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.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1938 Bugatti Type 57C Special
Number Produced:535 (T57); 106 (T57C); 15 (T57GR)
Tune Up Cost:$5,000
Distributor Caps:$400
Chassis Number Location:Brass plate on left side firewall; on upper crankcase at engine rear left
Engine Number Location:Same places as chassis number
Club Info:Club: American Bugatti Club

This 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Special Coupe sold for $1,375,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s auction at Pebble Beach, California, on August 15, 2009.

Its fascinating provenance is indisputable and all the stories about this very special Type 57C Special Coupe and its chassis number and registration would take too much time and space to tell. But let us look at some hard facts about this factory demonstrator.

All the Works drivers drove this car

The 57C Special was built in 1937 and used by the whole Bugatti Works team. The car was registered in the name of Ettore Bugatti and driven by the factory for nearly 20 years.

There are a number of pictures taken by Jean Bugatti that show the car at various races. Jean Pierre Wimille is pictured behind the wheel, and we can even spot the coupe at the 1939 Le Mans race on the starting grid during practice.

There’s no doubt that all the other Works drivers at the time used 57335, including Benoist and Veyron. From the Le Mans pictures, we can tell the car was painted in a slightly different color scheme at that time.

It was finally invoiced to the famous Belgian Bugatti dealer Jean de Dobbeleer on January 31, 1959, for 1,000FF (about $2-really). De Dobbeleer exported it to the U.S. and did a number of fiddles with the engine and chassis number, for taxation reasons.

The Special coupe was sold by the Works with engine number 340; however, factory documentation tells us that in June 1939, the car also had engine 486 when a Mr. Peigues took the car to Luxembourg.

So 57335 arrived in Belgium with a replacement engine numbered 340, which is ex-57449 (not from 57557 as stamped on the engine). It gets even more confusing: There is another engine stamped 540-57335, with the Bugatti chassis number 57529. And customer chassis 57335 was originally delivered with engine 223 to agent “Monestier” in Lyon with a delivery date of May 26, 1937, two years later than delivery of any similar chassis numbers in the list. Go figure. There are still mysteries to be solved.

What this car does have is history

So what does that mean regarding the originality of this 57C Special coupe? To me, the engine number of a Works experimental car (which this is) is nowhere near as important as it is on a normal production car, where the engine number is allocated to a specific chassis number. One simply can’t assign a value to this car using “matching numbers” criteria.

What this 57C does have is history. The body is a one-off design, many special details are unique, and the provenance-even if not complete in every detail-is fascinating. The car is loaded with anecdotes and simply cannot be compared to a standard Type 57C Ventoux or coupe.

Amazingly, all three caretakers of the car after de Dobbeleer were well aware what a piece of Bugatti history they owned, so the car was not destroyed by a restoration that would have robbed it of its soul. All the special features are still with the car (even the sliding bars to mount the jack under the rear axle are still in place.)

But the car can be considered attractive only to a limited number of Bugatti connoisseurs. It is a unique piece of history that looks like a standard Type 57, but with a one-off body that is a matter of personal taste. Should it be worth more than a more rakish 57S? That’s a hard question to answer.

A far more attractive Type 57C Atalante sold at the same auction a day later for $880k, including buyer’s premium. Considering that there are about 40 Atalante Type 57s in existence and our subject car is a one-off car with bulletproof provenance, I say at $1.375m, it was very well bought indeed.

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