Excitement spread like wildfire through the classic car world when news broke on January 2nd, 2009, of an extremely rare Bugatti discovered in a British garage, where it had been laid up and forgotten for almost 50 years.
Covered in a thick layer of dust, the largely original Bugatti Type 57S Atalante coupé would later sell at auction for just under £3 million.
Only 43 Bugatti Type 57S cars had ever been made and of those, just 17 had been given the stylish Atalante coupé bodywork. Some were known to have been destroyed in crashes, others were in museums or private collections, but this one had been ‘lost’. Very few people were even aware of its existence, and even those few were ignorant of its historical significance or financial value.
The black two-seater – one of the first real ‘supercars’ – had been parked up in the lock-up garage in the Gosforth area of Newcastle since its last tax disc expired in 1960. Before that it had been driven occasionally by its owner, the aptly-named Dr Harold Carr, who bought it for £895 in 1955. The orthopaedic surgeon had a passion for precision machinery, aviation and adventuring and collected several classic cars, but in later life he suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, which led him to become a reclusive and eccentric hoarder.
He had parked up the Bugatti along with other classic cars and other machinery in his Gosforth garage and there they stayed until after his death in 2008, at the age of 90. It was a nephew who ‘drew the short straw’ of clearing out the garage and discovered the cars. Unaware of their worth, he contacted an expert who was astonished to find the ‘long lost’ Bugatti.
Hand-built in 1937 at the Bugatti works in the Alsace region of Germany, the right-hand-drive car had the British number plate EWS 73. It was ordered new from the factory by keen motoring enthusiast Francis Curzon, 5th Earl Howe, the first president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club. He bought it as his personal road car and took delivery from Bugatti’s British agents in London. It subsequently had three more owners before being bought by Dr Carr in 1955.
Having been stored for almost five decades, it still had its original chassis, engine, gearbox and bodywork, enhancing its rarity still further. It had just 26,284 miles on the clock and a bundle of faded paperwork, including bills of sale, documented the car’s history.
Only a few modifications had been carried out by previous owners, including fitting a supercharger, rear view mirrors, a luggage rack and bespoke bumper bars. Some handwritten notes found in the cluttered garage suggested a few people had tried to buy the Bugatti from Dr Carr over the years, but his hoarding instinct prevented him from selling.
Once the car’s significance was realised, renowned auction house Bonhams was instructed to sell it on behalf of eight heirs to Dr Carr’s estate. It released news of the Bugatti’s re-discovery on January 2nd, sending a buzz of excitement throughout the car collecting world. Bonham’s made it the centrepiece of its sale of exceptional classic cars held in Paris on February 7th, 2009.
Some experts speculated that it could sell for up to £6 million, which would make it the most expensive car ever sold at auction. But the “credit crunch” financial crisis of 2008 had impacted on the classic and luxury car buying market and on sale day the bidding stalled at 3,417,500 Euros. That converted to £2,989,495, but the anonymous telephone bidder – said to be a European collector with a passion for Bugattis – would pay £3,033,475 including auction costs.
Even then, many experts considered it a real bargain given the car’s likely value in the future. If you happen to have one tucked up in your lockup garage, it would be worth considerably more now that the market for collecting classic cars is again on the up.