1939 Bugatti Type 57C by Vanvooren. Collection of Margie and Robert E. Petersen, Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, 1925.34. Photograph © 2013 Peter Harholdt

1939 Bugatti Type 57C Cabriolet by Vanvooren
Collection of Margie and Robert E. Petersen
Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, CA

The Great Depression was slow to impact France, due to that country’s high tariffs and restricted trade, but by the early 1930s, sales of luxury automobiles dwindled. Ettore Bugatti and his brilliant son Jean understood that a special model was imperative to help their company survive. The resulting new Type 57’s styling was at once contemporary and affordable, with custom coachwork available for the very wealthy.

For racing, a normally-aspirated, 3.3-liter straight 8-powered Type 57, on an ultra-low “S” chassis, was fitted with streamlined open coachwork. The factory successes included averaging 135.45 mph for one hour, 123.8 mph for 2,000 miles, and 124.6 mph for 4,000 kilometers. An avid horseman, “Le Patron,” as Bugatti was known, was convinced automobile competition improved the breed, as it did with thoroughbred racing.

The greatest coachbuilders of France: Gangloff, Saoutchik, Letourneur & Marchand, and Vanvooren, as well as Britain’s Corsica, and Graber of Switzerland, all built custom coachwork on the Type 57 chassis. This special Type 57C was the property of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Prince of Persia and future Shah of Iran.

When Pahlavi married Egypt’s Princess Fawzia, many nations sent extravagant wedding presents. A gift from France, this cabriolet’s drophead coachwork—a study in sweeping lines and fluid Art Deco ornamentation—was constructed by coachbuilder Vanvooren of Paris, in the style of Figoni & Falaschi. The windscreen can be lowered into the cowl for an even racier appearance.

Sponsored by: Sara and Richard Bovender

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