1936 Bugatti 57SC: Original Supercar

Written by tonks on October 31, 2006

1936 Bugatti 57SCOne of the most bizarre, unusual and expensive of cars is the Type 57SC Atlantic. With its low stance, 200 bhp engine, lightweight construction, 123 mph (200 kph) top speed and influential teardrop body, many believe this is the ultimate Bugatti.

Ettore’s son, Jean Bugatti, who played a large role in the development of the Type 57 series, personally styled the Atlantic, himself. Jean’s lines draw an interesting mix of aircraft styling together with the avant-garde tear-drop that is so reminiscent of the thirties. Design highlights include a heavily raked windscreen, riveted fins, and oval doors with kidney-shaped side windows.

Momentum behind the style was structured by a design concept of incorporating Electron, an alloy of magnesium and aluminum from IG Farben of Germany, in the design. Though it is strong, and up to one third the weight of aluminum, it is also highly flammable thus welding was not possible. This meant that each panel had to be riveted into place which posed a particular problem for traditional design. Therefore, Jean incorporated the rivet’s aesthetic into the wings of the car and created a telling combination of function and form.

As the first car to bear fins, the silver Electron Aerolithe Prototype debuted as a possible sport model of the Type 57 series at the 1935 Paris Motor Show. As much of a sensation as the car must have been, it only drew three orders. By the time production commenced in 1936, standard aluminum was chosen over the flammable electron and the specially lowered Type 57S chassis, with its smaller, V-shaped radiator was used.

The engineering on these Atlantics was similar to the other Type 57s which formed a basis for Bugatti competition and grand touring. Chassis arrangements included Rudge Witworth wire wheels, complex De Rams shocks absorbers, fifteen inch drum brakes and a strong, uncluttered chassis.

As with most Bugattis, the Type 57 was of complicated craftsmanship, but the result of relatively simple design. The Type 57SC chassis combined the supercharged 57C engine with the low and short 57S chassis used for racing.

The 75 year history of each Bugatti Atlantic is entertaining conjecture for any Bugatti enthusiast. The first prototype is gone and only two of three aluminum bodied production versions remain largely original. Trying to match up historic photos to each chassis and fit the prototype’s disappearance into the fray still leaves many mysteries.


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