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The Atlantic body frame and chassis

To get the Atlantic Coupe project underway, our initial areas of focus were the timber body frame and the Type 57S chassis.

Tom was very fortunate to be introduced to a talented craftsman in Germany in 2016 who could create the Atlantic body frame for us. The Bugatti Trust then provided the detailed information we needed to fabricate the chassis. The project had officially begun.


The Bugatti Atlantic Coupe Body Frame

Tom Andrews began researching and making international enquiries to locate a craftsman with the knowledge and expertise to create the wooden Atlantic body frame. The frame needed to be constructed with the same accuracy and precision that would have been used in 1936 at the Bugatti factory in Molsheim.

Through a fellow enthusiast in Germany, Tom was put in touch with Udolahr Von Joerges. Udolahr, known as Udo, is a master craftsman of Bugatti parts, including the timber body frames.

When Tom first visited Udo in 2016, there were two Atlantic coupe frames under construction at his workshop. These frames had been ordered by two different parties and were near completion. After seeing Udo’s incredible craftsmanship in person, Tom placed an order with him for the Bugatti Atlantic timber frame that we needed to build ‘La Voiture Noire’.


The Body Pattern

We are unsure of the exact number of Bugatti Atlantic coupe recreations built over the past 45 years but we estimate it to be between sixteen to eighteen. The majority of these were built by a Danish engineer, Erik Koux.

To replicate the iconic shape of the Bugatti Atlantic coupes, Erik Koux and his friend, Bo Andersen, got permission to study and measure the 4th Atlantic coupe built, no 57591. Known today as the Ralph Lauren car, the Atlantic Coupe at that time was owned by Barrie Price. Koux and Anderson spent an entire week in England in 1974 and came away with templates, measurements and numerous photographs of the 57591 body. Over the next several years they made a 1:1 scale wooden body.

Two views of the wooden Atlantic Coupe body in a patternmaker's shop.
“The wooden body in the patternmaker’s shop.”
Source – The Bugatti Revue

A second opportunity arose for Erik Koux to perfect his Atlantic recreations. He was permitted to photograph and study the 57591 car once again when it was stripped down in the US by Paul Russell in the late 1980s. Paul Russell and Co. at that time was carrying out a full restoration for the new owner, Ralph Lauren.

Erik Koux initially produced fibreglass bodies and made the first mould in 1980. In later years, he constructed period-correct aluminium bodies.

As a consequence of the pattern made by Koux and Anderson, all Bugatti Atlantic coupes built since 1980 appear to be based on the exact body style of the Ralph Lauren Atlantic coupe, no 57591.

For us to accurately build Jean Bugatti’s missing Atlantic Coupe 57453, we would have to modify the timber frame in several areas to replicate the aesthetics of the famous second Aero Coupe.


Udo’s Creation

The original Bugatti Atlantic body frames were constructed using European ash timber. Udo managed to source the same timber from a merchant based in Molsheim, the hometown of the Bugatti factory.

In early 2017, Tom received the following photos of the beautifully crafted body frame.

A side view of the European ash timber frame for the Atlantic coupe build.
A front view of the European ash timber frame for the Atlantic coupe build.
A rear view of the European ash timber frame for the Atlantic coupe build.
The completed European ash timber frame in Udo’s workshop in Germany.
Photos supplied by Udo Joerges.

Tom set about organising the transportation of the Bugatti timber frame from Germany to England where it was packed in a container and shipped back to New Zealand.

Only a few craftsmen have ever had access to the pattern – fortunately for us, Udo is one of them. Furthermore, Udo possesses an incredibly in-depth knowledge of the Bugatti Atlantic Coupe which is reflected in his attention to detail.

Our sincerest thanks to Udo Joerges for his world-class craftsmanship and the assistance he has subsequently given us over the build.


