As the Great Repression hit in the early 1930s Bugatti had to make efforts to cut costs for their hugely expensive cars. Before this point they had several chassis each dedicated to a different body style; the more versatileType 57 changed all this.
Jean Bugatti was put in charge of the design team with a brief to produce a smaller engine than the Type 50 which it replaced. The prototype featured a 2.8 litre straight 8 cylinder although by production it had been increased to 3.3 litres and was in use in the Type 59 racing car. The engine was equipped with designed with double overhead camshafts and in its original naturally aspirated form produced 135 bhp and a top speed of 95 mph. Drive was transmitted by gears rather than the chain of earlier cars. As was common with Bugatti cars the Type 57 featured ingenious innovations such as thermostatically controlled shutters that opened to provide cooling when the engine was hot.
Initially four Type 57 body types were available. Of these the two-door ‘Stelvio’ was a convertible. Unlike the other bodies the Bugatti Type 57 Stelvio had a body designed and built (with a few exceptions) by French coach-builder Gangloff. The Stelvio, Named after the Passo dello Stelvio pass in the Eastern Alps, was not only beautifully engineered but also one of the most stunning and elegant cars of its day.
Approximately 80 of the hand built Gangloff bodies were made and each is unique with design changes from one car to the next. Although there was a small bench seat in the rear it is so small and with such little leg room as to make it unusable.
The first cars were launched in 1934 but were soon joined in 1936 by the Type 57S. The “S” standing for “Surbaissé” (meaning lowered). The Type 57S improved much on the original car with the use of a lowered chassis. To make the lowering possible a dry-sump lubrication system was used and the rear axle was threaded through the rear frame rather than underneath.
The Type 57S was followed by the supercharged Bugatti Type 57SC and although only two of these were built many Type 57S owners returned their cars to the factory for the modification.
An open-top racing version, the Bugatti Type 57C was produced from 1937 through to 1940 and proved popular with several hundred cars built.