Wednesday, August 11, 2010


By Mark W. Danielson

At some point in time, most of us have heard opportunity knock, but rarely does it fall in your lap. Through an unusual set of circumstances, I was invited to view an extremely rare 1936 Bugatti Atlantic. Pronounced Atlanteek, this car was the first of four built, and one of only two remaining. So, how much value is there in this classic? How does 32 million US sound? In my neighborhood, that’s hardly pocket change.

Without going into detail about my invite or the car’s current ownership, I will say that it helps to be known as a car nut, which I suppose is preferable to being known as a nutcase.

This Bugatti, then owned by Dr. Peter Williamson, was completely restored to its 1939 configuration in 2003. The car subsequently took Best of Show at Pebble Beach. To put this in perspective, Best of Show here is comparable to an actor winning an Oscar. At some point after that, Dr. Williamson asked Bugatti specialist and restorer Jim Stranberg, “How fast do you think this will go?” Jim smiled, found a suitable location, and answered by accelerating the car to 100 mph. Now, imagine driving this amazing car at 100 mph. Who cares it had previously reached 130, the risks of even a simple rock chip are staggering. But like Jay Leno, the good doctor and car collector liked to drive his cars. Imagine that. Should it matter that he paid $59,000 for this car in 1971? Not when you consider the cost of the car’s monumental restoration. Just to name a few, new louvers, flip-up turn signals, and body parts had to be fabricated from scratch, and the rear windows had to be re-sized to make the car absolutely authentic.

It helps that Bugatti bodies are wood frames covered in aluminum. As Jim told me, the Atlantic is a glorified buggy. His reference made the car’s wooden heritage understandable. But what makes the Atlantic even more unique is its body and fairings were built in halves and then riveted together along central spines. Rather than design around them, Bugatti left the spines exposed, which adds a unique element. The Atlantic’s ingenious flip-up turn signals are also found on some other Buggatti models.

The car’s first owner was flamboyant playboy Nathanial Mayer Victor Rothschild, of the seriously rich Rothschild family. Victor matured in 1937 when his uncle died and he assumed the title as Third Baron Rothschild and sat on the Labour benches in the House of Lords. His position, wealth, and intelligence led to him being recruited by England’s M-5 agency where he became involved in WWII espionage. The car went through several other owners prior to Dr. Williamson, all of whom are registered with Bugatti. This car was featured in the August 2010 issue of Octane magazine.

So, what does this car have to do with mystery writing? Not much, other than classic pieces are eternal. Edgar Allan Poe may have been a pauper when he died, but his work is as timeless as this 1936 Bugatti. In this sense, we should think about the permanence of our writing and do everything possible to make it worthy of classic stature.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Timeless beauty costs a fortune. I'd be satisfied just to have a large framed photograph of the Bugatti on my wall.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Jean, I admit I'd prefer a hangar full of airplanes to a single 32 million dollar car. Then again, the Bugatti's owner has some pretty pricey bragging rights:)

Anonymous said...

That is some car, and I loved the history that goes along with it. The Baron Rothschild indeed!
Pat B.