by A57SC / What could and what could not have happened to the 57453/57222/57454?
We all would like to know what has happened to the car that we know as La Voiture Noire or Belg. Coupé. I have listed the scenarios that I consider probable and the ones that I find impossible.
the car was repaired and then
Mr. Duhoux brought the 57453/57222/57454 to the hideout in which he had kept the 57562 (Braine-l’Alleud seems to be the first candidate for a region in which such hideout could exist)
Mr. Duhoux drove the Atlantic to the French Riviera
Mr. Duhoux brought it to Africa
the car has been scrapped by Mr. René Dupont, the owner of the Garage Métro (the showroom in which the car was, most probably, held)
Mr. Pierre Joseph Norbert Duhoux (Mr. Gabriel’s brother) did not return the car to Mr. Gabriel after taking over the Garage Métro from Mr. Dupont about 1948
Mr. Gabriel Duhoux knew many people from the high society and he could have actually been a proxy for some official person (maybe even for the King). The car has been finally given to that person.
Mr. Jean De Dobbeleer has seen the car and helped Mr. Gabriel Duhoux with selling it. Almost impossible because:
Mr. De Dobbeleer would have made a note about it
Mr. De Dobbeleer would have commissioned different looking replicas. A replica created by Mr. Jean Bats seems to be a proof that Mr. De Dobbeleer had not seen any of the 57453/57222/57454 and 57473 Atlantics
Mr. De Dobbeleer would probably have re-registered the car in Belgium before selling it
The car has been sold by Mr. Duhoux in Belgium. Very, very improbable as the car would figure in the Belgian license plates database. The reform of the Belgian license plates (their centralization) has been introduced in 1954. The number 57454 does not figure in the database, therefore the car has not been sold in Belgium after that date
The car has been sold by Mr. Duhoux in France. Rather impossible. The blue Bugatti Type 101 would not have been registered by the factory as the 57454
by A57SC / Confused or merged? The 57453/57222/57454 and the 57473 after the war
Most Bugatti fans know that the pre-war history of the 57473 and 57453/57222/57454 Atlantics used to be filled with confusion. Thanks to the great work of Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier we learned that in 1937 both the 57453 and the 57473 had visited the French Riviera. But may some more photos or testimonies attributed to the 57473 (maybe even from the period after the WWII) be actually linked to the 57453/57222/57454?
The 57473’s body changes can be considered one of the most mysterious episodes of the history of Bugatti Atlantics. Yes, as mysterious as the whereabouts of the “La Voiture Noire” (or rather “Belg. Coupé”). The truth about the 57473’s redesign could even turn out to be the key to learning the true fate of the 57453/57222/57454. Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier believes that the modification has not been carried out during the Holzschuch era. The great historian is convinced that Mr. Jacques Holzschuch, who ordered the car as an elderly person, was unlikely to change his taste. If we stick to this belief, we automatically assume that Mr. Jean Bugatti has not modified the 57473 directly.
This assumption may be true, but it leads into a difficult path of thinking. There is a convincing testimony, given by Mr. Pierre Marco to Mr. Gaston Garino, that Mr. Jean Bugatti had actually modified a body of an Atlantic. Moreover, an old article by Mr. Christian Huet (written before the rediscovery of the 57453/57222/57454) contains a strong suggestion that the redesign of an Atlantic had been commissioned by Mr. Robert Benoist (now, Mr. Huet believes that it was the 57473 that was directly modified, and therefore, that the operation was commissioned by Mr. Jacques Holzschuch).
As Mr. Jean Bugatti died on the 11 of August 1939, there are five possible scenarios:
What most of Bugattists used to believe: The 57453/57222/57454 was not modified and the modifications of the 57473 were carried out outside the Bugatti factory. But by whom? No proof of reported Figoni et Falaschi’s authorship can be found,
Mr. Jean made the body changes to the 57453/57222/57454. The carrosserie was put on the chassis of the 57473 by Mr. Jules Boichard (less likely) or by Mr. Robert Verkerke who, according to cartes grises, seems to have installed a compressor in the 57473,
Mr. Jean modified the 57473 when the car was owned by Mr. Jacques Holzschuch. Before or after, he probably did the same to the 57453/57222/57454,
Mr. Jean redesigned the 57453/57222/57454. After the war, the 57473’s body was modified accordingly,
Mr. Antoine “René” Chatard actually owned two Atlantics. The 57473 (it this case, Mr. Chatard’s ownership is indirectly reflected in documents- with Mrs. Marguerite Schneider as proxy) and the modified 57453/57222/57454. The cars were confused.
The last hypothesis seems easy to be eliminated as the photos of the Atlantic which was held at Mr. Francis Mortarini’s place clearly show the license plate- 1610 AV 75. The car shown in the photos is, almost surely, the 57473. Therefore, a “conspiracy theory” assuming that the 57453/57222/57454 was hit by the train instead of the 57473 can not be true. It would require a scenario with Mr. Chatard owning two Atlantics and using the same set of documents for them. The Bugatti history contains an episode of a chassis number that was duplicated for tax reasons. But in the case of the Atlantics it would have been done outside the factory. And it sounds more than unlikely. So, it is sure that the 57473 had been modified. Either by direct changes to its carrosserie or by putting the 57453/57222/57454’s body on its chassis.
The hypothesis that the factory copied a redesign of the 57453/57222/57454, done by Mr. Jean Bugatti, to the 57473 during the post-war era seems weak. The 57374 was brought to Molsheim in early 1950s and its rear part remained unchanged. If the factory had modified the 57374 according to Mr. Jean’s design, the same would have happened to the 57374.
On the other hand, Mr. Pierre Marco’s testimony sounds pretty credible. Yes, Mr. Marco had had a “difficult financial history” with the Bugatti family, but still he had no reason to lie to Mr. Gaston Garion about the Atlantic. Mr. Ante Furač has done a great job of contacting a Figoni et Falaschi expert, Mr. Richard Adatto and asking him to research the documents in order to check if a contract for the Atlantic’s modification has been preserved. The only trace of Figoni et Falaschi’s possible intervention is that the archives of the coach-builder contain a photo of the 57473 with Mrs. Yvonne Pinder known as Yvonne Holzschuch (in fact, it is not sure that Mr. Holzschuch and Mr. Pinder were married- https://gw.geneanet.org/gelizabeth2?lang=en&iz=0&p=jacques&n=holzschuch, https://gw.geneanet.org/gelizabeth2?n=pinder&oc=&p=yvonne+rebecca).
