When David Grainger, Bugatti expert and owner of The Guild of Automotive Restoration in Bradford, Ontario, Canada was commissioned to re-create one of the most famous pre-war European vehicles ever to exist, he was determined to take history to a new level and both Grainger, and his Bugatti Aerolithe Type 57, will again make history this October when the one-of-one handcrafted art deco vehicle is displayed on the field of one of the most historic spots in Atlanta – the original Fort McPherson Army base — now home to Tyler Perry Studios, and for 2019, the new home for the Atlanta Concours d’Elegance.
“With embellishment comes art,” said Grainger, referring to the magnificent artistry he and his team created during a seven-year process of building the all-new, yet period correct, Aerolithe. “We had the original chassis, #57104, along with the original 3.3-liter, 8-cylinder DOHC engine and its perfect rear axle,” continued Grainger. However the vehicle lacked a body and the team at the Guild had only 11 photographs to go on to create the same perfection of its original predecessor — one that had been shown at only one auto show in Paris in 1935, taken to one show and on one road test in the UK, never sold by the factory – and as legend states — never to be seen again.
According to Grainger, the Type 57 was the ‘car that started it all’ but became the greatest automotive mystery of all time. After it vanished, Bugatti used the prototype’s unique features as the pre-cursor to the legendary Atlantics, and European coachbuilders took on its styling cues and curves to update their own design direction — but nothing matched the exquisite beauty of Aerolithe’s sensual teardrop fenders and coupe and overall chassis design.
Grainger’s re-creation was built to perfection, utilizing the very same standards and coachbuilding techniques originally used in the 1930s. And thanks to Chris Ohrstrom, the very patient and exemplary patron of the project, Grainger was indeed able to move forward. “We were charged with the inability to use modern day technology, tools or materials such as carbon fiber, and instead relegated to what would have been the strongest material of that timeframe – magnesium,” said Grainger. Lightweight but increasingly hard to work with, magnesium was only one of the many challenges the project entailed noted Grainger. “We had to duplicate something you just can’t see – and that was the greatest challenge of all.”
With no modern processes or conveniences to be utilized, the Aerolithe project became a fastidious, research-driven venture and marked one of the most innovative re-creations by any restoration house or manufacturer to date. In addition to the bodywork, the artisan approach was incorporated into all phases of the interior, including the center-aligned Jaeger instrumentation panel, and the beautiful, yet remarkably simple green leather seats.
When approached by the Atlanta Concours to display, Grainger found a perfect fit based on the show’s reputation for innovative program elements and unique collections as well as a highly regarded team that for 2019 will include honorary judges Ed Gilbertson and Ken Gross.
Now in its fourth year, the Atlanta Concours gains increased global recognition with the showing of Aerolithe, which has been selectively displayed at world renown venues including Amelia Island; The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering; Kuwait Museum; and several prestigious art galleries. Additionally, to further promote the upcoming Atlanta event, Aerolithe and Grainger will be featured within a full segment on ‘Jay Leno’s Garage,’ where Jay became the first and only individual to ever drive the re-created model on the road.