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1939 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet by Letourneur et Marchand

Award-Winning Restoration, Retains its Original Engine and Coachwork

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United States Flag | Dunmore, Pennsylvania

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Chassis No.
57587
Engine No.
458
Gearbox No.
46H
Body No.
2956
  • An award-winning restoration of a remarkable body style, with numbers-matching engine and coachwork
  • Formerly owned by the noted American Bugattistes Dr. Milton Roth and Richard Riddell
  • Exhaustively documented by Bugatti historian Pierre-Yves Laugier
  • An important Type 57 of great quality, with outstanding presentation and beauty

“BUG HUNTING ABROAD”

In mid-1956, American enthusiast Russ Sceli journeyed to Europe, camera and note pad in hand, and began pursuing Bugattis, which he referred to as “the cherished game of an ardent cult.” “The more I talked to people, especially the enthusiasts, the more convinced I became that if one is fortunate enough to own a Bugatti, or is able to secure one, they should keep and treasure it forever, like a rare jewel, or an amenable wife who will put up with ‘Bugatti’s idiosyncrasies,’” he wrote in his travelogue, published as “Bug Hunting Abroad” in the January 1957 issue of Road & Track.

It was that article that first revealed to American eyes this rare Type 57 cabriolet, bodied by Letourneur et Marchand, one of the rare custom coachbuilders whose work matched Jean Bugatti’s own designs for grace and beauty. Elaine Bond, the wife of Road & Track’s indomitable publisher, was captured peering into the widow of chassis number 57587, noted as “offered at $750. Quite a bargain, and what’s more, it would actually run.” That it would; by the time of Sceli’s article, one of the members of that ardent cult had brought the cabriolet to the United States, where it has, aside from only a few brief overseas sojourns, remained since—a trophy to keep.

CHASSIS NUMBER 57587

According to the exhaustive research performed upon this car by noted Bugatti historian Pierre-Yves Laugier, eight of the beautiful Letourneur et Marchand cabriolets were built on the Type 57 chassis to the shop’s design number 5877. This car, chassis number 57587, was the first, as noted in the coachbuilder’s archives. Further, the complete files from the Parisian Bugatti agency note the construction of the car all the way from the original owner, placed by Baron Georges de Cocq. Numerous fascinating letters, copies of which are included in the file, record the car’s early life, including its having been repainted to the present colors, black and ruby, as noted by World Champion driver Robert Benoist, then manager of the Paris dealership.

Typical of a fine coachbuilt automobile, numerous bespoke details suited the Baron’s needs; the steering column was extended by five millimeters, to better suit his build and preferred driving position, while Letourneur et Marchand crafted the unique rear bumpers to the Baron’s design and, above them, mounted a holder for his fishing rod. Afterward the car was exhibited in the Paris showroom until finally being delivered to the Baron in March 1939, registered as 1357 RM 4.

The Bugatti remained in the Baron and his family’s ownership in the South of France until 1956, when, according to his family, it was sold by his widow to Jean Laurent of Paris. It was while in Paris, awaiting its sale to Monsieur Laurent, that the car was photographed by “Bug Hunting” Russ Sceli for its appearance in Road & Track.

In 1957, chassis number 57587 was sold by the Parisian Bugatti dealer Armand Beressi to Dr. Milton Roth of Long Beach, California, one of the most prominent early American “Bugattistes,” whose wonderful cars now reside in some of the finest collections worldwide. While owned by Dr. Roth, the car was recorded in Hugh Conway’s famous 1962 Bugatti Register and Data Book. It next passed to the longtime American Bugatti Club member and past president, Dr. Richard Riddell, and then to Ed Scott, whose ownership is recorded in the 1979 American Bugatti Register. It next passed to Jerry Symons of Pacific Palisades, by which time the original engine, number 458, had been exchanged for engine number 395.

After Robert Owens of Haverford, Pennsylvania acquired the cabriolet, he undertook a long-deserved concours restoration in the hands of Mike Wilson; as part of this work, the original engine was diligently sought out, acquired, and reunited with the car, following a rebuild by Jim Stranberg with a new crankshaft as is commonly required for these cars. With this engine and the correct Cotal gearbox, the Type 57 was returned to its original colors in which it had been presented to the Baron, complete with his fishing rod holder.

The restored car made its first modern show appearance at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, winning 2nd in Class, just behind the eventual Best of Show winner! Subsequently it was briefly part of a Dutch collection, then was acquired by Dr. J. Craig Venter of California. In Dr. Venter’s ownership, the Bugatti was prepared by the Alan Taylor Company and returned to Pebble Beach in 2016.

Part of its present owner’s distinguished collection since 2017, the car still presents in beautiful overall condition, as it has been upkept to concours standards and continued to make show appearances, winning an Amelia Award at that namesake concours in 2018. It is accompanied by Monsieur Laugier’s extensive report detailing the history of the car since new, as well as photographs and invoices from the work undertaken in Dr. Venter’s ownership.

It is a simply wonderful Bugatti, the kind of automobile that makes one understand why they are so fiercely hunted by members of that ardent cult, and then possessed as close to forever as possible. To know it is to admire it.