So, there are three reasons to consider the hypothesis that Mr. Robert Verkerke has merged the 57453/57222/57454 and the 57473:
the reported installation of a compressor in the 57473. The car was registered as a “57SC” in the “cartes grises” during Mr. Bouteaux’s ownership (and Mr. Bouteaux was Mr. Verkerke’s successor). Therefore, the compressor seems to have been installed for Mr. Verkerke who has also made the first appearance with the modified body. Then, the engine upgrade could have been an element of broader modifications.
The changes that have been made to the body. All the answers to the question what happened between the Holzschuch photo from Juan-les-Pins and the Verkerke photo from the « 3ème Circuit international de vitesse pour voitures particulières de série » are still more of hypotheses than of proven facts
the story of the Delahaye axle: Mr. Alfred Barraquet, who was the mechanic of Mr. Pierre Boncompagni, mounted a Delahaye’s axle in a single Bugatti (the fact is confirmed by Mr. Alfred’s son). Messrs. Barraquet and Boncompagni lived in Nice before the WWII. This is one of the reasons why Mr. Jess Pourret links the Boncompagni story with Mr. Ernest Friderich, who was a Bugatti dealer in Nice and who exposed the 57453/57222/57454 at a salon in that city. Moreover, Mr. Friderich is likely to have been the agent who attempted to sell an Atlantic (the 57453/57222/57454) to Mr. Gabriel Duhoux (as it was Mr. Friderich who sold the 57562 to the Belgian). Therefore, Mr. Barraquet is much more likely to have had an access to the 57453/57222/57454 than to the 57473. However, according to Mr. Lester G. Matthews, Mr. Gaston Garino, a “close collaborator of Francis Mortarini”, claimed that Mr. Mortarini had removed such axle from the 57473. The question is if Mr. Garino witnessed a removal or just noticed that the axle was not there. Mr. Christian Huet opts for the second response. He is also convinced that it was Mr. Jacques Holzschuch who had commissioned the modifications of the 57473.
A direct proof that Mr. Mortarini removed a Delahaye axle from the 57473 would be a strong argument for (I would even say “an indirect proof of”) the hypothesis that the cars have been merged.
A photo of the 57473 from the Boichard era showing the car without modifications could also be considered a proof of the merged cars hypothesis.
On the other hand, a direct proof that Mr. Holzschuch commissioned the body modifications of the 57473 would mean that the post-war stories of the 57453/57222/57454 and the 57473 are, most probably, separate.
Mr. Christian Huet, who says that Mr. Gaston Garino was his friend, denies that Mr. Garino had been a close collaborator of Mr. Mortarini. It means that Mr. Garino’s claims concerning the removal of the Delahaye axle probably resulted from his deduction and not from an eyewitness experience.
Therefore, the Belg. Coupé was probably not merged with the 57473. So, it is likely that the car can still be found.
However, if we pose a less precise question, i.e. “How many Bugatti Atlantics there were?”, things may become really complicated.
At first, I should answer another question: “Does the Bugatti teaser campaign announce the finding of the 57453/57222/57454”. My reply is “I don’t believe so. It suggests that the car never got to Bordeaux, contrary to the knowledge presented by historians and confirmed by an eyewitness testimony provided by Mr. Jean Paul Brassler”.
The 57453/57222/57454- “the fourth” (or rather “the second”, in the order of production) Atlantic rose to fame thanks to Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier. Before his magnificent work was published in 2004, most of Bugattists had believed that there were just three Atlantics and that „La Voiture Noire” was a factory name of the Holzschuch car- the 57473. “The Bugatti Type 57S” book by Mr. Bernhard Simon and Mr. Julius Kruta, which was published in 2003, also separates the 57453/57222/57454 from the 57473, but it was Mr. Laugier’s book that provided a proof and raised the interest in the forgotten Atlantic.
Currently, when we talk about „La Voiture Noire”, we behave as if the confusion between the two (initially black) Atlantics had never been widespread.
Now that we know the truth about the Bugatti production figures, we recognize the 57453/5722/57454 as the real “La Voiture Noire”. The only “La Voiture Noire”, because the Holzschuch Atlantic, however black, was at the factory for too short time to get a nickname. Some of us even realize that the 57453/57222/57454 had two such names, as it appears in the documents as “Belg. Coupé”. Therefore, that old confusion is no longer a problem. Or is it?
Well, it may still be.
The fact that La Voiture Noire (the 57453/5722/57454) was hidden in the shadow of the Holzschuch car (the 57473) meant that every piece of information about a Bugatti Type 57S Atlantic which was not related to the Rotshild Atlantic (the 57374) or to the EXK 6 (the 57591) was automatically attributed to the 57473.
The mystery of the modified body
For example, the chapter entitled “The Second Atlantic: The Black Car” in Mr. Lester G. Matthews’ book “Bugatti yesterday and today. The Atlantic and other articles” actually tells the story of two cars perceived as one. We tend to draw the line between the combined story and the chronicle of the 57473 somewhere near the photos of Mr. Alphonse Meyer working on the 57453/57222/57454 on Sunday and of the same car driven on the test track in the Vosges mountains. These photos are published on pages 37 and 38. They are also commented on page 39. Then, there is the following fragment:
“Garino explained that Marco* told him that Jean had certain changes made to the car in 1938 or 1939: extension of the rear fenders, pontoon style; substitution of louvered ventilation on the sides and top of the hood; the louvers on this example are unique”.
Let’s take a closer look: “extension of the rear fenders, pontoon style”? That sounds pretty much like the 57473 that we know from its photos with Mr. René Chatard.
Nothing special yet.
