an automatic transmission, replaced the original Bugatti engine and gearbox. The control lever for the automatic transmission was ingeniously coupled to the original advance-retard lever on the dashboard. This new engine was destined to enter full-scale production as a Buick and was subsequently licensed to Rover who, over thirty years later, are still offering developments of it in their current model range. Many other changes were made to the car at the same time including the fitment of power steering, novel single-leaf front springs and hydraulic brakes. As befits a research project undertaken by the world's largest motor manufacturer, all these modifications were carried out to the highest engineering standards and furthermore in such a manner that the car's appearance remained unchanged.
The car's original engine number 13S must have subsequently been sold by General Motors because it is recorded as surviving in the South of France fitted to a Type 57S Bugatti which has been constructed upon a replica chassis frame.
Then in about 1975 it was bought by O.A. 'Bunny' Phillips, the doyen of American Bugattistes, as a Christmas present for his wife Lucille. The car has had little use since Lucille died in 1979, and it is now offered by Bunny's estate. The late Hugh Conway described the car as, A beautiful, almost perfectly done job, if not exactly a Bugatti, but interesting in its own right; the performance is to match, well over 120mph, and startling acceleration. Very appropriate to California!
South African Clive Wooley attended a private party given by Bunny Phillips in August 1980 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his Bugatti maintenance shop in California, and during his visit he was allowed to drive the car. Recording his experiences in Bugantics, the quarterly journal of the Bugatti Owners' Club, he observed, Most fascinating is a full set of engineering drawings done by G.M., including three full scale drawings of the entire chassis and suspension.
This spectacular 57S Drophead must rank as one of the finest unrestored pre-war sports cars. As previously mentioned, the original engine still exists in a car in France. However, it is presented here with spare 57/57SC engine parts including the original numbered upper crankcase for 57561 (an SC unit), a T57C blower and various standard T57 pieces. It is one of the genuine 57S and SC cars in existence today (9 of which are a part of the National Musee in Mulhouse). This important Bugatti is eligible for all the major long distance touring events and once properly restored, would be a major contender for top international concours prizes.