1937 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet par Graber For Sale by AuctionDutch title
Chassis n° 57500
Engine n° 373
Gearbox n° 373
Axle n° 373
- One of Graber's most beautiful creations
- Transparent history with just three owners
- Owned by August Thomassen since 1960
- Original engine, gearbox and axle
- Fantastic project
- No reserve
This Bugatti Type 57 started life in January 1937, when chassis 57500 was fitted with engine 373, at the same time as seven other chassis of the same model. On 9 February 1937, chassis 57500 was the subject of an order by the Bugatti agent in Geneva, Jean Sechaud, and the build sheet states a planned delivery date of 12 February. For once, the factory kept to time, and the chassis was delivered on 15 February 1937.
It was transported, in all likelihood by road, from Molsheim to the coachbuilder Herman Graber, in Wichtrach, Switzerland. Between 1926 and 1940, Graber, a highly regarded coachbuilder, built some 751 bodies for the most prestigious marques, including Bentley, Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye, Duesenberg, Lagonda, Lancia, Maybach, Mercedes, Packard and Voisin.
Graber's records indicate contract numbers (which possibly refer to the body numbers), starting with 300 in September 1934. And thus, car no. 300 was a 4-seater Bugatti cabriolet, chassis 57161, and the first of nine Bugatti 57 cabriolets built by Graber between 1934 and 1937. The others built in 1936 were chassis numbers 57394-57444-57448-57483 and in 1937, chassis 57446-57447-57500 and 57539. For these cabriolets, the reference numbers of the Graber bodies ranged between 300 for chassis 57161 to 372 for the final chassis 57539. These Graber Type 57s have all survived. Their bodies all differ in particular details. Chassis 57444-57448-57483-57446, in the order they were built, had a bonnet with three rows of three vertical louvers. The coachwork of chassis 57447 had five rows of five louvers placed at an angle, and 57500 was the only one to have five rows of vertical louvers. Moreover, the bodies of 57171-57394 and 57539 were unique in their design and styling.
Graber's original register entry for 57500 was " Ch 15.2.37. Bugatti N° 363. Ch 57500.Mot 373. J. Sechaud. M. Barbey " The coachbuilder's archives contain three 24x36 mm negatives showing the 4-seater cabriolet 57500 in the Bernese countryside, on the day it was delivered. Painted one colour, probably midnight blue or black, the car was equipped with wheel flanges, standard accessories during this era. The headlights, two horns and the special bumpers, fitted new by Graber, are still on the car today.
The Graber register also records that the first buyer of this elegant 57 cabriolet 57 was Raymond Barbey, CEO of the Banque Lombard-Odier between 1941 and 1973 and grandson of the banker Gustave Ador.
The archives of a collector, containing research on many of the fine cars circulating in Geneva during the 1940s, provides specific information on the car : " Bugatti registered GE 18787. Still in circulation in 1940. M. R. Barbey, authorised signatory in Chambesy. " We believe that Mr Barbey kept his Bugatti during the war and sold it afterwards. The Bugatti Register of H.G. Conway written in 1962 states that the banker only used his Bugatti during the summer, and that the car would have spent the period between 1939 - 1947 in the showroom of the Sechaud garage. However, the record for the 1940 entry appears to partially invalidate this, as the car was still in circulation at this point. Either way, the cabriolet was taken in by Jean Sechaud for a service, before being sold to the client and Bugatti enthusiast, George Pertuiset. The Swiss police archives state: " Bugatti type 57 châssis 57500, registration GE 31319 24 May 1951. Georges Pertuiset, born in 1883, Industrialist, 3 rue du Marché in Geneva. " At that time Mr. Pertuiset was the head of " G. Pertuiset, Biscuits Chocolats et Pains d'Epice ", an established and thriving family business that sold confectionery all over the country.
There is a photograph of the Graber cabriolet with the registration GE 31319, in Jean Sechaud's garage on rue du Stand, next to a Ferrari 195 Inter from 1950 or 1951, probably before the Geneva Motor Show. If this was the spring of 1951, it is possible the car had just been bought by Pertuiset. In 1954, according to H.G.Conway's records, the Bugatti was serviced by Sechaud and, after nearly ten years of use by the biscuit maker from Geneva, it was sold on 3 December 1960. The new owner was a Dutch sculptor, August Thomassen, who was living at the Hôtel des Rives du Rhône in Vernier, an area of Geneva. Newly serviced prior to being bought, the vehicle was registered and given the number GE 1737.
Born in Maastricht on 24 August 1923, August Thomassen combined his passion for sculpture with his love of Bugatti when he produced a splendid bust in bronze of Ettore Bugatti, still on display at the Schlumpf museum in Mulhouse. It seems he didn't drive his Bugatti 57 very much, but nevertheless ordered new upholstery that was probably not fitted. The two-tone paintwork, blue with black wings, dates from the period the car was serviced for Pertuiset. The Bugatti was subsequently registered in Holland with the number BX 65-64 in the name of A. Thomassen from Maastricht.