Nothing special, until we realize that
Mr. Matthews might have misinterpreted some facts (he expressed the belief in existence of just three Atlantics), but a testimony from Mr. Pierre Marco, who was a close collaborator of the Bugatti family (http://www.bugattibuilder.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=655), should be considered as credible, despite Mr. Marco’s story of being dishonest with the Bugatti company. Mr. Marco couldn’t have profited from lying to Mr. Gaston Garino,
according to Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier,the Holzschuch car was probably not available for Mr. Jean Bugatti in 1938 and 1939. The famous author formulates a hypothesis that the 57473 has been modified just after the war or during the Robert Verkerke era. This hypothesis has a strong basis as Mr. Laugier talked with the relatives of a photographer from the city of Arcachon, regularly visited by the Holzschuch couple. Then, the only body which could have been modified by Mr. Jean Bugatti before his death was the body of the car now known as “La Voiture Noire”- i.e. the 57453/57222/57454. The authors of “The Bugatti Type 57S” book may say the opposite, as their chapter on the 57473 includes the following mention about Mr. Jacques Holzschuch and his wife: “Apparently they returned the car at short notice in 1937 and took another Type 57, although there is no further entry concerning this in the factory reports”. However, this description may fit Mr. Gabriel Duhoux who took delivery of a Type 57S, I.e. the 57562, on 29.09.1937
Moreover, the article entitled “Une Bugatti de légende… Les mystères d’Atlantic”, written by Mr. Christian Huet, contains a mention that the modifications of an Atlantic were commissioned by Robert Benoist. The famous driver, who is known to have used the 57453/57222/57454, “had the body modified in the factory. Jean emphasized its dynamism and its class by lengthening some lines, adding volume to some others, changing some curves, however, with keeping the black paint”
It means that the car which had its body modified was probably the 57453/57222/57454. La Voiture Noire (“the black car”) which is also described as “Mr. Jean’s car”. So, how did the Holzschuch car receive the “pontoon style”? Mr. Ante Furač did a great job by contacting Mr. Richard Adatto, a Figoni specialist. A great work made by the best Figoni researchers leads to a conclusion that the only thing which could support the popular belief that the 57473 was modified by Figoni is the fact that the bodybuilder kept a photo of Mrs. Holzschuch standing next to the car. Even Mr. Pierre Marco’s testimony seems to be much stronger.
But what happened to the 57453/57222/57454 and how did the 57473 undergo the body changes?
To solve this mystery, it may be advisable to advance in the two books that I quoted.
Mr. Matthews mentions an article written by French historian Mr. Jess Pourret. Here is one more hat tip to the creator of a very thoughtful vision of the Belg. Coupé, the very talented Mr. Ante Furač, who asked the American Bugatti Club to retrieve Mr. Pourret’s article. While both mentioned books- the one by Mr. Matthews as well as the one by Mr. Kruta and Mr. Simon, refer to Mr. Pourret’s writing, the article itself was really worth finding and reanalysis.
Although it contains some mistakes, for example a misspelling of Mr. Gabriel Duhoux’s name (he’s mentioned as DuHoux, once again), it may be a missing link in the story of two Atlantics. Firstly, Mr. Pourret writes that La Voiture Noire (The Black Car, although painted “Bugatti Blue”) has been sold by Ernest Friderich. Not a big surprise, as another Bugatti bought by Mr. Gabriel Duhoux, the 57562 Atalante was also delivered by the agent from Nice. Mr. Duhoux and Mr. Friderich might have known each other for a long time, as Mr. Duhoux had competed with Mr. Friderich’s protégé, Mr. Luis Chiron in 1932 Monte Carlo Rally (http://rallyemontecarlo1932.unblog.fr/). As I have already suggested, Mr. Duhoux could have been the one who “returned the car at short notice in 1937 and took another Type 57”. If so, the initial return was certainly not a sign of a final resignation from buying the Atlantic. The due date for the “Belg. Coupé” (which is a synonym of La Voiture Noire), the 31st of August 1939, as well as Paris as its destination, become more and more interesting. Especially when we realize that the line “Belg. Coupé, 454, 2S, Paris, 31.8.39”, which comes from a notebook called “Carnet No. 4”, is found on a page concerning October 1936.
Something must have happened with the car near the end of August 1939, because shortly afterwards (on the 2nd of September 1939) the chassis number 57454 was assigned to a Type 64 (http://www.bugattibuilder.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1831). Does the due date mark the day when Mr. Robert Benoist wanted to receive the modified Atlantic?
Or is it linked to Mr. Gabriel Duhoux? If it was so, it would mean that the Belgian racer returned the 57453/57222/57454 to the factory once again. There is a document which confirms that the car was still black in July 1939. Moreover, a testimony of Mr. Jean-Paul Brassler, quoted in Mr. Matthews’ book, contains a mention about an Atlantic which was painted brown before the move to Bordeaux. As La Voiture Noire appears on the list of automotive material stored in Bordeaux (as the 57454), it’s very likely that it has been the car mentioned by Mr. Brassler. Mr. Pourret stated that the color of the Atlantic received by Mr. Duhoux was actually Bugatti blue. Mr. Ante Furač coined a well-based hypothesis that this information might have come from Mr. Paul Friderich (https://gw.geneanet.org/agourrier?n=friderich&oc=1&p=paul)Mr. Lester G. Matthews gives a summary of the story of the “chassis 57454” (or rather “chassis number 57454”). He writes that “it has been suggested that (…) it was later used in an Atlantic sold to a Belgian named Du Houx, color Bugatti Blue”. The remarks about Mr. Noel Domboy’s great memory, made by Mr. Matthews in his book, lead me to a hypothesis that he might have been one of the sources.It all plays well with the memories ofThe Lady who remembers Mr. Duhoux and who belongs to the family of his life partner (http://motofiction.eu/gabriel-duhoux-confirmed-as-the-first-owner-of-la-voiture-noire/). Moreover, the Lady says that the car had the 57473 styling cues! It means that:
it’s more than probable that the 57453/57222/57454 survived the war
Mr. Duhoux seems to have received the car after the war and to have used it in 1946.
The second of these statements is not directly proven, but it’s confirmed by at least two independent sources. The Lady from the Goyvaerts family is not very much interested in the automotive history, yet she spoke about a blue Atlantic, as mentioned in somewhat forgotten article written by Mr. Pourret. And it was when we were all stuck with the vision of the Black Car. There are reasons to believe that she actually remembers an Atlantic, because:
There is no record of the 57562 being crashed and having its bodywork repaired
The Lady recalls a single-coloured car, painted in a rather light shade of blue. And, while Mr. Duhoux is also known to be an owner of at least one Mercedes, the car remembered by the Lady had a horseshoe grille
On the other hand, there is a not-so-strong reason to believe that the 57562 was the only Bugatti of Mr. Duhoux, as
the Lady can recall just one Bugatti.
