Archive for May, 2017

bugatti atlantque

The wonderful, outrageous, avant-garde, art deco Atlantic is both a monument to Jean Bugatti’s design talent and also to pre-war Europe. It is one of the last visual wonders of its age before the focus of engineers was forced upon munitions, the resultant devastation the antithesis of the Bugatti’s beauty.

When Molsheim’s Aérolithe concept debuted at the 1935 Paris Salon, the public just didn’t get it. It was radical to behold, the body was made out of light, flammable ‘Elektron’ magnesium which was riveted externally giving the car its distinctive central seam. Under the haute couture clothes was a new ultra low, modified T57 chassis, also fitted to the ‘normal’ T57S and SC. The rear axle passed through the rear chassis frame rather than riding under it. Those elements and the T59 GP car derived DOHC 3257cc straight-8 engine, dry-sumped in this application to fit under the low bonnet, made the Aérolithe the most advanced car of its time.

T57 Atlantic cutaway (unattributed)

But Ettore Bugatti was disappointed in the work of art, the solo Aérolithe soon disappeared. To this day its fate is a mystery, explanations include it being a casualty of war or perhaps broken down for its parts. Not so long ago Aérolithe was recreated using original parts and materials with only 15 photographs as a resource and reference base. Quite a job!

After the Aérolithe show car, Bugatti produced four supercharged Atlantic coupes in 1936/7 using aluminum instead of magnesium for the bodies whilst keeping the rivets. Powered by supercharged straight-8’s, these circa 200bhp coupes exceeded 120mph- in 1936! In fact two unsupercharged Type 57S and two supercharged Type 57SC Coupes were built but both T57S’ were later supercharged by the factory, therefore becoming SC-‘surbaisse’- lowered and C-‘compresseur’-compressor in specification. All four cars still exist.

I thought this painting by Dietz the quintessential Parisian Atlantique scene…




Engine 4 cylinder monobloc, 1 inlet and 2 exhaust valves, SOHC, 4493cc-100X143mm bore/stroke, 4 speed box, 4 disc clutch, brakes on transmission, front and rear wheels, 1025Kg

Antonio Fagnano blasts his Fiat through a village during the 14 July 1914 event, Lyon…

Fagnano was a Fiat all-rounder and institution, he was a mechanic, foreman, member of the test department and graduated from riding mechanic to race driver of the works team!

For 1914 the GP ‘Formula’ provided for an 1100Kg maxiumum weight and engines of no more than 4.5 litres in capacity. The race was a contest between Peugeot and Mercedes in the context of imminent war; Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated less than a week before the GP at Lyon which drew a crowd of over 300,000 filling hotels within a 50Km radius of the course.

Christian Lautenschlager and riding mechanic on the way to winning the 1914 French GP, Mercedes GP 35HP. Engine 4 separate cylinders, 4 valves per cylinder, SOHC, 3 plugs per cylinder, 4456cc-93X164mm bore/stroke, claimed power 115bhp@2800rpm. 4 speed box, leather cone clutch, brakes on transmission and rear wheels, 1080Kg, top speed circa 110mph (unattributed)

Christian Lautenschlager won from teammates Louis Wagner and Otto Salzer in 7 hours 8 minutes 18.4 seconds at an average speed of 65.665mph.

Sailer led by 18 seconds at the end of the first lap, by lap five he had built a lead of almost 3 minutes and then retired with a blown engine on lap 6.  Boillot’s Peugeot took over the lead for 12 laps, at one point he led by over 4 minutes.

The Mercedes drivers made one stop during the race for new Continentals. This contrasted with the poor wear of the Dunlops of Peugeot, Boillot made eight stops for tyres, the Frenchman’s many tyre changes allowed Lautenschlager to pass on lap 18. By the end of that lap, Christian had opened up a lead of over 30 seconds.

Fagnano’s Fiat was the best placed of the Italian cars, the talented driver died of an illness, aged 35, on 8 July 1918.

France, 1914 and the Art Historians…

If you have a hankering for this era of racing here is a very interesting article with a completely different angle.


Roger Viollet, Alinari Archive, T Mathieson ‘Grand Prix Racing 1906-1914’, Patrick Ryan Collection


Tailpiece: Dealership ‘in period’, the first Fiat dealership in Geneva with two 501’s out front, circa 1921…


(Alinari Archive)