We’d put the Bugatti Atalante among the top five or six most beautiful cars ever made. It’s certainly one of the rarest and most valuable cars in the world. So if you want to buy this one, you’ll need to bring a fat wallet.

The Atalante was based on Bugatti’s Type 57 chassis – the top-of-the-range sporting model that was just as capable of contesting the 24 Hour of Le Mans as it was blasting across Europe to the owner’s holiday villa.

The Type 57 was designed by founder Ettore Bugatti’s son Jean – a brilliant engineer and test driver in his own right who died at the wheel of the T57 that had won Le Mans in 1939, aged just 30. Production of the Type 57 began in 1934 and lasted until Nazi occupation forced the Molsheim factory to close in 1940.

Power came from a 3,257cc straight-eight engine based on that of the Type 59 Grand Prix race car. Power was quoted at 135hp, giving a top speed of around 95mph – extremely fast at a time when much of Europe’s road network wasn’t actually paved. There was a supercharged version, too, that produced up to 200hp.

In 1935, Bugatti launched the Type 57S chassis – S for surbaisse, lowered in French – that was intended for more overtly sporting touring cars and out-and-out racers. The rear axle was repositioned to run through the chassis frame rather than under it, semi-independent suspension was installed at the front, and a dry sump lubrication system added to the engine.

Just 43 Type 57S chassis were built, 17 of which received the Atalante coupe bodywork of this example, chassis number 57551. But it’s even rarer still, being one of just four so-called low headlight versions. Unusually for the time, this body style was built in-house by Bugatti, rather than by an outside coachbuilder.

And it is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Dainty and elegant yet purposeful and aggressive. And one of the purest expressions of Art Deco ever to grace the roads.

It continues inside. There isn’t much of an interior, but every element is designed and made with same care and attention to detail as Faberge jewellery. It’s gorgeous to look at and must feel like a very special place to spend time.

Chassis 57551 was completed in the summer of 1937 and dispatched to its owner in Strasbourg. After World War Two passed through a number of French owner, along the way picking up some modifications to the windows and extra chrome.

In 1959 it crossed the Atlantic and found its way into possibly the greatest car collection of all time, the Harrah Collection owned by casino magnate Bill Harrah. Whilst there, 57551 was given a full restoration that returned the body to its original configuration and added a supercharger to the engine. In 1976 it won the greatest accolade in the classic car world, Best in Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

After Harrah’s death in 1978, the collection was dispersed and 57551 was snapped up by biotech entrepreneur Dr. Herbert Boyer. It later passed to the current owner who sent to RM Auto Restoration in 2013 for a thorough going-over. Though, as it turned out, the car was in excellent condition anyway.

Post-restoration, 57551 has taken a class win at Pebble Beach and been awared Best of Show at the Concours d’Elegance of America.

Inevitably, RM Sotheby’s doesn’t list a price for this private treaty sale. It’ll certainly cost the new owner a lot of money, but perhaps not quite as much as you might expect. The Type 57 Atalante prototype sold at auction a few years ago for around $3,000,000. This one having the T57S chassis arguably makes it more desirable, but even so we reckon a similar amount would secure it.

Click here for more information

By Graham King