A short digression concerning the Bordeaux bombings
On the other hand, the hypotheses about La Voiture Noire being destroyed in a bombing sound hard to believe. The only known bombing of the Bordeaux factory is described in testimonies by Mr. Noel Domboy (page 118 to 120 in the “Bugatti yesterday and today. The Atlantic and other articles” book) and by Mr. Adrian Paul. Mr. Domboy’s letter indicates that the bombing happened in November 1940.
Both testimonies mention three bombs:
the first: destroyed two cars of German officers (Mr. Paul) vs. burned “the hanger where the Germans held their cars” (Mr. Domboy)
the second: fell on an office, throwing the German documentation up into the air (Mr. Paul) vs. exploded on the wall surrounding the factory at a far end, pulverizing the locality where all of the Molsheim wooden foundry patterns were stored (Mr. Domboy)
the third: Didn’t explode, but it damaged a large rolling metal door that gave access to manufacturing buildings (Mr. Domboy) vs. not mentioned (Mr. Paul).
Again: what happened to the 57453/57222/57454 and how did the 57473 receive the modified body?
The key to the post-war traces of La Voiture Noire may lie in the half-legend of Mr. Pierre “Pagnibon” Boncompagni’s ownership of a Bugatti Atlantic in 1940. The story was often attributed to the 57473, however, the article written by Mr. Pourret links Mr. Boncompagni’s Atlantic with Mr. Friderich and Mr. Duhoux. It also gives an answer why does the “Barroquet”, or rather “Barraquet” name appear in the context of 57473. Mr. Alfred Barraquet (he changed his name from “Barraqué” to align with an erroneous spelling which appeared in media) was a mechanic of Mr. Pierre “Pagnibon” Boncompagni. Mr. Pierre “Pagnibon” Boncompagni did own several cars which could be confused with an Atlantic, for example a Talbot-Lago T150 C SS with a Pourtout body (https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/16133/lot/330/). The body of the Talbot was even named an Aéro Coupé, like the first Bugatti Atlantics.
However, it’s good to have a look at the map of Nice. The distance between the garages owned by Messrs. Boncompagni and Barraquet and Mr. Friderich’s agency is just a 6-minute walk:
If Messrs. Boncompagni and Barraquet had some contact with a Bugatti Atlantic, it’s much more likely that it was the 57453/57222/57454. Neither the racer, nor the mechanic appears in the documents concerning the 57473. Moreover, their ownership is dated either somewhere near 1940 or 1950. During the war the 57473 was probably in Paris or (according some sources) in Monaco and not in French Riviera (Côte d’Azur). In 1950 it was in Cannes and not in Nice Mr. Pourret tells a story of a Delahaye front axle and a steering box installed in the car, adding that these modifications were done by “Barroquet who still lives outside of Paris”. And then, it may be good to skip the names “Bodel” “Robert Verkerke”, “André Bouteaux”, „Charles Bérard” and even „Dominique Lamberjack” to jump to the testimony of Mr. Gaston Garino who mentions Mr. Mortarini’s removal of a compressor and of the Delahaye axle. This statement is quoted by Mr. Lester G. Matthews who also informs that Mr. Garino was a close collaborator of Mr. Mortarini. It is compatible with the claims about Mr. Boncompagni found in Mr. Pourret’s article. The rest of the story is well known: Mr. Francis Mortarini was the person who sold an Atlantic to Mr. Antoine “René” Chatard.
I contacted the families of Mr. Barraquet and of Mr. Mortarini and:
Mr. Alfred “Fred” Barraquet has told the story of the Delahaye axle to his son. The axle was mounted in a black Bugatti, probably before the WWII
Mr. Mortarini’s son was born long after the Atlantic episode, however, he firmly believes that the Atlantic owned by his father was the same as the one which has been driven by Mr. William Grover-”Williams”. And that forms another link between the 57473 and the 57453/57222/57454.
To sum up:
The half-legend about Mr. Pierre “Pagnibon” Boncompagni plays well with another piece of information provided by Mr. Garino: the one about Mr. Mortarini removing a compressor and the Delahaye axle. The 57453/57222/57454 had a factory compressor, in contrast to the 57473. The letter “C” near “57” appears in the documents of the 57473 just after it was owned by Mr. Verkerke.
According to Mr. Gaston Garino, Mr. Pierre Marco said that it was Mr. Jean Bugatti who had made the styling modifications which are often attributed to Figoni. This testimony was confirmed by Mr. Christian Huet’s sources. As Mr. Holzschuch’s car was reportedly unavailable to Mr. Jean Bugatti since its sale, the only Atlantic that could have been modified in the factory was Belg. Coupé/La Voiture Noire. So, the rear part of the body, which is shown on Mr. Antoine “René” Chatard’s photos, would actually be a distinctive element of the real La Voiture Noire.
Mr. Ante Furač contacted the Archives of the Bas-Rhin Department and discovered, that the Type 101 with the chassis number 57454 got its number plate 871 DA 67 on 28 of September 1955. About a month after the accident in which Mr. Antoine “René” Chatard and Mrs. Janine Vacheron had died. This would suggest that Pierre Marco believed that the car which had been destroyed in the crash while carrying Mr. René Chatard and Miss Janine Vacheron had the chassis number 57454 (i.e. that it was the real La Voiture Noire/Belg Coupé).
However, Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier has examined the grey cards (cartes grises) concerning the 57473 and confirmed that the car had been owned by the following people:
Mr. Jacques Holzschuch
Mr. Jules Boichard
Mr. Robert Verkerke (a photo from a street circuit in Nice indicates that he drove a modified Atlantic),
Mr. André Bouteaux
Mr. Charles Bérard (used the same registration plate as Mr. Antoine “René” Chatard),
Mr. Dominique Lamberjack,
Mr. François (Francis) Mortarini,
Mrs. Marguerite Schneider in behalf of Antoine “René” Chatard.
