THE UNKNOWN ATALANTE BARN FIND
My dad is a great story teller. He was always busy finding that hidden Bugatti. One of those chases was an Atalante. This is a precious story to me, because I am named after this Atalante for a special reason. More about that after my dad told you his story.
About 40 years ago, when still a student, I frequented the Saturday lunch of a group with 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 whereabouts of 57254 were unknown for quite some time, or at least to the Bugatti register.
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!
As you learned I was given my second name Atalante, because my dad had a dream and he was sadly not able to fulfill this dream. He found another way to have an Atalante. Down below you see a photo with my dad next to the Atalante in the barn, my mother took the photo's.
The Atalante made a come back to the world in 2016, at the prestigious concours Arts et Elégance Richard Mille in Chantilly. I went with my father to the concours, and as we were walking around, we soon noticed a very handsome black Atalante. As we were taking a good look at this stunner, my dad all of a sudden said "Isn't that the same licence plate as the Atalante I found in a barn back in 1977?". I checked the photo in my phone, and he was right. We were facing that same Atalante that I am named after. What a special moment! We did not recognize the car directly, because the color scheme had changed to complete black instead of the black-red combination.
We wanted to learn more about what happened after the Christies auction at Pebble Beach. After having had few owners in the States, the Atalante eventually was sold to a dealer in the south of France. He kept the car for a while and kept it out af sight. Since he also had another later Atalante, he wanted to sell this Atalante. For that reason he brought it to the concours, where he won a prize. We asked why the color scheme had been changed and showed him the old photo where the car was still black and red. He told us that the original color had always been black and that he wanted to return the car to its most original condition possible. During that process he found out that this Atalante was one of the earliest, a prototype of the model. It was great to see the Atalante finally in real life and to hear all this information.
Later on there was another concours, Concorso d'Eleganza at Vila d'Este. One of the auctions during this event was held by RM Sotheby’s, and one of their lots was ‘our’ Atalante. The car was sold for 3.024.000 Euros, premium included. It returned to France. I hope to see this great car more often, participating in rallies in France.