By on January 2, 2009

Yes, I’m a cynical bastard. I didn’t get where I am today– happily marooned on an island of incredulity– by taking what I’m told at face value. Now I know for a fact that there are shenanigans aplenty within the rarified world of high end automobile restoration, collecting and competing. Counterfeits, insurance scams, forgeries, kited checks, lies, deceit, deception, conspiracies by so-called experts– it’s like the fine art world only someone gets a prize at the end. So when I read of a “barn find” of 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, allegedly garaged by a surgeon since 1960, my BS detector went off. Now I’m not saying it is anything other than what the Reuters and The Daily Mail says it is: a rare and wonderful car owned by eccentric aviator/doctor stored in a Newcastle “lock up.” But the whole story seems somehow… pat. And there’s this: “The car was originally owned by the first president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club Earl Howe. ‘I have known of this Bugatti for a number of years and, like a select group of others, hadn’t dared divulge its whereabouts to anyone,’ James Knight, head of Bonhams’ motoring department, said in a statement. ‘It is absolutely one of the last great barn discoveries.'” So how can it be a “discovery” (a.k.a. barn find) if Knight already knew where it was? And square that with this: “Media reports said it could fetch up to six million pounds ($8.7 million) when it is auctioned at Bonhams‘ [emphasis added] Retromobile sale in Paris on February 7, which would make it the most expensive car to go under the hammer.” 

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42 Comments on “What’s Wrong with This Picture?...”

  • avatar

    They didn’t keep an ~$8million Bugatti under a tarp?

  • avatar

    Interesting pattern of “dust” around car.

  • avatar

    Official records identify the original owner as Piltdown Man.

  • avatar
    Point Given

    Strange how the dust in the garage seems only centred on and around the car while around the periphery it’s somewhat clean.

    In fact the shelves don’t look like a 80+ year old was neglecting them while neglecting a classic car.

    And the really suspicious part of my brain doesn’t like that bugatti sign between the lights. One of those I don’t like it but I don’t know why sort of things.

  • avatar

    Looks like a lame effort by some greedy heirs to hype the sale of the most prized piece of some dead guy’s car collection by adding some romantic flair to it.

  • avatar

    The tires remained inflated and unrotated all this time?

    My inner-tube based bike tires go “flat” over winter. Solid rubber gets hard, cracks and crumbles and modern tires can lose air just by looking at them wrong.

  • avatar

    Regardless of anything, the very existence of an additional Bugatti Type 57S Atalante is breathtaking and it deserves whatever stratospheric price it gets.

  • avatar

    Where does it say that that picture is of the car just after the door opened for the first time in 60 years?
    seeing as the tires have air in them, I am guessing the car has been touched, maybe even moved from the original garage spot.

  • avatar


    That’s the dust from sanding the fiberglass body panels smooth.

  • avatar

    It looks like something Detroit would have turned out circa 1932?

  • avatar

    Cool car, but what kind of MPG does it get and will we have to bailout the owner when he gets 50% of the restoration done and runs out of money?

  • avatar

    The wheels look rusted, pretty bad too.

  • avatar

    The first thing to go through my mind was the issue of the inflated tires too. But now that you guys mention it, the “dust” looks to me like someone took a bag of flower and tossed handfulls of it around and on top of the car.

    Yep, what a bullshit story.

  • avatar

    Nice fugazi Bugattis can definitely be made:

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    It’s hardly “the most expensive car” ever to be auctioned. A Bugatti Royale sold for $8.7 million I believe in the late ’80s, which would make it worth a helluva lot more than that now, and there have been other cars auctioned for higher values.

    I’m not sure exactly what is being suggested in TTAC’s invariably snarky way here. That it’s a replica? A rebodied Fiero? Or simply that it’s not a true “barn find” because a few people knew where Lord Howe’s car was parked? Patterns of dust, tires/tyres that aren’t flat, a “suspicious” Bugatti sign? I think the Bent & the Widest are, typically, going off on conspiracy-theory tangents, some of them obviously not even knowing what an Atalante is.

    Bonham’s is a totally legitimate, top-shelf auction house that would be dreadfully harmed by any evidence that it had been involved in a scam, and I suspect what they’re doing is simply hyping in every way possible the upcoming sale of a legitimate Bugatti, which is an auction house’s job.

  • avatar

    When I read about this earlier on BBC, I thought the contradictory nature of Knight’s quotes stood out. But who knows what their original context was. It just seemed like poor presentation putting the quotes so close together and in that order. But nothing more.

