1938 Bugatti Type 57C Special Coupe

With so many spectacular Bugattis, it takes a special car to stand out. It’s safe to say that this one-of-a-kind Type 57C Special coupe is one of the most intriguing Bugattis ever constructed.

In June 1938, this car was built at the Bugatti factory in Molsheim. The frame, no. 278, was equipped with a blown Type 57 engine, 4-speed gearbox and rear end, all numbered 486. This car was originally issued chassis no. 57335, a number from an earlier Bugatti automobile, most likely as a way to avoid taxation.

The car’s most distinctive element was unique coachwork designed by Jean Bugatti. It was the only example ever produced and featured a two-piece glass roof.

Ettore Bugatti himself used this car during 1938 and 1939, just before the factory was closed due to the German occupation. As a Works-owned demonstrator, 57335 was also driven by prominent figures in the factory, including Bugatti racing team driver Jean-Pierre Wimille, who was photographed in the car.

As the German invasion began, Bugatti driver Robert Benoist drove the car into hiding, narrowly escaping capture while doing so. After the war, this Type 57C Special returned to Molsheim, where it was most often used by Pierre Marco, the Director General for Bugatti. He was reportedly the only person allowed to drive 57335 following the passing of Ettore Bugatti in 1947. The car remained at the factory until 1959, by which time a number of unique components had been fitted.

The three-spoke steering wheel was sourced from a Type 101 with the famous EB insignia. The 57C Special Coupe was also fitted with special Lockheed hydraulic brakes, the problematic glass roof was replaced with a fabric one, and the car received its distinctive radio, aftermarket heater, and greasing points. There is also a beautiful cloisonné EB crest on the rear bumper and Rudge-Whitworth wire wheels.

On Marco’s retirement, the factory sold the coupe to Belgian Bugatti distributor Jean de Dobbeleer. Before it made its way to Belgium, it was fitted with the engine it retains today, no. 340, which features a unique downdraft carburetor, top inlet manifold, and distinctly different supercharger from the type fitted to standard Type 57s.

At purchase, de Dobbeleer stamped the engine compartment with number 57557, a car he had already owned, so he could take this car out of France without paying export duties.

In April 1959, Lyman Greenlee, an American collector from Anderson, Indiana, purchased this Bugatti, but he seldom drove it and in 1973, just before his death, sold the car to William Howell of Oklahoma City. He chose Howell because his mechanic was Alf Francis, Stirling Moss’s former mechanic.

In 1982, the current owner purchased 57335 from Howell following a lengthy “interview” process, wherein he was found to have an appropriate appreciation for the importance of this car. Over the past 27 years, 57335 has been fastidiously maintained and rarely shown. However, it stunned the crowd at the 1985 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the year that all six Royales were reunited.

In May 2009, respected Bugatti restorer Scott Sargent stated all of the finishes on this car are correct, from the nickel on the suspension components to the engine turning on the firewall. Stampings on the floorboards, body, and hood all match, and the rear end still has the correct “486” stamping from 1938. The car is supplied with a folio of tools, each stamped with the rare EB insignia.

It is absolutely certain that 57335 is a one-off car that was owned by the Bugatti factory for two decades. The car was driven by Ettore Bugatti, Jean-Pierre Wimille, and Pierre Marco, and was fitted with a number of unique accessories. Since 1960, its three caretakers have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect and preserve this historic Bugatti. In nearly 50 years, it has been seen by very few, rarely used, and lovingly maintained.

Julius Kruta

Julius Kruta - SCM Contributor

Julius was born in Berlin and studied economics in Frankfurt. In 1994, he started the company EB Club, which specialized in handbuilt Bugatti models. While still at university in 1998, Kruta began working for VW, following its acquisition of the Bugatti brand, as the marque historian and consultant. Having completed a thesis on Bugatti, he began his career as a marketing assistant at Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. and in 2003 became Bugatti’s Head of Tradition. He has been a regular judge at Pebble Beach for the last seven years and is the author or co-author of several books on the marque, including The Bugatti Type 57S, Bugatti eine Renngeschichte von 1920–1939, and Bugatti: From Milan to Molsheim.

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