1937 Bugatti T57 Ventoux Is One for the Mystery Books
Photography by David Marvier for Petrolicious
The story of the Bugatti automobile is a strange one: an Italian man, transplanted to France for the sake of engineering, partners first with an Italian count then a German automobile dealer and begins production of the period’s most highly engineered luxury and racing cars.
Ettore Bugatti was born in 1881 to a world-famous furniture and cabinetry maker. As a result, he was destined for engineering greatness from a very young age. Bugatti’s first car, a three-liter four-cylinder machine, won him awards from two different engineering societies, cemented his place in the world as an engineer. The man even wound up producing rail cars and airplane engines, which bankrolled most of Bugatti’s automotive and racing exploits.
From the beginning, Bugatti’s automobiles achieved racing success and have become legendary symbols of luxury and class for royalty, socialites, artists and athletes worldwide. Bugatti’s vehicles were the de facto choice if one wanted a fast, stylish car, but of course, what else would you expect from an engineering genius who was raised by a master craftsman and had a little brother who became a sculptor?
Although the original Bugatti plant closed in the years following Ettore’s death in 1947, the man’s zest for engineering lives on in the new technological marvels the company is producing under Volkswagen AG’s management.
Even so, there’s a sense of romance that’s missing in the new cars. Engineering was only half of Bugatti’s modus. The other half, the half that sculpted parts with care from the finest materials, is plainly obvious in this vehicle, the 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux.
This T57 features a naturally aspirated twin-cam straight-eight engine that produces 135 horsepower. With a top speed of over 90 mph available from the four-speed synchromesh manual gearbox, the Ventoux offered composed and comfortable speed in an era when most cars struggled to reach 70 mph.
The Ventoux was originally designed by Jean Bugatti, Ettore’s son, with a revolutionary independent front suspension, but Ettore strongly objected on grounds of principle and style; thus, the T57 has a more traditional, but more beautiful solid axle mounted at the front. In spite of its luxury and solidity, one should probably be careful when driving at top speed, as the early T57s had cable-actuated brakes. Ettore finally lost the argument when his beloved tradition was replaced with a hydraulic system in 1938.
While many Bugattis and other interwar luxury cars were available with one-off coachwork, this one is particularly interesting because it was actually designed by the factory. The Type 57 was offered in several body styles and configurations, the four- seat Ventoux striking the balance between the luxury of the Galibier sedan and Stelvio drophead coupe and the sportiness of the Atalante two-seater.
The Galibier and Stelvio were somewhat antique-looking for the era, but the Ventoux treaded brave new waters for Bugatti. Its steeply raked windshield and lovely fenders made the two-door coupe look sleek and modern, but it still held up Bugatti tradtions like the horseshoe grille and two-tone swage across the bonnet. The Ventoux’s balance between tradition and style made it the top seller for the Type 57 model line. However, popularity is relative when talking about a Bugatti, as less than 600 T57s were sold in its six-year production run.
Many of them remain on the road today; even so, photos are about as close as most people will get to witnessing one, a real shame. The Type 57 is regarded by some as the last French Bugatti and we think that it casts a subtly luxurious shadow. It saved Bugatti from the sales flop that was the Royale limousine and was the first Bug to really combine luxury and speed, with earlier cars being barely-civilized racing machines.
But above all of its practical talents and advantages, it was the perfect synthesis of Ettore’s right and left brain. Lovely to drive and even lovelier to behold, the Bugatti T57 Ventoux has truly earned its place in the world as a masterpiece of both engineering and art.