The Mystery Behind the Missing $100M Bugatti Type 57SC La Voiture Noire

May 21, 2024 2:30 AM

By: MPH Team

At the peak of World War II, a shadow of dread spread across Western Europe as German tyrants swiftly conquered Belgium and the Netherlands in May 1940. By mid-June, the city of Paris had fallen, resulting in a profound psychological blow to the French nation and its allies. More than 300,000 French and British troops found themselves making a desperate evacuation from the French coast, narrowly escaping across the English Channel into Great Britain.


Amidst this tumultuous backdrop, families from all walks of life fled to the countryside, hoping to escape the impending


 doom. As the German forces tightened their control, French natives made a frantic effort to hide valuables from the encroaching Nazi treasure hunters, as they were desperate to protect any remnants of their heritage from theft or destruction.


Among the treasures spirited away was Jean Bugatti’s legendary Type 57SC Atlantic “La Voiture Noire”. This model was one of four ever created—each unique for their own elegance and sophistication. Although experts believe it's worth over $100 million today, the La Voiture Noire vanished without a trace after being loaded onto a train bound for Bordeaux in a last-ditch effort to evade German capture.


The disappearance of the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic La Voiture Noire is shrouded in mystery. It happened during the onset of World War II, a time filled with chaos and uncertainty. The story behind Jean Buggati’s missing La Voiture Noire leaves behind a trail of unanswered questions and baffles classic car enthusiasts and historians till this day. 


What Made the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic La Voiture Noire So Special?


Recognized as a victor in numerous international competitions, the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic La Voiture Noire– which translates to "the black car", is exceedingly rare, remarkably priceless, and visually spectacular. Its impressive Art Deco form was crafted by Jean Bugatti, progeny of Ettore Bugatti.


Inheriting his father’s visionary spirit, Jean Bugatti possessed a remarkable sense of proportions and aerodynamics, which significantly influenced the company’s development from the late 1920s onward with his unique stylistic ideas and designs. By age 27, he assumed general management in 1936. 




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Jean Bugatti 



The origins of the Atlantic can be traced back to the 1935 Aérolithe concept car that employed state-of-the-art Elektron composite bodywork similar to the Type 59 Grand Prix cars. This resulted in an extremely sturdy body with reduced weight. However, the material was prone to ignition when conventionally welded. Riveting the body panels to the automobile was the workaround, which also endowed it with a unique seam.


Only four of these automobiles were ever produced, each substituting the incendiary bodywork with more standard aluminum. Each vehicle featured a protruding dorsal seam extending like a razor-sharp fin from the split bonnet hinge to the rear end. Although the riveted dorsal fin was retained purely for its aesthetic appeal, it no longer served a practical purpose. Initially introduced as the Aéro Coupé, it was renamed in tribute to Jean Bugatti’s friend, aviation trailblazer Jean Mermoz who perished during an Atlantic Ocean crossing attempt.






The heart of this masterpiece was its supercharged engine—an engineering marvel that propelled the car to unparalleled performance. The "SC" in its name stood for "surbaissé" (lowered) and "compresseur" (supercharger), representing significant upgrades over the base Type 57 model. A lower chassis and improved aerodynamics allowed La Voiture Noire to stay glued to the road, while its supercharged engine unleashed astonishing power and speed.


No aspect of the Type 57SC La Voiture Noire was left untouched. Every element was meticulously designed and crafted by hand. The bodywork, made from seamless aluminum panels, showcased flawless artistry. Inside, the cabin exuded opulence with hand-stitched leather upholstery and bespoke features. 


Three of the four Atlantics are well-known participants in concours events while the fourth's location continues to baffle enthusiasts. This car served promotional purposes at auto shows before becoming Jean Bugatti’s personal vehicle for some time. It was rumored that Chassis No. 57453 was later bestowed upon Bugatti racer Robert Benoist after his victory at Le Mans 24 Hour in 1937. It subsequently found its way to another Bugatti racer, William Grover-Williams, before being returned to the factory in 1939 upon his move to England.



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From 1939 to 1941 a handful of Bugatti engineers are said to have driven this car although no formal owners were registered according to records.


Theories and Speculations


Over the years, various theories have emerged about what might have happened to La Voiture Noire:


1. Hidden in Plain Sight: Some believe that the car was indeed put on the train but later hidden away by an individual who understood its value.

2. Factory Fiasco: Another theory suggests that the vehicle never made it out of the factory premises and instead ended up in enemy hands.

3. Secret Escape: There are whispers of a covert escape across borders, with the car slipping away from its intended destination.

4. Tragic Demise: A more dramatic possibility is that La Voiture Noire met its untimely end during an air raid, reduced to nothingness.


Despite extensive historical records from that period, no solid evidence has come to light regarding what happened after its departure from Bordeaux:


  • There's no definitive record confirming its arrival.

  • No paperwork documenting its journey has ever been found.

  • There are no eyewitness accounts to rely on.


Just silence.



The Modern Heir: Introducing the New $18.7M La Voiture Noire 







Despite the ongoing search, Bugatti has unveiled the one-off La Voiture Noire in 2019— a modern interpretation of its iconic predecessor the Type 57SC Atlantic.  


The Bugatti La Voiture Noire represents a significant departure in design and purpose from other models in Bugatti’s lineup, such as the Veyron and Chiron. While maintaining the high-performance standards expected of a Bugatti, the La Voiture Noire introduces a unique aesthetic that nods to the historical Type 57SC Atlantic. This model features an elongated silhouette and a central spine reminiscent of the Atlantic, setting it apart from the more muscular and compact design of the Chiron. Additionally, its bespoke exterior, with extended lines and tailored details, highlights its grand tourer nature.


The new La Voiture Noire is built on the foundation of Bugatti's esteemed Chiron platform. However, it pushes boundaries and redefines expectations with an astounding price tag of $18 million, making it the most expensive Bugatti ever produced.


Its interior features high-quality Havana Brown grain leather, polished and turned aluminum dashboard accents, and a drive mode selector made from rosewood - all reminiscent of the opulence associated with the original Type 57SC Atlantic.


Underneath its sleek exterior lies an 8.0-liter quad-turbocharged W16 engine that produces an impressive 1,577 horsepower - even more powerful than the Bugatti Chiron. Despite this increase in power, the La Voiture Noire offers a more relaxed driving experience due to significant revisions made to its seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and AWD system.


The new La Voiture Noire exemplifies Bugatti's commitment to excellence. Over two years (65,000 hours to be exact) were dedicated to meticulously hand-crafting this unique hypercar, underscoring Bugatti's philosophy of prioritizing quality and precision in its manufacturing process. This painstaking attention to detail ensures that each aspect of La Voiture Noire meets the highest standards of craftsmanship.






While we may never know about the whereabouts of the original Atlantic Type 57SC, one thing is for sure: Bugatti's spirit of innovation remains alive, ensuring that each new model pays homage to its legendary predecessors.


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