by Simon Haldy
When we think of Switzerland, most will immediately think of chocolate, watches, precision and tax evasion. But did you know that during the golden era of the automobile numerous talented coachbuilders were active in this mountainous and austere country? Swiss coachbuilders are of course not as famous as their French, German or English colleagues, but you will see that some of their creations are really worth taking a closer look at. And then you will realize that you may have already seen Swiss coachbuilt cars before, without even having noticed. Many prestigious chassis such as Duesenberg, Isotta Fraschini, Bentley and Alfa Romeo have been clothed by Swiss craftsmen, but let’s focus on Bugatti in particular.
Gangloff was established in 1903 in Geneva by Georges Gangloff and became one of the most fashionable and famous of Swiss coachbuilders. The company produced bodies for Rolls-Royce, Delage, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Mercedes-Benz, Minerva and of course Bugatti.
In 1927 Georges Gangloff purchased Wiederkehr coachbuilding, a company based in Colmar, close to Molsheim. From then on Wiederkehr became known as Gangloff Colmar and became a kind of affiliated Bugatti coachbuilder. It is believed that they clothed about half of Bugatti’s production. The relations between Molsheim and Gangloff Colmar were so close that it is often very hard to tell which of the bodies are Molsheim designs and which are Gangloff’s.
In 1929 Georges Gangloff set up a new company in Bern, which specialized in building bodies for buses, trucks and which, from time to time, also imported products from the Colmar affiliate into Switzerland. This was for instance the case with the famous one-off Bugatti Type 57 (57764) drophead, a unique kind of Aravis cabriolet, which was shown at the 1939 Geneva Automobile Salon. This marvel later belonged to the Shakespeare collection (Illinois) and ended up in Fritz Schlumpf’s museum in 1963.
57764 is a very special Type 57, coachbuilt by Gangloff Colmar and sold through Gangloff Bern. It was owned by a carpet import company, also in Bern, called Ruckstuhl. This has caused confusion among today’s Bugattistes, since Ruckstuhl was also the name of a Swiss coachbuilding company, but there is no doubt that this 57 is one of Gangloff Colmar’s masterpieces.
From 1928 the parent company, Gangloff Geneva, coachbuilt very few Bugattis. Among them there were two very famous bodies: a Type 50 fixed head coupé, as well as a Type 57 coupé which once was part of the Dovaz collection. Both wear the badge Gangloff Geneva and have once been imported into Switzerland as unbodied chassis, which proves that they really have been coachbuilt in Geneva.
In 1936 Georges Gangloff sold his Geneva company to two of his associates.