Ex-Earl Howe Bugatti Barn Find to Headline Bonhams Retromobile Sale

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The 1937 Bugatti Type 57S originally owned by Earl Howe and only known by a handful of people during the last 50 years will be sold at Bonhams’ Retromobile sale in Paris on February 7, 2009. This highly significant motor car is conservatively estimated to realize in excess of $3.8m.

The Bugatti with Atalante coachwork retains all the attributes that will ensure its appeal to the world’s most discerning collectors. It has a spectacular provenance having been owned by Earl Howe, Lord Ridley, Harold Carr and others; it has a continuous and chronicled history; and it has exceptional originality retaining original chassis, engine, drivetrain and body. It even has what appears to be a remarkably low mileage with an odometer reading of just 26,284.

The car will be on view at Bonhams Collectors’ Car sale at Olympia on November 30 – December 1.

James Knight, International Head of Bonhams’ motoring department, said: “I have known of this Bugatti for a number of years and, like a select group of others, hadn’t dared divulge its whereabouts to anyone. It is absolutely one of the last great barn discoveries, and we at Bonhams are honored to have been selected to handle its sale.”

Bugatti Type 57S, chassis no. 57502, was completed at the Bugatti works on May 5, 1937, sporting two-seat Atalante coupe coachwork. It was ordered new by no less than the motor sport great – and the BRDC’s (British Racing Driver’s Club) first President – Earl Howe via U.K. Bugatti agents, Sorel of London. Howe had a long association with Ettore Bugatti and his machines, and developed a close friendship with Ettore and his son Jean, having raced their Grand Prix motor cars.

Earl Howe took delivery of 57502 on the June 9, 1937 and was to retain his Bugatti for over eight years. He added a personal touch by fitting his own bumpers, rear-view mirrors on the A-pillars, and a luggage rack, which it still retains to this day. It was to become his personal companion, escorting him to Brooklands and other race meetings. The car would have seen relatively little use during the Second World War as Earl Howe served with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

After hostilities ceased, the Type 57S was sold via Continental Cars to a Mr J. P. Tingay in 1947. It was Tingay who effectively brought the car to “SC” specification by fitting a Marshall K200 supercharger, as finding an original Bugatti blower proved nigh on impossible so soon after the war.

Mr M. H. Ferguson acquired the Bugatti from Tingay in 1950 and by 1954 it formed part of Lord Ridley’s collection. Dr. Harold Carr then acquired it in 1955 from Lord Ridley. Dr. Carr drove the car for the first few years, but in the early 1960s, it was parked in his garage where it remained for nearly 50 years until Dr Carr’s death in 2007. The Type 57S is being sold on behalf of the family of Dr Carr, and will be offered with an extensive file of correspondence documenting its fascinating history.

James Knight said: “The Atalante is incredibly original and, although she requires restoration, it is “restoration” in the true sense of the word. From my perspective, save for some of the interior, all original parts can be restored or conserved in order to maintain originality. It offers a truly rewarding project to the new owner – who will join a select list of distinguished owners – to play such an integral part in bringing this wonderful motor car back to life. It has all the finest attributes any connoisseur collector could ever seek in one of the ultimate road-going sports cars from the golden era of the 1930s.”

The Type 57S model

Two years after the introduction of Bugatti’s 1930s masterpiece, the Type 57, the model evolved into its definitive form as the “S” or “competition model.” Increased performance and a lowered center of gravity created by running the car’s rear axle through the chassis produced not only an out-and-out sports car, but a ground-hugging chassis line, ideal for creating the most wind-cheating and aerodynamic bodywork designs yet seen.

Unquestionably, the design for which the model is best known is the Atlantic coupe, in which form the model debuted at the Paris Salon in 1935 and it was further refined before production “S” models left the factory in September of the following year. By May 1937, when this chassis 57502 was delivered, the company could cite a string of international class speed records and Grand Prix wins. These would be capped with a Le Mans win later that year.

Historians state six racing or prototypes were built before production of the 57S began in earnest, but even throughout its three year run, a mere 17 Atalantes were constructed. The streamlined Atlantic was carefully honed into a svelte coupe with the derived named Atalante, and this proved to be the design of choice to grace these chassis. However even a designated name didn’t mean uniformity, as each car was handcrafted and as attested to today, each had its own particular style and detail.

Earl Howe

Francis Curzon, the fifth Earl Howe, was synonymous with the best pre-war sports cars. A keen amateur racing driver who succeeded to the Peerage in 1929, he encouraged Dudley Benjafield to found the British Racing Driver’s Club and was elected its first President that same year. He retained this post until his death in 1964.

A close associate of the “Bentley Boys” after the marque’s retirement from racing, he continued their quest for success in endurance racing, partnering Sir Henry Birkin in an Alfa Romeo to win the 1931 Le Mans, arguably his greatest achievement.

As a successful competitor who could not afford to indulge his motor sport passion, he was surrounded by a wealth of friends and knowledgeable enthusiasts to guide him to the very finest and most suitable mount for a race, event, or pleasure drive. That he owned a Type 57S says a lot, but that he kept this very same car for eight years says even more…

Rarity

These fabulous cars are coveted as much now as they were when new. The passion for collecting the 57S has passed from the luminaries of the 1930s, such as Malcolm Campbell to the great collectors of the twenty-first century, with the most passionate – Ralph Lauren among them – possessing more than one, and very few ever parting with them.

The market supply is further diminished by the fact that a fifth of all production resides in the Musee Nationale de L’Automobile in Mulhouse, France including a quarter of all Atalantes built.

Even within this thin air, chassis 57502 has characteristics which may well make it the most interesting of all the 57S cars, for as it stands today it combines an impeccable provenance with that most prized quality of total originality, having been virtually untouched and unused since the early 1960s.