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By Bret Steffen, EAA Lifetime 870589
July 20, 2016 - The Bugatti Aerolithe (Type 57 Coupe Special) is breathtaking to behold, a true work of art. Visitors to the EAA AirVenture Museum have a unique opportunity for four short weeks to see a recreation of this amazing car sitting next to an equally remarkable aircraft, the Bugatti Model 100. Both the Model 100 and the original Type 57 were built during the 1930s by Bugatti, the company founded by Ettore Bugatti in 1909.
Ettore was behind the aircraft, working with designer Louis de Monge with the intention of competing against the Germans in the 1939 Deutsch de la Meurthe prize. Unfortunately, the aircraft wasn’t completed in time for the competition and never flew.
Jean, Ettore’s son was the mastermind behind the car. At just 23, he had taken over the running of the company’s factory in Molsheim after a labor dispute that had Ettore locked out. The car appeared in public just two times before it disappeared. Theories abound, but nobody knows what happened to the car. A handful of photographs and an artist’s rendering were all that was left.
David Grainger of the Guild of Automotive Restorers in Bradford, Ontario, has recreated the Aerolithe. Starting with the oldest Type 57 chassis and engine known to exist, the team at “The Guild” recreated the car one painstaking step at a time over a period of five years. Learning to shape and join the magnesium body panels was a particular challenge.
One of the things that makes this car so special is the attention to detail. The Dunlop tires have not been made for decades, so they had to be created by hand and permission obtained to use the Dunlop name acquired. The color was also a major detail the team wanted to get right; so they used analysis of the black and white photos and the colors on the artist’s rendering to come up with the mint green paint.
Seeing these two pieces of history together helps you appreciate the design and engineering genius that both generations of Bugattis possessed. Seeing them together will take you back to a time when design and engineering were married in the most gorgeous of ways.