Classic car collectors celebrate the opportunity to own a very rare vehicle. Not only does scarcity significantly increase a car’s value, but it also sets them aside in a world where competition for having something truly special permeates the hobby.
The one we are celebrating this month goes appreciably beyond just the fact that it is the only one of its kind ever made.
Among the first things anyone sees in the recent addition of this 1938 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet by D’leteren to Ray Kinney’s all-classics collection is that it has three seats.
There are a great many two-seaters to be found, but an arrangement where someone can sit sideways behind the driver and a passenger in the front, is, indeed, quite uncommon in its era.
This one, however, was the only one made by Brussels-based D’leteren, whose company was the official automotive supplier of the royal family of the Netherlands.
The vehicle’s provenance recorded in an abundance of comprehensive documentation, including factory build sheets, describes its origins:
“In 1938 the Bugatti factory delivered the chassis to D’leteren on behalf of a customer named Baggage who was particularly tall. That set off the creation of a distinctive one-off coach work somewhat stretched in proportions making it low and sleek conveying an elegant character through its beautifully sculpted singularity.
“Monsieur Baggage enjoyed using the extraordinary Bugatti for nearly two years before the German invasion of 1940 compelled him to hide it.”
The exact history of the car over the following 10 years is lost in the fog of war. But the car passed through the hands of two different Parisian magnates, famed Fauvist painter Andre Derain and other collectors before being acquired by an American owner in 1963 who retained possession for 35 years. It later fell into the hands of others.
Specialists with renowned auctioneer Sotheby’s describe its recent history thusly:
“In September 2015 the Bugatti was acquired by a respected collector based in Florida. He submitted the car to the renowned restorer Scott Sargent for a survey (and possible rebuilding).
“Though the consignor was initially inclined to conduct a comprehensive restoration, Mr. Sargent noted that the Type 57 retained numerous original components and details, such >>> as the firewall and remnants of original paint on the undercarriage that lent the car a definitive and irreplaceable authenticity.
“Consequently, to retain the utmost originality, it was decided to limit the restoration to cosmetic considerations and service of the original mechanical components as needed. The interior and top were re-trimmed, while the unique coachwork was refinished in a very attractive and distinctive two-tone scheme of black with maroon details.
“It should be noted that this extraordinary Bugatti retains most of its original factory components, including the important dual-overhead-cam straight-eight engine, the original chassis frame and the exquisitely sculpted D’leteren one-off coach work.”
As you may imagine, this car has been presented and awarded at major automotive Concours d’Elegance events at Pebble Beach, Retromobile, Techno Classica, Villa d’Este, Audrain Newport and Amelia Island.
This is the third of Ray Kinney’s vehicles (there are others in his collection) we have featured on these pages. I discovered his most recent acquisition among the “Debutants” in last year’s Class Car Club of America’s annual event hosted by Mike and Joy Ames on their South Arlington lawn.
We’ll visit a couple more of them in months to come, but this Bugatti with all her rarity and highly original pedigree, including its European heritage and American history, is matched only by its prominence as a true automotive work of art for the ages.