It’s worth to add that Mr. Lester G. Matthews quotes Mr. Gaston Garino being “sure” that an Atlantic was owned by Mr. Bodel from Cannes in 1950. However, no trace of Mr. Bodel is found by Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier in the documents concerning the 57473. According to Mr. Garino, Mr. Bodel sold the car to Mr. Lamberjack. Is “Bodel” (Baudel? Baudelle?) a name of Mr. Verkerke’s mechanic? It’s possible, because, despite the entry in the “carte grise”, Mr. Verkerke was not from Cannes. He lived near Paris.
Mr. Robert Verkerke had an access to good sources of information about both Atlantics.
He lived near Paris, like the Holzschuch family.
According to the documents he actually bought the 57473 from Mr. Jules Boichard who lived in Monaco
He was linked to Cannes and to the French Riviera in general. It’s proven that he participated in the “Circuit international de vitesse pour voitures particulières de série” in Nice on the 1st of April 1951, but as he is mentioned as a mechanic from Cannes in the “carte grise”, it is likely that he visited the French Riviera often.
So, he could have meet Mr. Ernest Friderich and/or Messrs. Boncompagni and Barraquet in Nice
Mr. Verkerke, who was also of Belgian origin, might even have contacted Mr. Duhoux, who cured his illness in Grasse (a city that is also located on the French Riviera)
The “cartes grises” confirm that Mr. Verkerke installed a compressor in the 57473. As a racer he also had a reason to mount the Delahaye axle. It could be easily imagined that he bought some parts from the 57453/57222/57454 and then decided to put its body on the 57473 chassis.
This may mean that a single car combined from two Atlantics could have been built in the French Riviera.
Would it mean that there is no automotive treasure to find? Not exactly. The 2SC engine is a gem in itself. Did it stay in Belgium? Was it brought to the French Riviera?
The idea that the cars could have been merged is still a hypothesis, but it is really worth checking. And we would not share such “automotive counterpart of the Fermat’s Last Theorem” if we were not doing our best to find a proof. Please stay tuned.
by A57SC / Gabriel Duhoux confirmed as the first owner of La Voiture Noire
No, I don’t have any detailed information about the owner of the modern black Bugatti which was shown in March 2019 in Geneva. I’m just talking about the most valuable car in the automotive history. We call her “La Voiture Noire” but we should get used to some more names like the Belg. Coupé or … the Blue Bugatti. Yes, I know that “La Voiture Noire” means “The Black Car”. Actually, this incompatibility of colours caused me to stay silent about my research until now.
In October 2019 I was in Brussels to talk with a family member of Mrs. Thérèse Goyvaerts. Mrs. Goyvaerts was the wife of Mr. Gabriel Duhoux. Her relative, a very kind lady born in the late 1930s, told me that she remembered a blue car that was damaged by a young soldier who stole it in 1946. Before the meeting I had communicated with the family via email. Therefore, I remembered that the lady had stated the damaged vehicle was very similar to the rebuild of the 57473 Atlantic. During the meeting the Lady said that Mrs. Thérèse Goyvaerts had disliked the car. Mr. Duhoux’s wife considered the resemblance between the grille shape and a horseshoe hung upside down as a sign of bad luck. It’s not only superstition that made her affraid. Mr. Duhoux drove really fast.
“The Bugatti Type 57S: Evolution, Prototypes, Racing Cars, Production” book written by Mr. Bernhard Simon and Mr. Julius Kruta mentions him as “a pilot in Belgium”. However, the kind Lady said that he was not an aviator. The authors might have seen a document indicating that the Bugatti staff treated Mr. Duhoux as a racer (“pilote” in French).
I hope to learn much more, because Mr. Duhoux really deserves it.
However, I owe my readers an explanation why I think that Mr. Duhoux’s ownership of the second Bugatti Aéro Coupé/Atlantic (the one built as “the 57453”) has been confirmed. And I also owe a big “Thank you” to Mr. Ante Furač who told me about a very interesting mention in the “Bugatti Yesterday and Today: The Atlantic and other articles” book by Mr. Lester G. Matthews. On page 37 there is a paragraph about chassis 57454. The author quotes suggestions that the chassis was “used in an Atlantic sold to a Belgian named Du Houx of Brussles, color Bugatti blue”. Before the meeting I exchanged some mails with Mrs. Goyvaerts’ family. Here is an excerpt, which may also explain why Mr. Duhoux took the 57562 to the Concours d’Elegance
So, two independent sources- the factory workers interviewed by Mr. Matthews and a person related to Mr. Duhoux inform about the same thing: Mr. Duhoux owned a blue Atlantic. Mentions about the Belg. Coupé having the “2S” engine, later upgraded to 2SC, lead to the conclusion that the blue Atlantic was a repainted La Voiture Noire.
There are just two big questions:
Do we know more about the showroom where the car was put?
My answer: I’m doing my best to learn more. I will keep you updated.
What about the mail from the notary?
My answer: There are two scenarios. The optimistic and the pessimistic one. The optimistic scenario is that the information given by the notary had also come from the heirs of Mrs. Thérèse Goyvaerts . They were aware that the car had disappeared, but they didn’t know how it had happened. So they assumed that it was sold during Mr. Duhoux’s illness. The pessimistic scenario is that the lawyer (whose name I have to protect) was both the notary of Mrs. Goyvaerts and the notary of someone else, who had sold the car.
to the Lady and to her Daughter,
to Ante Furač for a very interesting mail about Mr. Matthews’ book,
to Yann Sadier and François Granet for caring about the meaning of The 57453 in the French automotive culture
to Stephan Sturges for answering my questions about Brussels,
by A57SC / The 57453 destroyed in Bordeaux? Forget that fiction
Almost every Bugatti enthusiast knew that the last known trace of the lost Aéro Coupé was the list of the “automotive goods” (“Materiel Automobile”) dated 18th February 1941. The document refers to the Bordeaux storage (therefore I call it “The Bordeaux List”), but the actual meaning of its date has been a subject to various hypotheses. Mr. Pierre Yves Laugier’s statements are a bit ambiguous. This ambiguity should not be considered as a fault of the great historian, who has proven the existence of the fourth Atlantic. It just means that Mr. Laugier doesn’t confuse hypotheses with facts. That is why he writes about “trace lost in 1941 in Bordeaux” where La Voiture Noire “appears on a list of automotive goods sent [not “delivered”, but “sent”- note by A.S.] from Molsheim to the Bugatti works on boulevard Alfred-Daney, Bordeaux”. Bordeaux is the last place associated with the Black Aéro but no official proof is known that the car really got there.