The Bugatti Type 57S Chassis

As Jean Bugatti worked on his more creative, sleek body designs, he needed the cars to sit lower to the ground. The Type 57 chassis had been in production since 1934 with a 130 inch wheelbase. Bugatti re-engineered this chassis to a shorter length of 117 inches and altered the rear suspension area so that the rear axle would pass through the frame instead of being positioned under it. He used another unique feature in the rear suspension of the Type 57 and Type 57S chassis – inverted quarter-elliptical leaf springs.

The lowered design resulted in less room for the engine so Bugatti incorporated a dry-sump lubrication system. After making all these modifications, Jean Bugatti achieved the stance he was after and named this chassis style the Type 57S, with the ‘S’ an abbreviation for ‘surbaissé’, meaning lowered.

From our research, we believe only 43 Type 57S Bugattis were ever produced (1936 – 1938) so the rarity of these cars made sourcing an original chassis an impossibility. The team took on the first challenge of the build – to construct a Bugatti Type 57S chassis.


The Chassis Blueprints

Having access to the chassis details and measurements was going to be imperative for us to build the chassis as per the original specifications. Fortunately, among the thousands of records held by the Bugatti Trust are the blueprints for the Type 57S chassis.

These priceless drawings are seldom supplied and only under very strict guidelines. They are not available publically.

Tom outlined the planned Atlantic Coupe build with the Bugatti Trust and was granted permission to obtain the blueprints in 2017. A full set was sent to the Classics Museum shortly afterwards.


Construction of the Type 57S Chassis Frame

The Type 57S frame was originally pressed as one piece in the Bugatti factory in Molsheim. As we were unable to replicate this style of construction, we reached out to the team at McLeod Sheetmetal Products Ltd in Hamilton who had a full-size power press. They pressed and rolled the Type 57S side rails, after which we cut the rear axle holes in the rails using the exact specifications detailed in the Bugatti blueprints.

Tom managed to obtain a cast front cross member from Erik Koux in France. This was one of the many parts Erik Koux reproduced from his measurements and templates taken from the original fourth Atlantic Coupe, no 57591. The cross member, unique to the Atlantic Coupe, was modified by Bugatti to account for the dry-sump system and the lowered position of the chassis.

Each of the remaining cross members was pressed and rolled, and again the holes were cut as per the original drawings.

As we had the Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux in the restoration workshop, we were able to use its original chassis as a point of reference. Despite the Type 57 frame being completely different from the Type 57S, we were able to study it and see how Bugatti had originally constructed and riveted the components on the chassis in the factory. Tom and Greg had carried out hot riveting in the past when restoring trucks and military vehicles so they were already very familiar with the process.

Alan Sharp, a local engineer and friend of the Classics Museum team, machined up corresponding dies for us, and then Tom and Greg hot riveted the cross members into place just as Bugatti had done in the factory.

A rear view of the chassis frame shows the holes cut in the side rails for the rear axle.
A rear view of the chassis frame shows the holes cut in the side rails for the rear axle.
Side view of the Atlantic chassis rails supported on stands
The Type 57S chassis rails outside the Classics Museum workshop.

The rails pictured above were placed on a purpose-built steel jig that had been constructed in the workshop before starting on the frame. The jig ensured the frame was accurate and true and enabled the cross members to be placed in the correct positions before permanently fixing them to the rails.

The Type 57S rails on the purpose built jig.
The Type 57S chassis on the purpose-built jig.

Once the chassis was complete, all the critical components were test-fitted to ensure accuracy.

The completed chassis with the timber frame in the background.
The completed chassis with the timber frame in the background.

As we placed the timber frame on the chassis and mocked up some tyres, we had our first glance at the Atlantic Coupe beginning to take shape.

Side view of the mocked up chassis with the Atlantic Coupe timber frame in place.
The mocked-up chassis with the Atlantic Coupe timber frame in place.

It was now time to pass the wooden frame on to Simon Tippins at Creative Metal Works to begin fabricating the aluminium body. We were all eagerly awaiting the creation of the first Atlantic Coupe panels…


References / Sources:

https://www.bugattirevue.com/revue39/erik.htm

https://www.bugattirevue.com/revue55/type57s.htm

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