This 1936 Bugatti Is One of the Most Valuable Cars in the World. Here’s Why.

A tale of $40 million, the heir to Walmart and WWII intrigue

February 23, 2018 9:00 am

Now in its third year, Peninsula Classics — the self-proclaimed concours world championship — just handed out its Best of the Best Award to a $40 million beaut:

A 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, one of exactly two in existence.

The competition “pits the winning cars from each of the eight most important concours events around the world each year, and has them judged by a panel of experts,” writes New Atlas. For the uninitiated, concours are basically vintage vehicle showcases where the rarest and most accurately restored (or pristinely kept) automobiles reign supreme.

Suffice it to say, your local vintage car show, this is not. And because a price-tag of $40 million easily slips into abstraction, here are a couple reasons to why the car is worth its weight in gold:

  1. The Bugatti is owned by S. Robson Walton, son of the founder of Walmart. Well, technically co-owned, along with his wife Melani and California’s Mullin Automotive Museum.
  2. The other Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic in existence belongs to Ralph Lauren. Jalopnik wrote a nice encomium on that car back in 2013 when it won Best of Show from the jury at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.
  3. In the same article, Jalopnik details the creation of the T57 model, which was a direct result of Jean Bugatti’s 1935 Aérolithe concept. The four Atlantic coupes produced were made of aluminum rather than the concept’s Elektron magnesium alloy, but it was just as thrilling inside as out: “Powered by supercharged 3,257 cc inline-8 engines, these 170+ horsepower cars could do north of 120 mph. In 1936.” 
  4. “Wait, I thought only two were made,” you say? Yes, two Type 57SCs — that’s Surbaissé (or lowered) and Compresseur (supercharged). But two other Type 57 Atlantic models were manufactured, the most prominent feature being the dorsal seam running straight down the length of the car providing its unmistakable, slightly Seussian, look.
  5. Your next question: “Where did the others end up?” One, chassis No. 57473, was hit by a train in 1955 in France, the impact killing both passengers. The car has since been restored. The other, chassis No. 57453, has an unclear history with records ending during WWII. Rumor has it the car was taken by the Nazis and eventually scrapped.

Can you expect to come into Walmart-level riches and snag one of these in your lifetime? Maybe not. But if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one at a concours event — now you can appreciate it. 

Photos courtesy of Peninsula Classics

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