It may the world's greatest replica construction.
Regardless of whether you want to purchase a modern Bugatti Centodieci or a classic Bugatti Type 57, your pockets and connections with the French marque need to be deep. In 2020, the five most expensive auctions for the entire year all consisted of Bugatti products. If you're in the market for such a collectible, this 1935 "Aerolithe" replica body will soon be going under the hammer at this year's Artcurial Sale Retromobile which will take place in Paris on March 18.
Why so much fuss over a replica? That's because this creation is a near-true rendition of the mysterious prototype coupe that went missing in the final days of World War II in 1939. This is not all too uncommon for Type 57 models. Just last year, a 57S resurfaced almost five decades after it had vanished behind the doors of a storage facility.
Initially, this prototype was named the Type 57 Coupe Special and was designed by Jean Bugatti to bear a futuristic shape that is inspired by the Art Deco aesthetic. However, its futuristic design earned it the nickname Aerolithe, an outdated synonym for meteorite.
Somewhat similar to the EB112 sedan which went up for sale a few months ago, this example that took to the stage was merely a design concept. Thus, it was not fitted with operational turn signals or windscreen wipers. To keep the design clean, the exhaust tailpipes were affixed under the bodywork. The curvy design was formed with a material called Elektron which is a combination of aluminum and magnesium. The benefit of this is that it is very light, but it has a tendency to be flammable and hard to work with.
Months after it first took to the stage, the car was taken to the London Motor Show before being completed into a factory production model that met the safety requirements at the time. Once completed in 1936, it was tested and found to be capable of almost 195 kph (121 mph). However, the Atlantic had already made the Aerolithe obsolete, so it disappeared. Much like the still missing Type 57 nicknamed La Voiture Noire, the truth about the design study's whereabouts is clouded. Some say it was buried to hide it from the Nazis while others claim it was stripped for parts. But it was never forgotten.
In 2008, sometime after its disappearance, the president of the World Monuments Fund, Christopher Ohrstrom, and David Grainger, a restoration specialist, sourced an original 57 chassis and put together a replica body to commemorate the missing coupe. Using key documentation and photography, the pair was able to shape a design that is as true to the original as possible.
The Aerolithe body replica benefits from an engine, transmission, and part of the running gear that is to the specification of the original model. Attention to detail was shown in the positioning of the bodywork down to the application of rivets at the central edge. The team even made use of the problematic Elektron material while the interior was fitted with a wooden dashboard and tubular seats upholstered in leather.
This project was such a success that in 2013, it was awarded the International Historical Car of the Year accolade by Octane magazine. While not an entirely original model, the Aerolithe is a symbol of how expert reconstruction can revive a historic car that has been missing for almost a century. As a result of its pristine condition and rich associated history, it is expected to sell for an estimated $1.7 million to $3.4 million. Not bad for a fake Bugatti.