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Home » Creating the aluminium body – Update #2

Creating the aluminium body – Update #2

Sourcing a master craftsman to hand fabricate the aluminium Bugatti Type 57S Atlantic Coupe body was critical to the project. In 2018, Tom Andrews was introduced to Simon Tippins.

The Fabricator

Simon Tippins is a renowned, highly respected, and world-class fabricator here in New Zealand, and his career and experience are detailed on our ‘Meet the Team’ page.

But internationally, Simon is best known for his fabrication work on a 1938 Diamond T Texaco tanker restored between 2018 and 2023. His talent, passion, and master craftsmanship were showcased around the globe as he transformed the severely dented and rusted tanker back to its original form.

During that restoration, Simon battled with the heavy gauge steel and lead used during the initial construction of the tanker. In 2018, coincidentally, he also began working on the Bugatti Type 57S Atlantic Coupe body using material at the other end of the spectrum – lightweight aluminium.

Forming Aluminium

To understand Simon’s challenges as he worked with the aluminium, we searched online for information on the elements that make up this material and the production process.

The following site gives a good overview of the widely used metal that “doesn’t occur naturally” and “goes from ore to metal in three stages.”

Simon explained that the aluminium hardens as it is worked, so it has to be constantly annealed with a gas set to soften the material. To form and shrink the aluminium, Simon uses an older piece of equipment called a Pullmax, which has a reputation in the industry for its reliability and long service.

The Pullmax

Among Simon’s workshop machinery is a sheet-metal cutting and forming machine that he estimates is 50–60 years old. We understand these machines were produced as early as 1939 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and sold under the trade name ‘Pullmax”.

The vast range of work the Pullmax can undertake depends somewhat on the available attachments, machine size, and capacity. But, as detailed on the following site, “most Pullmax machines can undertake straight, circle, spiral, outer-circle and 4-way cutting, nibbling, slotting, louvring, punching, beading, joggling, edge bending, flanging, lock-forming and doing.

The Pullmax is an electric reciprocating machine. It uses two cutting tools / dies: the lower die remains fixed and stationary while the upper die penetrates the material part way through at a range of 1000 to 3000 strokes per minute. The speed and depth of the stroke are set up by the operator and are determined by the thickness and type of material being worked.

Simon shared several photos of his machine and the dies he used for the aluminium fabrication.

The two Pullmax dies.

The upper and lower dies that were used on the Pullmax.

The two Pullmax dies in place on the machine.

The dies locked in position on the machine.

A view of the Pullmax and dies.

A front view of the Pullmax.

Shrinking tires being used on the Pullmax.
The Pullmax in action.

The Pullmax in action.

The last two images show Simon using shrinking dies, which are instrumental in metal shaping. The dies put a V in the panel as the aluminium is pushed into the tool, and then the material is flattened out when the sheet is pulled out of the Pullmax.

This particular sheet of aluminium that was photographed went on to become a front guard headlight on the Bugatti Atlantic. More images to follow!

The Spare Wheel Well

Simon began the Bugatti Atlantic bodywork by creating the recessed spare wheel well in the boot/trunk area.

We suspect most fabricators would make this area out of three pieces: a circular base, a guillotined side strip, and a formed and rolled 90-degree panel, all of which would be welded together. But Simon Tippins is not like most fabricators. He challenged himself to create the entire wheel well out of one sheet of aluminium.

The one piece aluminium sheet being formed.

Simon began by shrinking the outer edge of the circular panel and hand-forming the basic shape.

The one piece aluminium sheet upside down with the centre base marked.

He marked the circumference of the circle on the underside of the panel to provide the exact dimensions of the wheel well.

Further shaping of the one piece aluminium sheet.
Further shaping of the one piece aluminium sheet.

Simon continued forming the sides to get closer to a 90-degree position.

The one piece aluminium sheet sitting on place in the boot / trunk.
The one piece aluminium sheet sitting in place on the boot / trunk.

Once the basic wheel well was formed, Simon sat the one-piece panel in position on the wooden frame.

The aluminium wheel well recessed in the boot / trunk.
The aluminium wheel well recessed in the boot / trunk.

After further fabrication, Simon fitted the aluminium panel into the recessed area of the trunk, thus finishing the formation stage of the spare wheel well. The next task for Simon was to complete all the finishing work to achieve a glass-like finish. We will publish the final photos of the wheel well as we follow the order of the build, but in the meantime, these images give a glimpse of Simon’s talent and capability.

Our thanks and appreciation to Simon for capturing these shots as we continue to share our Bugatti Type 57S Atlantic Coupe build journey.

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  1. Beautiful work – very satisfying to see the progress, reminds me of the craftsmen at the Morgan Car Factory – the care to detail is great!

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