There is a very interesting comment under the Hemmings’ article about the Black Aéro. “FA_92″ (https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2019/02/26/the-114-million-barn-find-that-has-yet-to-be-found#comment-10658963) states that according to his or her sources “the actual relocation of the Bugatti (machinery and the cars belonging to the factory) occured between the official onset of WW2, 3. September 1939. and January 1940” and that the information may “be found in French Ministry of Air war records” from that time. Then the mentioned user says that “The part of the Bordeaux, where the storage was located, was also bombed by RAF of Britain, by the end of 1940. So, anything that was shipped to Bordeaux after that date or later in 1941. would be a very confusing and irational decision. Maybe the document counts the cars kept in storage, that have survived the bombing and looting… “. Many sources mention such bombing. However, there are reasons to believe that it’s a repeated mistake (like “rue Alfred Danat” instead of “boulevard Alfred Daney”) and the damaged factory was actually the one in Molsheim (on the other hand, this site: http://www.ajpn.org/commune-Molsheim-en-1939-1945-67300.html?fbclid=IwAR1HnPEAuFzZIDkpVfyMexHCdTmvjEKV8gJPF72ljdldZm8OHKY4sJI2WIM contains no info about a bombing in 1940). Now is a time for one more “thank you” to Uwe Zummach who informed me about a photo of damaged works. The photo shows a signboard with the inscription “Trippelwerke”. This points at Molsheim. Therefore, I contacted the Municipal Archives in Bordeaux, getting the following response:
So, the workshop is not mentioned on the lists of buildings damaged during the World War II. A fun fact is that I received the message on the 83rd birthday of La Voiture Noire, on 3rd of October 2019. I shared it with several people and planned a bigger article about the case. Then, I received some more information. I fully understood it just recently, thanks to Mr. Ante Furač. The answer from Bordeaux is only a prelude to the news which I will share in the next entry about the most famous “lost” car in the world.
by A57SC / Why the Bugatti Chiron is the perfect base for the modern La Voiture Noire
As many of you probably know, I’m researching a very interesting track of the black Bugatti Aéro Coupé/Atlantic known as “The 57453”, “La Voiture Noire” and “The Belg. Coupé”. The last of these names, albeit not widely known, may be the most important clue. It’s mentioned in the factory documents along with the name of Belgian architect, Monte Carlo Rally pilot and hotel owner, Mr. Gabriel Duhoux. The name “Belg. Coupé” is quoted both by the authors of “The Bugatti Type 57S”- Mr. Bernhard Simon and Mr. Julius Kruta (these authors believe that the name refers to the Type 64) and by the author of “Bugatti. les 57 Sport”- Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier.
The Belg. Coupé’s due date was 31.08.1939, and that’s why I would like to share my thoughts today.
The origin of the name “Belg. Coupé” is an object of hypotheses. Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier has pretty much exhausted the topic of the basic directions, because he listed all three of them. The car could have been
meant for an exhibition in Belgium
prepared for a Belgian customer (and Mr. Duhoux was definitely Belgian)
built for the King Leopold III (a special case of the second scenario)
Although exhibitions are mentioned both by Mr. Laugier and by the authors of “The Bugatti Type 57S”, this hypothesis is the least credible one. If the car had been meant for the Paris salon, then why would it have been called the “Belg. Coupé”? Why would the due date have been 31.08, while the Paris Salon regularly took place in October. On the other hand, if “Belg.” means the place of exhibition, then why do we see “Paris” next to the due date?
Then, there are two other hypotheses, which may be actually combined. What if Mr. Duhoux had been a middleman for the King?
Even so, it’s very interesting to realise that Mr. Duhoux competed in the Monte Carlo Rally 1932 with Louis Chiron. Moreover, Mr. Chiron often worked with Ernst Friederich (a Monte Carlo Rally participant from 1925) and Mr. Duhoux has received his first Bugatti, the 57562 Atalante from Mr. Friederich’s Bugatti agency in Nice.
In the reasoning that led me to contacting the notary of the heirs of Mr. Duhoux, I probably made just one mistake. However, the mistake doesn’t rule out the conclusion than Mr. Duhoux’s story is really worth researching. After receiving very interesting mails from Mr. Ante Furač and having a great conversation with Mr. Uwe Zummach, I believe that the entry: «Moteur 2CS, 57.454 Coupé Atlantic, 1244 W5» probably refers to the Black Aéro. The problem needed a re-analysis because:
“Moteur 2CS” is an argument for the Black Aéro. The Type 64 with the chassis number 57454 is known to have an engine with the number “2”. However, for all the cars on the Bordeaux list the “C” means “compressor”. I haven’t found any mention of a supercharged prototype of the Type 64.
57454- appeared with both cars
“Coupé Atlantic”- in French automotive culture there was a difference between a “coach” and a “coupé” . The latter had only two side windows, embedded in its doors. The black Type 64 from the Mulhouse Museum is a coach. Even if the white car seen on the photos (www.bugattibuilder.com/photo/displayimage.php?pid=4581&fullsize=1), is not the same, it started its life as a coach as well.
“1244 W5”- as I wrote, the registration plate hasn’t been photographed on the Black Aéro. It can be seen in the photo of the Type 64. But it’s not a very strong argument.
However, the presence of the Black Aéro in Bordeaux, might rather mean that the car was returned to the factory. And even the change of the registration plate from 1521 NV4 to 1244 W5 is an argument for that.
There are two strong arguments that La Voiture Noire was received by Mr. Duhoux before the World War II and went back to him after the conflict had ended
A letter from 29th September 1939 documents a move of the 57454 chassis number and the 1521 NV4 registration plate from a grey Ventoux to a “Coach special Type 64”. It means that this identity had been moved from the Black Aéro to the Ventoux before.