Inspection of the vehicle reveals a car retaining all of its original mechanical components. The front axle is engraved with the number 373. The original chassis plate bears the number 57500-19CV. The left rear engine mount has the chassis and engine numbers recorded on it, 57500-373. The cover and body of the gearbox are marked 373. The rear axle is engraved with the ratio 11x46 and the number 373. The dashboard retains its original face displaying two large instruments : a Jaeger clock and a speedometer graduated up to 160 km/h. The chassis is fitted with cable operated brakes.
The Graber 4-seater cabriolet body fitted on chassis 57500 is unique. It is without a doubt one of the two most elegant bodies built by this coachbuilder in 1937, on a Bugatti Type 57 chassis.
August Thomassen was one of five children, born in Maastricht in 1923. His father was a pharmacist and his mother, of French origin, lived for painting, literature, music and culture.
Thomassen's father was one of the first people to drive an automobile in Maastricht and his eldest daughter the first woman to have a driver's licence in the town! On Saturdays, young August was allowed to accompany his father in the car, delivering medications to the surrounding villages. The car was also a feature of their holidays, transporting the family to France. Automobiles held a real fascination for August and he made his first model of a car in wood when he was eight. It was a passion that never left him.
August was an unusual child who was always running off in search of an adventure. At the age of nine, he fell from a bridge and was in a coma for three weeks. Having also survived infantile paralysis and polio, he became the 'enfant terrible' of the family during his teenage years. While his brother and sisters went to university, August preferred to spend time with craftsmen, technicians and mechanics. Although his family forbade it, his fascination for speed and movement led him into cycle racing, in which he won many victories. His sisters kept his trophies out of sight in their bedrooms. His parents allowed him to leave school at 15 and join the famous Autoschool in Den Bosch. This was also when he first took up sculpture.
War broke out. His older brother was a leader in the resistance. One evening, while helping people cross the border, he was spotted by the Germans. Following a painful interrogation, he was deported to a labour camp in Germany, where the prisoners had to make bombs. To avoid collaborating, he deliberately cut his finger. One evening, he decided to make his escape in daring fashion, by clinging to the underneath of the freight train that passed through the camp. Dressed in prison clothes, the young August travelled through Hitler's Germany, jumping on and off trains. Perpetually at risk of being shot, he finally reached the Netherlands alive, thanks to a sympathetic German train driver who kept quiet. Following a night spent in a coffin in a cemetery, he found his way back to his uncles Brand (of Brand beer) who agreed he could go and hide in their villa in Eijsden. During this period in hiding, he cultivated his second passion, sculpture. His involvement with the resistance led him to collaborate with the RAF in England until the end of the war.
After the war, he built a motorcycle from spare parts and travelled around Spain for five months. He spent three months studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid and the Prado, where he began to understand his destiny: to study the beauty of the human form through sculpture. On his return from Spain, was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Brussels, where he obtained his degree and won a first prize in portraiture. His first commission was for two sculptures three metres high for the 'Liga' biscuit factory. With his earnings he bought a piece of land in Belgium and built a studio where his future Bugatti T49 and T57, and the Citroën Trèfle, would reside for nearly 60 years.
Commissions of his typical psychological portraits of politicians, actors and businessmen took him to Geneva, where he bought his second Bugatti T57 from the Geneva chocolatier Pertuiset. His first Bugatti T49 had been acquired in the Vosges, Germigny, from two farm workers who had been using the car to transport potatoes ! In 1958, he married the lovely Renée Van Noorden, who from the start encouraged him to pursue his passions. Together they would have two daughters. Every day he played the violin to manage his hypersensitive and restless character.
In 1963, August Thomassen bought a site in the mountains in Haute Savoie : the land of his ancestors. He built his second studio there, and considered himself to be French for the rest of his life. It was here that he worked for years restoring his beloved Bugatti T40 to its original condition, working alongside Schneider, the former master craftsman at Gangloff. Around 1985, his bust of Ettore Bugatti was bought by the National Automobile Museum in Mulhouse, and remains there today. In 1987, his bronze bust of Yehudi Menuhin was unveiled by the famous violinist at the Menuhin School of Music in London. The bust of Lips, the founder of the National Automobile Museum of Holland was inaugurated in 1990.
His Bugattis inspired him by their pure forms and lines; their eternal beauty was priceless to him.
August Thomassen worked on his two passions, Bugattis and sculpture, in his studios in Belgium and Haute-Savoie, until illness prevented him at the age of 90. It is impossible to remain unmoved by the passion and charisma of this character who shaped his life in such a determined and unusual way.
As Yehudi Menuhin wrote:
" I admire you - the great sculptor who feels so deeply. "
Photos © Xavier de Nombel
Estimation 400 000 - 600 000 €