Written by CHB’s mystery correspondent
About 40 years ago, when still a student I frequented the Saturday lunch of a group of jolly Bugatti enthusiasts. One of them told me how, in the early sixties, he had acquired his Bugatti T44 in France and that the owner had two. So, who knows, perhaps the other one might still be there, I thought.
The name of the village was not fully known, but with the World Atlas of Time Magazine, I figured out where this Bugatti might possibly be hiding.
The next summer, this was 1977, on a holiday trip, I stopped in the supposed village at around two in the afternoon, when everybody had dozed off to sleep. A small garage business in the main street was still open, and I walked in to ask if the good man knew if there was perhaps a Bugatti in the village? “Yes”, he said!
Dear me, could this really be true? “Drive down the main street a bit further and turn into a narrow dead end street on your left, and you will see the car in an open doorway”… incredible! I followed his instructions, and a couple of minutes later… I was standing face to face with a fully original first series Bugatti T57 Atalante, sitting on wooden tree-stumps, hidden under blankets. I was totally stupefied as I talked with the owner, who was a cattle-dealer who had his truck, his Citroen DS and Simca parked in the same garage.
The car had been sitting on blocks since 1951 or 1952, and had only been aired once in all those years! It really belonged to his wife, who kept yelling from the above bedroom “who is there…?”, being confined to her bed by years of arthritis… I never got to see her.
The Atalante had belonged to Meo Costantini during his employment as head of the Bugatti works racing team. It was chassis 57254.
Years of annual Christmas cards followed as well as several more visits in later years, but the Atalante was never for sale. When it eventually was, 20 years after my first encounter with 57254, I had tied up all my money in other cars and couldn’t buy it from the son of the deceased owners. It was taken to a local auction in 1998, and a year later it featured in a Christies auction at Pebble Beach, where I believe it remained unsold.
Surprisingly the present whereabouts of 57254 are unknown! So, here is your chance perhaps for a second turn for a barn find of 57254 – get all out there and don’t forget to do your homework first.
Beginning of last year there was a sequel to my story. The discovery of 57254 happened to be very near where Mr. Baillon had been hiding all his cars. If only I had questioned the cattle-dealer a bit more… Those were the days!
“The best story I have ever heard of and the reason why I carry the second name Atalante, a true honor! Goose bumps and watering eyes, this car could have been my sister… Not to mention the Baillon automobiles. How cruel can this world be! By the way, Hanssome man standing next to this Atalante dream. Thanks mum for capturing this very special moment!” – RAV