The answer for the question “How many Bugatti Atlantics left the factory?” is rather clear. “Bugatti produced four such cars. And there is a strong reason to believe that all of them found buyers” (http://motofiction.eu/gabriel-duhoux-confirmed-as-the-first-owner-of-la-voiture-noire/).
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).
The car existed in February 1941, so the possibility that it was destroyed in a bombing is really little. The RAF attack described by Mr. Domboy doesn’t seem to have harmed it. The personnel of Bordeaux City Archives didn’t find any information about another bombings (http://motofiction.eu/the-57453-destroyed-in-bordeaux-forget-that-fiction/).
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.