To find one classic Bugatti in a barn would be fortunate. To find two? Well, that would be incredible. But when Matthieu Lamoure and Pierre Novikoff entered a ramshackle garage in Belgium, they found three of them – plus a 1920s Citroën for good measure.
The standout is a 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet bodied by Graber, with a Type 49 Limousine, a Type 40 and a Citroën 5HP forming a seriously impressive support act.
Between them they’re worth almost £1million – and they’re being sold at Artcurial’s Rétromobile auction in February.
The pre-war beauties had all been in the barn since the end of the 1950s, lying there untouched for the best part of 60 years because their owner, a sculptor, used them for research rather than transportation.
Inside, the quartet was mostly in decent condition – but, unfortunately, getting to them in the first place was no easy task as Lamoure, Artcurial Motorcars’ Managing Director, explains in the video above.
“Fortunately Pierre and I had a few strong helpers on hand,” he says, “as there was a ton of sandbags in front of the garage, probably 200, each easily 25kg and rain-sodden so certainly weighing much more.
“The entrance was completely barricaded and a more modern car had been there for over 15 years, blocking the two entrances to the garage.”
While all four cars are exciting finds, the Type 57 is the real gem among them.
Chassis 57500, it started life in Molsheim and was then sent to the master coachbuilder Herman Graber in Switzerland. One of nine T57s bodied by Graber between 1934 and ’37, it still wears the headlights, two horns and special bumpers fitted as new by the craftsman.
After passing through a couple of owners and surviving the war unscathed, the Bugatti was bought by Dutch sculptor August Thomassen in December 1960.
Thomassen was a Bugatti devotee who created a bronze bust of Ettore Bugatti that’s still on display at the Schlumpf museum in Mulhouse, France, today.
For some reason, though, he didn’t drive his Type 57 very much, and it retains all its original mechanical components, plus its dashboard and instruments.
As you might expect, the Type 57 is the highest-valued of the four vehicles, and will go to auction with an estimate of £360-540,000.
The Type 49 Limousine, bodied by Vanvooren, is only slightly less desirable, and is particularly notable for having appeared at the 1932 Paris Motor Show, where it was a demonstration car for Bugatti at the Grand Palais.
Interestingly, it was also something of a barn-find not once but twice in its long life!
First sold privately in 1935, it was owned by several French families over the next few years before being bought by Georges Ponsart, a farmer’s son from Germigny, just before the outbreak of war in 1939.
Ponsart’s grandson recalls that, “Georges removed the wheels during the war, so that the Germans couldn’t take it. After the war, the car wasn’t driven much and as children, we used to go into the barn to play in it.”
And so it was that when Thomassen purchased it in 1957, the sculptor had to use two carthorses to pull it out of the Ponsarts’ barn. Amusingly, Ponsart then bought a Peugeot 203 instead.
During the 1980s, one of Ponsart’s sons, on holiday with his family in Holland, made a journey to see Thomassen in Maastricht. There he discovered the Bugatti at the back of a garage, where it hadn’t moved for more than 20 years, alongside the Type 57 Graber cabriolet.
The mechanical elements of the car are totally original as it goes to auction, and it retains its two spare wheels on the wings and its original, two-tone yellow-and-black livery. Artcurial estimates it will sell for between £135,000 and £180,000.
The third of the trio is a 1929 Bugatti Type 40 and, unlike the other two, it seems Thomassen actually drove this car frequently.
Bought by the sculptor in 1958, the little brown landaulet was kept at his second home in Haute-Savoie, and saw regular action in various Alpine rallies. At one of these, in Mont-Blanc in July 1984, the car’s original body was damaged, so Thomassen decided to remove the coachwork and build a small four-seater torpedo body, a Grand Sport model.
This project remains unfinished, but is nonetheless well advanced, with the wooden framework having been built, and the wings and lights in place, and with the original chassis and engine all included. Artcurial reckons this will sell for £62-116,000.
Finally, there’s the oldest of the barn-finds: a 1925 Citroën 5HP.
While maybe not quite as exotic as the Bugattis, the 5HP is a charming old thing in its own right: although not currently roadworthy, it is in apparently sound condition and boasts some lovely details, such as the hat net behind the bench and the Radiax accessory radiator cap with built-in thermometer.
And, best of all, this lot will be offered with no reserve.
Back to Lamoure again for the last word: “When I was a young adolescent I never imagined finding such sleeping beauties hidden for years in incredibly well-conserved condition. This is the thrill of a treasure hunt.
“Clearly it’s the stuff of dreams, and because it’s Bugatti it’s even more magical.”
Artcurial’s Rétromobile auction will take place on 8 February 2019, and we’ll have more details on it very soon. In the meantime, pick up the new February issue of Classic & Sports Car magazine to read our Bugatti special.
Images: Artcurial, Xavier de Nombel (Citroën 5HP)