Enduring mystery of those missing magical cars continues to baffle
The world’s most valuable car could be out there, somewhere … just waiting to be found
The Bugatti Type 57 SC is known in the trade as La Voiture Noire.
People have believed, at times, in pirate treasure maps. People have lost their way and their lives searching for the golden jungle city of Eldorado. People have searched for lost Nazi gold at the bottom of lakes when, in fact, it was in the vaults of Zurich banks all along. As a certain Dr Henry Jones jnr once taught his students: “Forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot.”
Except sometimes it does, or at least sometimes to tantalisingly, almost, nearly does.
The phenomenon of the “barn find” has become part of the lure of searching for valuable classic cars. The idea that someone, somewhere, parked up a gorgeous slice of motoring legend in the 1960s, covered it with a dust sheet, and promptly forgot about it. Decades later, some enterprising explorer peels back the dust sheet to find a car, dusty and tired, but now worth million. It sounds dizzyingly romantic, but it actually happens.
For instance, the actual dark green Ford Mustang used in the Steve McQueen film Bullitt was found mouldering in a scrap yard in Mexico. It sold at auction earlier this year for $3.7 million(€3.1 million). A 1968 Lamborghini Miura P400, the original supercar according to some, was found in a French barn along with, staggeringly, 80 (yes, eight zero) other classics. The Lambo sold at auction for €560,000. And French businessman Roger Baillon really did park up a collection of stunning sports cars in the 1960s, waiting in vain for him to build a car museum, a project that never blossomed. One of those cars was a Ferrari 250 GT SWB California (if you’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you know what that looks like) and it sold at auction for €16.3 million.
That, however, is chicken feed. There are classics out there, cars that we know of but which have disappeared, or been forgotten, which could be worth multiples of that figure.
Select Car Leasing in the UK has, kinda for fun but also as perhaps a sort of modern day pirate treasure map, drawn up a list of the greatest potential barn finds. And right at the top of that list is the Bugatti Type 57 SC.
Bugattis always draw in the bidders at auction, like whales to a shoal of krill. The sheer perfection of their styling, engineering and performance just seems to grow with every passing year. As does their value. Last month, a Bugatti Type 57 Atalante coupe, a car that possesses a heartbreaking beauty, sold at auction for more than €8 million.
According to Select Car, just four Type 57 coupes were built, and we know where three of them are right now. The fourth? That one is a proper mystery. Known in the trade as La Voiture Noire, this fourth Type 57 was originally built as a Bugatti test car, and registered to Jean Bugatti, son of the company founder and a great designer and engineer himself.
Allegedly, Ettore Bugatti, the man behind the badge, didn’t want such a glorious vehicle to fall into the hands of the Nazis (them again) and so hid it away when France was invaded in 1940. It’s still, possibly, out there somewhere, and the value is reckoned to be as high as €76 million if it’s ever found and brought to auction. That would, by quite some distance, make it the most valuable single car in the world.
According to Bugatti’s own historical record: “The Type 57’s body was spectacularly eye-catching and unique. Its standout design feature is the protruding dorsal seam, which runs like a razor-sharp fin vertically from the hinge in the split bonnet through to the rear end.”
The three remaining Atlantics are among the world’s most expensive and desirable classic cars. The whereabouts of Jean Bugatti’s personal La Voiture Noire are unknown – the automotive equivalent of the Amber Room. It is thought the car disappeared during the second World War, sent to a safe region before the German troops invaded Alsace. Its disappearance more than 80 years ago remains the biggest mystery in Bugatti’s fabled history. Today, La Voiture Noire lives on as a myth.”
While it’s very unlikely that you’ll stumble across €76 million worth of missing wartime Bugatti on your hiking holiday through the Jura mountains (and please, please don’t go poking your noses into random barns to try and finds it - the French authorities take the laws of trespass very seriously) just the knowledge that it’s out there at all brings out the inner Indiana Jones in us all.
There are others. Perhaps not as valuable as the Bugatti, but still the guts of a good Lotto win is the missing Ferrari 375MM. Built, as the MM bit hints, for use in the Mille Miglia road race, the 375 is one of the most beautiful Ferraris of all time. Or perhaps we should say they are 26 of the most beautiful Ferraris of all time, each with a subtly different body, from the 375MM Spider as raced by James “Gentleman Jim” Kimberly (who made his money from Kleenex tissues) to the Bergman Coupe commissioned by director Roberto Rossellini for his wife, actress Ingrid Bergman, if you think of a 1950s Ferrari racing car, you’re probably thinking of a 375MM.
Did we say that there were 26 of them? Well, there were – but one is unaccounted for. Chassis number 0378AM. Ferrari sold the now-missing car to Italian businessman Dr Enrico Wax, a car collector who chose to keep the car in his garage in Genoa rather than racing it like most of its counterparts. If it was indeed unraced, then it may just be on of the most original and unmolested Ferraris of all time. If it can be found, that is. No word of it, nor sighting seen, has been recorded since 1953. If Dr Wax was laying it down, like a fine wine to be carefully aged, then it is only his grandchildren, assuming they know of its whereabouts, who may benefit.
Finally, there’s the movie star. One presumes that kidnapping a big movie star would be a fraught business, because everyone might recognise them. Pinch Tom Cruise off the street (don’t try this at home) and wherever you hide him, someone’s going to clock his famous face.
So how on Earth has the Aston Martin DB5, as used in Goldfinger in 1964, managed to stay hidden for more than 20 years? Chassis number dp/216/1 was apparently stolen, in 1997, from an aircraft hanger in Florida, leaving behind no tripped alarms nor physical evidence other than a set of neat tyre tracks; 007 could hardly have pulled off a more audacious mission. And while there have been occasional rumoured sightings (including one report in 2018 that the car had been seen “somewhere in the Middle East”) it has not turned up since.
Aston Martin has since started making perfect (but not road-legal) recreations of that original bullet-proof DB5, which sell for more than €3 million apiece. Which is a bit of a bargain as if you could turn detective and track down that missing original, it could be worth as much as €11 million.
While it might be easier to play the Lotto from your couch, can anyone resist the lure of a little treasure-hunt?