Price: $7.9 million
Auction: Gooding & Company Pebble Beach, CA
The 1930's were a rough time to be producing outrageous luxury performance automobiles. Needless to say Bugatti sales suffered an extreme decrease from 1930 to 1933 and the factory was completely shut down in 1934. As the Bugatti family survived the turbulent '30s, it became apparent that the company needed to change their ways. Ettore's young and talented son came up with a solution to the problem: Instead of producing several different models that were hardly selling, they needed one single design to serve all purposes. Jean headed the new project as he oversaw the entire new design of the Type 57. Ettore left his son completely in charge of the new direction of his company, making it a total reflection of Jean's radical ideas and inherited creative talent.
Only in his early 20s, Jean came up with a completely new concept that strayed far away from the traditional Bugatti practice. It was so outlandish in fact, that his father told him to abandon the idea (of independent front suspension) immediately. But like every good headstrong son, he did not listen and continued to conceive his wild brainchild. The Type 57 possessed countless unique innovations that were completely unlike the past Bugattis, including putting the camshaft at the rear of the engine instead of the front, a single plate clutch instead of Ettore's favored multi-plate design, and a split front axle instead of the original solid front axle.
Production began in 1934 and continued until war was declared in 1939. As the brilliant new design had much success, multiple variations were created. The high-class clientele now called for a sports version which was answered with a dramatically revised 57S, and by 1935, Jean had created the ultimate Bugatti. Only 48 of the sophisticated Type 57S Bugatti's would be built, of which only 17 were bodied with the Atalante coupé style.
This specific Type 57S, chassis 57551 with engine number 30S, was completed on July 23, 1937 with an Atalante body finished in black and upholstered with pigskin inside. The body configuration, with its low headlight placement between the radiator and front fenders, was identical to the October 1937 Paris show car. It was delivered by the factory just a week later to its first owner, Jean Lévy of Strasbourg, Deputy Administrator of the family-owned “Grands Moulins de Strasbourg,” a successful grain milling company." The rest is incredibly well-documented history, including American casino owner William Harrah, who had a complete restoration done, bringing the landmark Bugatti back to all its original glory and present color scheme. This incredible creation of the Bugatti prodigy was not only an unbelievable example of his natural abilities, but would also immortalize Jean's legacy after he was killed at age 30 testing a Type 57 race car. The irony...