Bugatti 1939

April 30, 2013
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Bugatti 1939 Type 57C Van Vooren Cabriolet

As his first of three wives, Aryamehr Shah Pahlavi married Princess Fawzia, a daughter of the King Fouad and the sister of the King Farouk who ruled Egypt. The event happened in Cairo on March 14th, 1939. Since Iran had good relations with Egypt and most of the Western World, many countries sent presents for the wedding which included a royal airplane and several unique cars, but none of them were as beautiful as this Bugatti 1939.Bugatti 1939It was the French Government which commissioned the best talent within their country to provide a gift for the Shah’s wedding. To create one of most extravagant cars to come from their country France chose Van Vooren and Bugatti.

Using the flowing lines of Figoni et Falaschi as inspiration, Van Vooren worked upon chassis #57808, a low slung Bugatti Type 57C. Their result was a twin passenger cabriolet of substantial proportion and style. Unusual highlights introduced by Van Vooren included a very short windscreen which could be wound down into the bulkhead and a disappearing top which was concealed by a panel behind the interior.

Bugatti contributed a Type 57C chassis that came equipped with a supercharger. It helped the car produce an impressive 175 horsepower (130kW) from a 3245cc (198 cu in) engine.

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Until 1979, the Shah’s Bugatti stayed in the Royal Court of Iran. Afterwards, the Ayatollahs, who had nearly scraped the car, sold it at a very low price. The buyer had the Bugatti shipped to the USA and saved it in the process. At this point the car was heavily butchered to accommodate an Amercian V8 until shipped to England for a full rebuild by Rod Jolly Coach building and Louis Giron. After the restoration, the Shah’s Bugatti auctioned for $1,760,000 and has since changed owners several times.

The car currently has a good home at the Petersen Museum in California alongside some of the most important cars in world.

The Type 57

After decades of building and selling race cars, Bugatti decided to focus on a passenger car which would compete with the 1930s custom coachwork Delahayes and Delages. Largely influenced by Ettoire’s son, Jean Bugatti, the Bugatti 1939 Type 57 would be a high performance chassis built in large quantities that could still capture the exclusive market which was once occupied by the Type 41 Royale and Type 46/50 range.

As far as engineering was concerned, the Bugatti 1939 Type 57 was entirely new with the closest model being the Bugatti 1939 Type 49 single-cam car. The engine, displacing 3.3 litres, featured twin overhead camshafts, 90 degree inclined valves and central spark plugs which offered 35 more horsepower than the preceding model. Chassis arrangements included Rudge Witworth wire wheels, fifteen inch drum brakes and an uncluttered chassis having good strength. As with most Bugatti designs the Bugatti 1939 Type 57 was relatively simple in design, but the result of complicated craftsmanship.

Also complementing the Bugatti 1939 Type 57 was a entirely new transmission. It was integrally linked to the engine by means of a bell housing, unlike previous models that cast the engine and transmission as separate units.

After around 230 cars had been completed, several changes were made to the Bugatti 1939 Type 57 chassis. Produced from late 1936 onwards, these Series II cars featured upgrades which added to the comfort of the car. Most importantly the engine was changed from a solid mounting to a rubber mounting. Since the front of the chassis relied on the engine for rigidity, the rubber mounted cars needed extra reinforcements which made them heavier than the solid mounted cars. Subtle changes to the camshafts and engine timing were also made.

Nearing the end of 1938, all type 57s were built to Series III specification. The most important change was the inclusion of Lockheed design hydraulic brakes with twin master cylinders. Also aiding in the comfort of the car were Alliquant shock absorbers that replaced the de Rams 57S units or Hardford Friction Dampers.

A Roots type supercharger was introduced with the Type Bugatti 1939 57C. It was a relatively silent running unit that provided three to four pounds of boost pressure. This forced induction helped the engine reach 175 horsepower. Both the engine and chassis characteristics remained identical to that of the standard model.

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