The mysterious power of the Bugatti nameplate has over the years, led a significant number of individuals to part with often huge sums of money, often to little lasting effect. In addition, the carmaker’s legend comes freighted with tales of hubris, stark reversals of fortune, suicide and accidental death. It is therefore, with some caution that one ought to approach the fabled name so intrinsically linked with speed, glamour, elegance, indulgence, and the town of Molsheim, Alsace.
We therefore return to the unbodied Type 64 chassis and the stark dilemma it posed for new owner, Peter Mullin. Firstly, given that the chassis itself won a best in show award at Pebble Beach in 2013, it was considered the utmost vandalism to cover it with a body, especially so many years after its creation. But having convinced himself that it would be appropriate to do so, he was then faced with additional agonies over the possible execution.
The nub of the dilemma lay with which direction to take – to create a modern interpretation, or attempt to second-guess Jean Bugatti as to how he would have bodied the car had he not met his tragic fate in 1939. Mullin consulted with a variety of experts, including Stewart Reed, head of the transportation design faculty at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. A former automotive design professional, Reed had made a lengthy study of Art Deco design and would prove a valuable resource in better understanding Jean Bugatti’s design intentions.
It is of course impossible to truly know what Bugatti would have done with chassis 64002, but the single completed Type 64 from the period lent clues to how Bugatti-junior’s mind was working. Electing to proceed with an evolution of the Type 57 Atlantic and the aforementioned Type 64, Mullin, working with Reed, commissioned a small number of specially selected Art Center students to envisage Jean Bugatti’s lost masterpiece. A task that can best be compared to forensic science.
Both Mullin, Reed and the latter’s students were aided however by a number of documented design features Jean Bugatti was known to be working on with his technicians at Molsheim, amongst which were sketches made for roof-hinged Papillion (Butterfly) doors, a precursor to modern-era gullwing designs. These were alleged to have been tried on the completed Type 64 but abandoned for more conventional items. Also, Jean was known to have been working on aircraft design, so elements like the use of aluminium for the skin panels, exposed rivets and the use of acrylic for the daylight openings would reflect this.
Much of this could already be seen on the ultra-rare and impossibly collectable Type 57 SC Aerolithe/ Atlantic models, so it was envisioned that the Type 64 recreation would be those cars’ natural successor, taking its quintessence and subtly enhancing it. Given that the few Atlantics built were stylistically modified both by the factory (and by others) over their lifespans, this was hardly an act of heresy, but one car in particular, which had been destroyed in a collision with a train and rebuilt reflected a lot of Jean Bugatti’s latter thinking.
Mullin commissioned a local coachbuilder, Automotive Metal Shaping, who employed period-era metal forming techniques to shape the Type 64 recreation’s aluminium skin panels. Having taken computer measurements of the chassis, a mahogany body buck was created, with the body panels offered up and reshaped by hand to ensure the correct fit, very much as they might have been formed at the time.
One highly significant decision was that both chassis and body would be capable of being detached from one another – the intention being to display the body suspended three feet over the bare chassis. However, Mullin also wanted to ensure that they could be reunited in order to display the complete car at events, entailing a good deal of engineering head-scratching to allow for both states to be made possible. A further stipulation was for the body to remain unpainted and the cabin untrimmed – so that it could remain essentially what it is – a work in progress.
The result of this near-impossible task is a car of tremendous presence, beauty, craftmanship and charisma. As a homage to the stylistic muse of Jean Bugatti it’s practically flawless. But much as it might seem a little presumptuous to complete a piece of art left unfinished by a deceased auteur; be it music, film or painting, there is an element of futility to this exercise, because no matter how well executed (and this execution appears very good indeed), it is not what Jean Bugatti would have created, even if we can reasonably assume chassis 64002 was intended to receive an in-house body in the first place.
An integral part of every great artist’s iconography is that of the lost masterpiece. It exists powerfully in the aficionado’s imagination, its perfection dependant upon the impossibility of it ever being found. The Mullin Collection’s Type 64 therefore pops that bubble in the most tangible manner.
Because while on one level it is quite brilliant for what is, on the other, it remains unsatisfying for what it indisputably is not. Nevertheless, and despite where one sits on the subject, Peter Mullin’s vision, his dedication to authentic craft and plausibility in creative motive is both unquestionable and deeply laudable. As indeed is his marvellous collection.
The core problem lies it would seem within the body of evidence. There simply wasn’t enough of it to go round.
Sources: Autoweek/ Autoevolution/ Car