    Also BBC estimates the sale at $4.35 million (as does Daily Mail).

  • avatar

    Completely off-topic, but RF might appreciate that it was a local Rhode Island guy, Armand LaMontagne, who pulled off the absolute greatest antique furniture hoax ever, creating the 17th century Great Brewster Chair. He and a buddy tossed it into a Maine barn, where it was ‘stolen’ for a song by a semi-larcenous antique picker. Eventually, after the Ford Museum (see, it is about cars after all) acquired it, LaMontagne set the hook and revealed the hoax. There was much harrumphing in the antique business, but LaMontagne had never represented that the chair was anything other than what it looked like, a homely and uncomfortable place to park yourself. In fact, he wasn’t even around when the picker bought it.
    It took a lot of knowledge and work to fake a chair; I suspect it would be a herculean effort to fake a Bugatti to the point that it fool a serious auction house like Bonham’s. It’s not a matter of potential money either; if the chair had been real, with a provenance as possibly the oldest American made chair in existence, owned by an important early Puritan, it would be worth hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of dollars. New NDE testing techniques would make a similar hoax far more difficult today. Incidentally, the Ford Museum hung onto the chair and highlighted it; we apparently enjoy the discomfiture of the experts who were hornswoggled.

  • avatar

    Read the articles, or better yet go to the Bonham’s auction house’s site, where you can find the car’s full provenance. While the cute story no doubt helps promote the auction, saying that it’s bullshit is a little like the litigation over who really owned Phil Spector’s Shelby Daytona Coupe. Like the Spector Daytona Coupe (one of six made), the history of this 57s (one of 17 made, one of 15 extant) is fully documented. Few vehicles have the kind of documented provenance as this Bugatti or any Bugatti for the matter.

    The person who owned it was an OCD hoarder with no children. His nieces and nephews have been going through his belongings discarding the junk and saving what was valuable. There was a vintage Aston Martin that they’ve already sold and an E Type Jag that was too far gone to restore. There was also the original bill of sale from Ettore Bugatti (which you can see at the Bonham’s site). Anyone who knows an OCD hoarder knows that this is an entirely plausible story. I’ve tried cleaning my mother’s house and come across bags full of thirty year old junk mail as well as new-in-the-box toys that are worth hundreds of dollars. Hoarders often lose track of what they own and have little concept of true value. My mom has stuff she thinks is valuable but is really junk as well as things that she thinks are commonplace, like real glass seltzer siphon bottles, that are actually collectible. Hoarders save everything. It’s an anxiety disorder so rather than deal with the anxiety of possibly discarding something of value, they avoid that anxiety by not throwing anything out. It’s rather sad, but it also makes cleaning up their homes a daunting task. Because there are things of genuine worth, and because they tend to squirrel things away (it’s interesting that “squirrel” and “ferret” have opposite connotations – I suppose that’s the difference between rodents and weasels), you have to go through everything with a fine tooth comb. My mom bemoans that, or so she believes, her grandsons threw away a box full of jewelry when cleaning up after a flood. She had the jewelry stashed in a box of papers and thinks it’s perfectly normal to hide jewelry in trash.

    I suppose one can quibble if it’s a true barn find or not, but the fact that the head of Bonham’s motoring dept knew about it is no big deal. In the art world there are many valuable paintings whose provenance and ownership in private collections are known by experts but do not, if ever, surface at an auction. To the family it was a barn find. They had no idea it was there or what value it had.

    A few years ago Car and Driver ran an article about an unnamed American car collector who found one of Hitler’s armored Mercedes 540Ks, disassembled and buried in a few barns in the former USSR. Frankly I thought that recovering it and restoring it was akin to the folks who sell Jeffrey Dahmer artifacts, but the car was known to have been built and was found in a barn, so it’s a barn find.

    We should all only be so lucky to find an $8 million dollar car in a crazy relative’s garage.

    You can find a link to the description and provenance here:

    As for the idea that it’s some kind of fake or reproduction, most reputable auction houses try hard to avoid that kind of scandal.

  • avatar

    Obviously there was some, err, staging of this shot.

    That having been said, the only thing that I would care about is the authenticity of the car itself.

    The photo is just an attempt to separate a fool from some extra money.

    Given the current economy the buyer will likely be someone who is very wealthy, but not fooled for a second by a picture of this ilk.

    As to who knew it was there, just because you know, doesn’t mean you’re going to tell.

