Arizona

19-20 January 2017

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Lot 134

1939 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet by Letourneur et Marchand

  • Chassis no. 57587
  • Engine no. 458

Sold for $1,017,500


Please note that Internet bidding is not available for this lot. Interested parties that are unable to attend the sale may register to bid by telephone or place a commission bid online at rmsothebys.com.

135 bhp, 3,257 cc DOHC inline eight-cylinder engine, four-speed Cotal pre-selector transmission, live front axle with semi-elliptical leaf spring suspension, live rear axle with inverted quarter-elliptical leaf spring suspension, and four-wheel Lockheed hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 129.9 in.

  • Formerly owned by Dr. Milton Roth and Richard Riddell
  • The earliest of six known survivors with this stunning coachwork
  • Powered by its original engine and finished in the original colors
  • Beautiful, award-winning concours restoration
  • Exhaustively documented by Bugatti historian Pierre-Yves Laugier
  • An exceptional Bugatti in every regard


CHERISHED GAME OF AN ARDENT CULT

In mid-1956, American enthusiast Russ Sceli journeyed to Europe, camera and notation pad in hand, and went hunting. What he pursued was, in his own words, the “cherished game of an ardent cult”—Bugatti.

“The more I talked to people, especially the enthusiasts, the more convinced I became that if one is fortunate enough to own a Bugatti, or is able to secure one, they should keep and treasure it forever, like a rare jewel, or an amenable wife who will put up with ‘Bugattiti’s idiosyncracies,” he wrote in “Bug Hunting Abroad,” published in the January 1957 issue of Road & Track.

It was in that article that American eyes first fell upon one of those treasured cars, a rare Type 57 cabriolet bodied by Letourneur et Marchand—one of the few custom coachbuilders whose work matched Jean Bugatti’s own designs for grace and beauty. Elaine Bond, wife of Road & Track’s indomitable publisher, was captured peering into the window of chassis number 57587, noted as “offered at $750. Quite a bargain, and what’s more, it would actually run.”

That it would. By the time that Sceli’s article was published, one of the members of that ardent cult had brought the cabriolet to the United States. Here it has, with only a few brief overseas sojourns, remained since—a treasured trophy of the passionate hunters.

THE BARON AND THE BUGATTI

According to exhaustive research on this particular car by noted Bugatti historian Pierre-Yves Laugier, eight of the beautiful Letourneur et Marchand cabriolets were built on the Type 57 chassis to their design number 5877, with chassis 57587 having been the first, as noted in the coachbuilder’s archives.

Further, the complete files from the Bugatti agency in Paris also survive, detailing the build process, all the way from the original order, placed by Baron Georges de Cocq, in March of 1939, to July 1939. Numerous fascinating letters, copies of which are included in the file, record the car’s early life, including its having been repainted to the present colors, black and ruby, as noted by World Champion driver Robert Benoist, then manager of the Parisian Bugatti salesroom.

Typical of a fine coachbuilt French automobile, numerous details were incorporated to suit the Baron’s needs. The steering column was extended by five millimeters, to better suit his build and preferred driving position. Letourneur et Marchand, at the Paris agency’s request, crafted unique rear bumpers to the Baron’s design, and even fitted a special holder above them for his fishing rod! After these modifications, the car was exhibited in the Paris showroom from October 1938 to March 1939, at which point the Baron was finally able to use his new car, registered as 1357 RM 4.

The Bugatti accompanied the Baron and his family to the South of France and was registered by de Cocq in Pau, in the Pyrenees, as 599 NM 4 in 1941, and then as 869 N 64 in the early 1950s. It remained in Southwest France until 1956, when, according to the family, it was sold by his widow Emilienne to Jean Laurent in Paris, and registered there as 6890 FG 75. It was while in Paris and awaiting its sale to Monsieur Laurent that the car was photographed by the “Bug Hunting” Russ Sceli for the article in Road & Track.

KNOWN HISTORY FROM NEW

In 1957, chassis 57587 was sold by Parisian Bugatti dealer Armand Beressi to Dr. Milton Roth of Long Beach, California. Dr. Roth was one of the most prominent early American “Bugattistes,” whose wonderful cars now reside in some of the finest collections worldwide; he was also a family friend of Beressi, giving him access to the latest “finds” in Europe. While owned by Dr. Roth, the car was recorded in Hugh Conway’s famous 1962 Bugatti Register and Data Book.

The car was subsequently sold to longtime American Bugatti Club member and past president Dr. Richard Riddell, and next to Ed Scott, whose ownership is recorded in the 1979 American Bugatti Register. It then passed to Jerry Symons of Pacific Palisades, by which time the original engine, number 458, had been exchanged for number 395.

After Robert Owens of Haverford, Pennsylvania, acquired the cabriolet, he elected to give it a long-deserved concours restoration, at the hands of Mike Wilson. As part of this effort, Mr. Owens diligently sought out the original engine, and in 2003 he was finally able to acquire it and reunite it with the car. The engine was then rebuilt by Jim Stranberg, including a new crankshaft, as is commonly required for these cars. With this engine and the correct Cotal gearbox, the Type 57 was restored back to its original condition, including the painstakingly recreated original colors in which it was finally presented to Baron de Cocq in 1939—and, of course, the Baron’s fishing rod holder in the back. According to Mr. Owens, at the time of the car’s sale in 2005, the work began from a very solid original car, and thus required very little rust and inner woodwork repair.

The restored car was exhibited at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, in what is believed to have been its very first modern show appearance, and there won 2nd in Class, finishing just behind the eventual Best of Show winner. Subsequently it was part of a Dutch collection, for which the Cotal gearbox was rebuilt by Klopper Engineering. It was then acquired by its current owner, a renowned collector of sports cars and vintage motorcycles, who has maintained it conscientiously to a high concours standard.

The Bugatti was returned to Pebble Beach, by invitation, this past August, for its second display on that storied green. It was thoroughly prepared for Pebble by the renowned Alan Taylor Company, with comprehensive invoices on file, including adjustments to the bodywork, repairs to the structural woodwork, beautiful new leather upholstery in a lovely plum shade, and repairs to the exhaust manifold.

Photographs and invoices on file document this work, and also reveal fascinating original features uncovered in the course of performing it. For instance, the original serial number was found stamped into the wood on the main door seal on the driver’s side, and the Letourneur et Marchand body number was revealed, in penciled script on the inner door wood. Inspection of the engine number stamping shows it to be original, as is the internal frame number, so often obliterated in the course of less precise restorations.

Also accompanying the car today is Monsieur Laugier’s exhaustive report, which in well over 100 pages incorporates copies of Letourneur et Marchand and Bugatti records relating to this car, including design sketches; a detailed biography of the Baron de Cocq and his family; and, of course, the complete history, since new, of this fabulous Type 57.

It is a Bugatti that requires no hunting—only appreciation of its exquisite lines, its pure history, and its immaculate presentation. It is a rare jewel, indeed, which a new owner should, as Russ Sceli put it, “keep and treasure forever.”

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

Cameron Smyth

csmyth@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Cameron Smyth joined RM Sotheby’s as a Car Specialist in 2015, working out of our corporate office and providing assistance on c... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Ian Kelleher

ikelleher@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College with a Bachelor of Arts in Politica... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Peter Wallman

pwallman@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007 following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, where he was based out ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more