The last known identity of the Black Aéro (the chassis number 57454) was assigned to another car just after the war.
I keep on researching, so please stay tuned.
For now, I would like to recommend you a visit to the Cité de l’Automobile Museum in Mulhouse. From the 19th of June to the 3rd of November there is an exhibition called “Incomparables Bugatti”.
by A57SC / The “Belg. Coupé”- an underrated name of the most precious Bugatti
We know her initial number- 57453, we know that she was nicknamed “La Voiture Noire”. Sometimes we even call her “la voiture de Monsieur Jean”, although this expression has also been used for the Type 55 and for the sole preserved example of Type 64.
However, we often fail to realize that the Aéro Coupé which carried the chassis numbers 57453, 57222 and 57454 has been mentioned, three times, in the Bugatti factory documents as the “Belg. Coupé”. The authors of “The Bugatti Type 57S” book, Dr. Bernhard Simon and Mr. Julius Kruta suggest that the name, linked with the chassis number 57454, actually refers to the Type 64. However, Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier, who found a mention about the “Belg. Coupé” in a document from the 1939, sees it as another name of the missing Aéro Coupé/Atlantic.
I discussed it with a great collector of Bugatti books and photographs, Mr. Uwe Zummach, who deserves the name of Heinrich Schliemann of the Molsheim car world. We came to a conclusion that the Aéro Coupé/Atlantic scenario is much more probable. Mr. Laugier’s quotes a mention about “57454 moteur 2SC… BELG”. The engine number “2SC” is the one that appears alongside the chassis number “57453” in the famous “57 Aero Coupe / 2SC. 3/10. 57453. Black. Cloth interior. No. 602, Leather, P.C.S..” line noticed by Mr. Laugier in factory documents from 1936.
A workshop notebook from 1936, called “Carnet no. 4”, is quoted by Mr. Simon and Mr. Kruta, on page 68 of their book. The expression “Belg. Coupé” is placed above the name “Alb. Prejean” (Albert Préjean), in a column that contains buyers’ names. Mr. Uwe Zummach points out that even Mr. Simon and Mr. Kruta state that the table containing a row about the “Belg. Coupé” appears “under type 57”.
On page 67 Mr. Simon and Mr. Kruta reveal that the “Belg. Coupé” was probably meant for “Mr. Gabriele Duhoux”. While the spelling “Gabriele” is a result of a mistake, it’s easy to identify the person.
Mr. Gabriel Duhoux was an architect, the founder of Le Berger Hotel in Brussels, the owner of a Bugatti Atalante with the chassis number 57562 (http://www.automobileweb.net/index.php?page=type57satalante) and a Monte Carlo Rally racer. The family of Mr. Duhoux’s life partner has informed the historian Isabelle Léonard that:
If Mr. Duhoux had been an ordinary client, his name would have been noted in the factory documents in place of the “Belg. Coupé” expression.
Well, it’s known that in motor sports “the contestant” and “the driver” are not obviously the same thing. So … what if the “lost Atlantic”, reportedly a car with some racing history (with Robert Benoist behind the wheel), was meant to compete in the Monte Carlo Rally? Maybe even under the auspices of Ettore Bugatti’s friend, King Leopold III.
I keep on researching the Duhoux story, so please stay tuned.
For now, I would like to recommend you a very interesting offer by Bugatti and Cité de l’Automobile. It’s called “My Veyron Experience”. The entrants may choose from two options:
Émotion (1 h 50 Min with Veyron, cost: 4 990,00 €)
Rien N’est Trop Beau (9 h, 11 900,00 €)
The event will last from the 1st of July to to the 3rd of November and is open just for 110 participants (because Bugatti celebrates its 110th anniversary). The registration (here: https://www.myclassicautomobile.com/experiences?lang=en) ends on the 31st of May, so there is little time left.
There are, of course, a lot of people who would love to help, but the problem lies in how we imagine such research. I have once written about the need for an automotive Larra Croft or Indiana Jones but it’s a very simplified vision of the topic. Indiana Jones is a character inspired by archaeologists like Heinrich Schlieman and Howard Carter. And the search for lost cars may be a task for people who are ready to think like Jean-François Champollion (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jean-Francois-Champollion), the man who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Here are the things that should be taken into account:
Searching for lost cars, if done well, is mostly about reading, writing emails and making phone calls. Walking from barn to barn hasn’t got us the lost Bugatti Aéro Coupé (so-called “Black Atlantic”) and it won’t get us the Lotus. In the case of the Bugatti, it’s possible that people have been looking in barns in the wrong region (http://motofiction.eu/the-reasons-why-its-worth-to-search-for-la-voiture-noire-near-brussels/).
If working with documents and writing requests for information doesn’t seem much of an adventure, we should realise that adventures rarely happen to those who just move around. They happen to those who do something unique. And a systematic research is less popular than the belief in accidental barn finds.
We are looking for an Austin Seven
Can we be convinced that any person who bought the Lotus Mark I ever started to consider his or her car “a Lotus”? If not, there may be a lot of documents in which the car is mentioned as an Austin Seven. We know that it has been described as “an Austin Seven Special four-seater sports-cum-trials” in the advert published in Motor Sport magazine.
…or to Mrs. Hazel Chapman…
…who may also remember some details about the car buyers’ look…
…or some details of the car, that haven’t been yet described in books or articles published in magazines.
We can assume that the Mark I was raced. Because race car.
Therefore, a good thing to begin with is creating a database of trial events that were organized in the north of England in early 1950s.
The automotive clubs are precious sources.
In my research concerning the legend of a LHD Jensen FF (https://www.joc.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=13929), I contacted the British Racing Drivers’ Club. And my request was received by some very helpful people to whom I’m very grateful.
by A57SC / The reasons why it’s worth to search for La Voiture Noire near Brussels
The blog is called “Motofiction” as it was initially created for “what if” stories about the motoring brands that ceased to exist i.e. articles like “what if Polish pre-war brand CWS survived till today”. However, this analysis is based on facts and my conclusions seem to have been confirmed (see the end of the post).