    I personally know of a very old gent who lives in a very ‘marginal’ neighborhood. His driveout basement garage contains a supercharged Cord, a Dusenberg, and a few other “trinkets”. A couple of my automotive friends have just been driving by and seen him outside washing the things, the same way I learned of him. None of us would ever float his exact location out to the wider world. That would just be beyond wrong. He will die owning those beautiful cars. I would never want to be the one who had the hustlers of the rarified collector world incessantly endeavoring to get him to part with one of his babies.

  • avatar


    I thought the same thing as you when I read the BBC article last night. The quote order totally misconstrued the article. Oh well! Who knows what the original context might have been like???

  • avatar

    re: hoarding

    In the summer of 1970 I was working my way thru college putting on roofing and siding. My buddy and I were putting a roof on a house owned by an eccentric old lady (probably my age today…). She had a contemporary car, the third car she owned, in the driveway in front of a two car garage that had newspaper covering all the windows. We stored stuff in the garage and saw her first two cars, a gorgeous pre-war Buick convertible and a ’54 Ford sedan. Each had about 30000 miles on the odo when she decided that was enough and parked them. She was very concerned that we not leave any holes in the roof for the squirrels to get in – she was, in her own words, squirrel crazy. As you might imagine, we had a lot of trouble keeping straight faces when she told us that….

  • avatar

    With the Bugatti sign hanging from the ceiling you think that the heirs might have had a clue as to the content thereunder.

  • avatar

    What’s Wrong with This Picture?
    Its not my Garage, very cool car.

    And yes, RF your being a bit cynical, I’m sure the family knew it was there but didn’t know the value, so I think it still counts as a Barn find.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I think the price target is the biggest problem. The identity and whereabouts of the Bug are probably too well documented for a fake to be successful.

    The price is likely to be a lot less.

    Here is a report of an auction of a 1938 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Coupe in 2006:
    This car was offered for sale at the 2006 Gooding & Company Auction held in Pebble Beach, Ca. … This car has had a 100-point restoration in 2005. … At auction, the car was sold for $682,000.

    Not only that but most of the things in this world are worth (in terms of a market price) half of what they were worth a year ago. Do you want to bet that Chris Evans couldn’t get anything near the $11M he paid for the ex-James Coburn 1961 Ferrari California Spyder last spring? I’ll take the under.

    More about the Bug:

    Article with more details and pictures about the Type 57S Bugatti

    Auction house web page with pictures

    Web page about Type 57S

    Wikipedia article

  • avatar
    allegro con moto-car

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with that picture. The late 30’s vintage Bugattis are works of art. Period, paragraph.

    And now, the question is if 17 where built and 15 are accounted for, then where are the other two missing Bugattis? How long before those two are found?

  • avatar

    I wish we could post pics…I have found a few barn finds, but no Bugattis alas. But they do turn up. The wierdest case I have seen, and I don’t know if the car is a rarity as I have only seen the grill, is in a relatively built up area of Toronto. The car has been in the shed so long that when they built a wall around the garden they didn’t leave room to drive the car out, just to open the doors and let some fresh air in. If they ever want to move the car they have to tear off the back of the shed.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Earl Howe was not a guy named Earl, his name was Francis Curzon, and his title was Earl Howe. For some reason, he did not get an “of” like all of the other Earls (e.g. “Duke of Earl”).

    @Stephan Wilkinson. $11M Ferrari linked above.

  • avatar

    This car is more than likely the real deal, but at least TTAC threw in some interesting speculation instead of just repeating the newswire reports verbatim. Some fakes have gone through major auction houses.

    As Ronnie Schreiber and porschespeed have alluded to, this is not very likely to be the last great barn find, there are a lot of people holding on to old treasures in secret garages instead of putting them to the market.

    It’s nice to know that there are old classics still in hiding, but it’s kind of sad that they are just gathering dust instead of being driven hard and put away wet.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    “Driven hard and put away wet” is the excuse used for the destruction of a variety of one-of-a-kind vehicles, most typically vintage and World War II aircraft (“Ya gotta hear ’em fly to appreciate ’em…”), and I find it a sad rationale for the “oops” that accompanies the crashing of an irreplaceable car or airplane. Some artifacts need to be left parked.

  • avatar

    no_slushbox: “…there are a lot of people holding on to old treasures in secret garages instead of putting them to the market.”One of the more (in)famous examples being the sole remaining 1968 Mustang from the movie Bullitt, supposedly rusting away in some barn while the owner obstinately refuses to take any sort of action to preserve (or at least document) one of the most famous movie vehicles in existance.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    Agreed: “Obviously there was some, err, staging of this shot….The photo is just an attempt to separate a fool from some extra money.”

