1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic at Road America, Elkhart Lake, WI 2005
I spent a day with this very car a couple of years ago… it turned out to be one of the best car days of my life! I read today, on a Wall Street Journal blog, about its private sale. It is now being called “The Most Expensive Car in the World”. A museum in California bought it, a 1936 Bugatti for “between 30 and 40 million dollars”.
I knew it was going to be a good day when I woke up, later than I should have (about 8:00), to the sound of morning practice for 1950s and 60s small bore production based racing cars buzzing around Road America, a 4 mile long, 14 turn road racing course in Elkhart Lake, WI.
In any case, it was the Elkhart Lake Fall Vintage Festival 2005,where a couple of hundred vintage cars and enthusiasts meet to actually drive and race their cars, just like they raced 50, 60, even 80 years ago in the case of some of the Bugattis.
Imagine this place, like a nature preserve that happens to have a racetrack running through it… hills and valleys, thick woods all over the place… No hillbillies standing on top of motor homes with confederate flags here or grandstands full of beer drinking animals.
As I walked from my tent on the edge of the woods where I camped Friday night to the starting grid where I would be arranging racing cars for the rest of the day I walked past all the usual stuff. Racing cars of all types and guys tinkering on them, getting them ready for practice and morning qualifying.
MGs, Morgans, Triumphs, Lotus, more Porsches than you could begin to count… from the 50s, all the way up to 1980s era Porsche 911 racing cars. Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, McLarens, Elvas, and lots of Bugatti Grand Prix cars from the 1920s. Millions and millions of dollars worth of hardware, and then I came upon this:
It went from another fun weekend at the track to on of the all time great car days of my life… right up there with my visit to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August of 2000 when I got to see the only other original 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic on the planet, Ralph Lauren’s car, as he almost ran over my toes coming off the podium.
Ralph Lauren almost runs over my toes in his 1936 Bugatti at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, August 2000.
There are only two of these cars on the planet, the fact that one of them sold last week for between 30 and 40 million dollars doesn’t surprise me. While in this car’s presence, in the low morning sun, I just walked around it, I looked at each detail. It is high art, no doubt about it.
I got tears in my eyes, no joke, it’s that significant in the history of the automobile.
The sheer genius and beauty of this machine is incredible. It was the best, most advanced, most cutting edge example of its kind when it was created by Jean Bugatti in France in the 1930s.
I can only imagine what it must have been like to see this car tool by on a Parisian street almost 80 years ago. It was difficult enough to comprehend 5 years ago. I’ll stop with the gushing… it’s ‘just a car’ right? It is modern art, sculpture that has a function, in all honesty. Ralph Lauren’s Bugatti, and 25 or so of his other cars, spent several months on display in the Boston Museum of Modern Art a couple of years ago because they are works of art.
Imagine, a painting sold last week at Christie’s in New York for $106 million… yeah… and you can’t drive a painting. I just feel lucky to have seen, heard, and smelled this car doing what it was meant to do, because in the end… it is just a car. I hope the museum that bought it will use it occasionally like the good doctor who brought it to Elkhart Lake. Enjoy these photos of this vintage racing weekend…
Notice: No welds... look at the rivets holding the two halves of the fenders together and the rivets going down the middle, and 5 tailpipes.
It was amazingly quiet as it drove by, just sort of whirrrred right along.
An assortment of Bugattis under a cloud of brat smoke from the grill.
Millions of dollars worth of 1920s and 30s Bugatti Grand Prix cars lining up to race.
Getting ready to pull away for the race.
Bugatti Type 57 Atlante, same chassis as the blue car, but with a different body, takes to the track between racing sessions for a cruise.
Filling up at the gas pump before the race. The car on the left is on par with the 30 million dollar car, it could easily sell for 20 million or more if you had the right two billionaires at the same auction, an extremely rare Type 57SC competition car.
A more modern race group later in the afternoon, 1960s and 70s cars.
Mid 1970s Porsche 911 RSR from Europe.
Porsche: Then and Now. Always lots of Porsches at the track.