The black Bugatti 57SC Aéro Coupé also known as the Black Atlantic or La Voiture Noire (the black car) is such a legendary vehicle that there is no better way to remind the world that cars are works of art than to find this Bugatti. Therefore, every hypothesis on its whereabouts should be verified. After a deep analysis of all available sources, I came to a conclusion that the car has been sold before the World War II. Here are the arguments:
•The plate with the initial chassis number of La Voiture Noire (57453) has been found in another car (the Hidden Treasure- http://www.bugattipage.com/newspics3/57453.pdf) in the USA. 57453 is the first of three chassis numbers known to be assigned to the Black Aéro. The last of them is 57454. After it had been used for La Voiture Noire, it was assigned to prototypes- Type 64 (probably) and Type 101 (for sure). So, there is little possibility that the Black Aéro was lost by the Bugatti company. If it had happened, the plates would have been lost as well.
•The 57454 chassis number was issued for Ettore Bugatti on 2th of July 1938. On 31th of September it was reassigned from the „Coach Gris” used by Mr. De Boigne (most probably François Le Borgne de Boigne, who later became the husband of Ettore Bugatti’s daughter Lidia) to Coach Special Type 64 with engine no. 2. „Coach Gris” means „gray coupé” or „pale coupé”. Therefore, the „Coach Gris” couldn’t be the Black Aéro. If Black Aéro had remained a factory car, probably any third vehicle between it and Type 64 wouldn’t have received the plate.
•A photography taken in 1939 shows a factory mechanic, Alphonse Meyer, working on the Black Aéro that has the 1521 NV4 registration plate (known to be linked to the 57454 chassis number). Selling the car would be a good reason to move the plate temporarily to Mr. De Boigne’s car and then, for a longer period of time, to the Type 64.
•The hypothesis that the elements of the Black Aéro have been used in Type 64 prototypes hasn’t been confirmed despite the fact that almost all of the Type 64 chassis are accessible. The only Type 64 chassis that is not well known to the public is owned by Mr. Robert Jarraud. However, the Bugatti enthusiasts say that the best way to find a contact to Mr. Robert Jarraud is to write to the famous author of “Bugatti Type 57 Sport”, Mr. Pierre-Yves Laugier.
Moreover, the transformation would have taken very little time as the Black Aéro still existed in the 1939.
•In the Bugatti factory documents there are some mentions about a „Belg. Coupé” which had a chassis number of 57454. „Belg. Coupé” was meant to be ready for the 31th of August 1939. In the „Bugatti Type 57S” book by Mr. Bernhard Simon and Mr. Julius Kruta it’s assumed that the „Belg. Coupé” was a Type 64, planned to be exhibited on the Paris Motor Show in 1939. However …
•In the interwar period Paris Motor Show was often organized in October,
•The car was planned to be ready for 31th of August, the day before the outbreak of the World War II. The Paris Motor Show exhibition was canceled due to the war,
•Bugatti had an agency in Paris, where they sold cars. One of the factory racers, Robert Benoist, who reportedly drove the Black Aéro Coupé during Le Mans qualifications, was the sales director of that agency.
•Pierre-Yves Laugier, the author of „Bugatti 57S Sport” associates the „Belg. Coupé” name with the Black Aéro,
•On the other hand, Bernhard Simon and Julius Kruta mention „Gabriele Duhoux” as the client who ordered the „Belg. Coupé”
•Among the cars stored in Bordeaux, that are listed in the factory document from 18th February 1941, there is a “57454 Coupé Atlantic” having the “2CS” engine. However …
•The car’s registration number is 1244 W5. The Black Aéro has never been photographed with such plate. The Type 64 has.
•The cars that are noted in the factory documents under the name “Atlantic” (i.e. the 57473 and the 57591) have different front wheel arches than Aéro Coupés (57374 and 57453), with headlights on a top of a fender. There is no trace of an evolution of the Black Aéro into a “proper” Atlantic. On the contrary- the last known photograph (the one with Alphonse Meyer) shows the car with low placed headlights.
•If the Black Aéro Coupé is found near Brussels, it will be a double sensation. The black example of the Type 64 that is held in the Cité de l’Automobile Museum in Mulhouse will become recognized as a “Type 64 Atlantic”. It can make sense. The rear part of the Type 64 body resembles Atlantics as well as Aéro Coupés and its headlights are placed near the top of the wheel arch, like in Atlantics.
•Bordeaux has been an obvious direction for every person who searched for “La Voiture Noire”. It’s really hard to believe that the “57453” could still be anywhere near this city. It can also be assumed that all the places around the old Invicta works in Laeken (discussed by Ettore Bugatti and king Leopold III as a possible location for a Bugatti factory) have been combed as well.
•Gabriel Duhoux was a Bugatti customer from Brussels, as well as the founder and the owner of the Le Berger Hotel. He participated in the Monte Carlo rally (so he was more likely to buy a car that had been spiritedly driven by Robert Benoist). In 1937 he bought the Bugatti 57S Atalante with chassis number 57562. In early 1950s he sold that car to Jean De Dobbeleer. The 57562 had just 7000 km of mileage. It had been hidden during the WWII, then it was displayed the Grand Prix d’Excellence in Brussels in 1946.
In the 1950s, an attept to run the engine caused that the gears between crankshaft and camshaft were broken.
•According to the book „Le Berger. Souvenirs d’une maison de rendez-vous” written by Isabelle Léonard, Mr. Duhoux owned eleven mansions and multiple terrains. Pretty much space to place a car. And, certainly, a wealth big enough to think about buying a Bugatti 57SC Atlantic (or rather Aéro Coupé).
•Mr. Duhoux died at 61. All his possessions were inherited by his life companion, Mrs. Thérèse Goyvaerts (http://intohistory.com/hotel-le-berger/). They had no children. In the 2010s the Le Berger Hotel, which had been created in the 1935 by Mr. Duhoux, was planned to be demolished.
After I had asked the notary of Mrs. Thérèse Goyvaerts to contact her heirs, I received an email with an information that the car had been sold in late 1950s and that the name of the vendor is not known. At first I thought that the heirs of Mrs. Thérèse Goyvaerts might have confused the Black Aéro Coupé with the 57562 Atalante. However, the Atalante was sold to Jean De Dobbeleer in early 1950s. Of course, I’m going to ask for photos and documents and continue the search for the current owner.