    Bahaha. Yes, the Bugatti sign, and the undusted white cloth and objects with no footprints to the storage shelves. Legit Bugatti – what a fabulous story, but maybe photo-op set up.

    Was white powder poured over and around the car? Is the tire mark in the foreground from the car that is usually parked there? The likely auction price, a wild speculation. Good when TTAC takes a second look.

  • avatar

    allegro con moto-car :
    January 2nd, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    And now, the question is if 17 where built and 15 are accounted for, then where are the other two missing Bugattis? How long before those two are found?

    I don’t know, but I remember reading somewhere that Ettore buried some cars before leaving the factory. Pull out your metal detector and start combing the French countryside…

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    The auction price is hardly “wild speculation,” though I’m not entirely clear on whether the amount mentioned is a media estimate or Bonham’s judgment. If it’s the latter, cars such as this have a known value, based on previous sales, and Bonham’s doesn’t just pull a number out of its anus. If anything, they’ll veer toward low-balling the number; better that the car should sell for a number exceeding “their wildest dreams” than that it goes for half the publicized estimate.

    Of course there’s the question of how well the car will sell in the current economic climate, but the interesting thing is that the people who can spend this kind of money are far less impacted by what has happened to the market than are the people who might bid on a $200,000 matching-numbers musclecar or a half-million-dollar Ferrari. They also typically have _real_ money–factories, oil fields, conclomerates, companies–rather than the imaginary wealth amusingly called “investments.”

    There’s a 57SC–not “just” an S–selling in Phoenix in a couple of weeks, if you miss out on this one, though the supercharger that makes it an SC was added relatively recently, obviously not by Bugatti. By Harrah, in fact.

    I believe the missing two 57s were crashed.

  • avatar

    It does look like someone blew a bunch of gypsum dust (or whatever constitutes prop “dust”) over the car after it was pushed into the garage. This (in itself) doesn’t mean that the car isn’t a legit “find”, but calls the veracity of the perpetrator(s) into question.

    I remember a (Discovery Channel?) program about the “find” of an Auto Union racer that turned out to not be the “serial number” represented – which dropped its value considerably, and embarrassed the auction house as well.

  • avatar

    If anyone is interested in reading my article about the guy who restored Ralph Lauren’s Bugatti Atlantic, email me at [email protected], and I’ll email you a copy.

  • avatar

    Specific to the “most expensive car ever sold” statement, as several have noted there have been more valuable cars sold. Back in the 1990’s a Mercedes 300SLR (9 were built) was sold at auction for a little over $12m.

    While I can understand the skeptics who look at the photo and attempt to discredit the find, the fact remains that a very rare car has been found. The reports also state that this car is complete and restoration can be done without replacement parts, which in the restoration business is itself a rarity.

    Clearly the car was stored poorly but given the OCD nature of the man who owned it, this is not surprising. The car was sitting in the garage for almost 50 years so yeah the tires were probably reinflated and with as many people who surely inspected it I would expect the dust pattern to be the way that it is. Whatever, it’s a great find no matter how hokey the story is.

  • avatar

    What’s wrong with the picture? Someone needs to write “wash me” in the dirt with their finger, of course.

  • avatar

    I know someone that went to see this car in the metal. He said it had clearly been dismantled some time ago and has been hastily put back together just before it was “found”. And this was not in this barn either. It was done somewhere else and then it was moved here to be “found”. The dust was then artfully sprayed on the thing! So to anyone wanting to buy this car: it is not as it left the factory. And with cars of this vintage not having engine or chassis numbers who knows what was taken apart and what was put back together…

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Of course they had engine and chassis numbers.
    They just didn’t have VINs.

  • avatar

    There has been a lot of discussion about the value of this car. My day job is valuing and appraising very expensive works of art. One general (note the use of the word general) truth, is that the more owners that a work of art (read Bugatti) has had, the more it has been bastardized. A car that has been sitting in the garage for near on fifty years has less chance of being ‘improved’ or restored. If the car is an unaltered, unrestored item and relatively close to its original condition, with relatively few replacement parts then it is totally possible that this would sell for the highest price.

    Having said this, I do not get the dust pattern, where is the dust on the shelves?

  • avatar

    If ya’ll look at the camber of the front wheel, it would seem to strongly indicate that the car is up on blocks and not resting on its wheels. Thus, the tire is not inflated and could be closer to original.

    Just sayin’…

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    57s–and most other Bugattis–all had that substantial positive camber, so it’s not because it’s up on blocks.

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