Corsica was a small coachbuilding company in London which between the wars offered exotic body styles on many high-grade chassis, built individually to orders from wealthy clients. The British coachbuilder bodied several Bugattis of which eight were built on the lowered and shortened T57S-chassis. Johan Buchner is an expert on Bugatti with a strong opinion. This is what he has to say about the eight individual T57S Corsicas:
Statement of Purpose.
Usually cars look best when clothed by coachbuilders of the same nationality. For the T57S that means Gangloff. For a Bentley, Gurney Nutting, a Mercedes-Benz, Sindelfingen and for the Duesenberg Models J and SJ, Murphy or Rollston. The only problem is that all five bodies created by Gangloff are ravishingly beautiful, making it impossible to write anything but paeans of praise. Which makes for boring writing, and reading.
By concentrating on the eight T57S bodies built by Corsica, I am hoping to achieve two things; firstly I hope to instill in you my enormous admiration for the flair of the coachbuilder, and, secondly, to celebrate the art of coach building itself. And to spice matters up to a nicety, two of the bodies are, well, crap. Two monstrosities, one of which, thank God, is no more, which came about as a direct result of the willful eccentricities of the original owners, serve as counterpoint to the beauty of the rest.
The histories of all eight are so well known, that I have been able to devote most of my time and effort to a comprehensive celebration of this most cosmopolitan of British coachbuilder’s work. Corsica bodied chassis’ from Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Delage, Invicta, Mercedes-Benz and, of course, Bugatti of which 57593 represent the zenith, 57601, the nadir. Someone once remarked, whilst talking about British Art: “My, how varied it is.” The same would seem to apply to their coachbuilders. Loving the British is easy; admiring them, compulsory, but liking them, on the other hand, requires just that little bit more effort. Well worth it though.
The T57S, like most Bugattis, serve but one purpose; to be beautiful. A rather arrogant statement wouldn’t you agree? I am unrepentant in my belief that the beauty of the coachwork is much, much more important than function. Some of the original owners, however, put function above form. Function more important than beauty? On a Bugatti? How odd.
Bugatti T57S chassis technical drawing
Corsica built two coupes, two 4-seater tourers and four open 2-seaters; they all survive but one of the coupe bodies is no more. This is essentially an appreciation of styling so allow me to group them according to the coachwork, starting with the coupes.
Let me stop bitching about the body for a moment and give you , dear reader, a brief history of 57601. Fitted originally with engine no. 42 the chassis seems to have been completed in 1936 but only sold in 1938. This is the second highest chassis number, so I suspect 601 was only fitted shortly before being sold. This might explain the low frame number of 15. The first owner was a Mr. Pearce-Jones of Oxshott and he ordered the car in 1938 through the British Bugatti agent situated on London’s Brixton Road, from where it was sent to Corsica to be fitted with the body once described by famed Bugattiste (and subsequent owner) Ronny Symondson as: “A fruitless attempt to copy the Atlantic” Quite. Registered on the 7th of June 1938 with the registration number J 222, 57601’s history until 1948 is unknown. The original owner’s life is also a bit of a mystery. He was one of the first members of the B.O.C. but it is not known if he ever owned any other Bugattis, or whether he kept the car until 1948 when it passed to Donald Campbell who, in turn, only kept it for a short while before passing it on to T.A.D Crook’s Crooks Motors Ltd. Garage in Caterham, Surrey.
He sold the car in 1949 to Dennis Dwyer who in turn passed it on to Daniel Richmond in 1952 who crashed it shortly afterwards. The remains were stored for a future rebuild but in 1964 the hanger caught fire and 57601 was severely damaged. The fire seems to have broken Mr. Richmond’s spirit and he gave the remains to Ronnie Symondson. I find this so very sad, imagine being so broken up about the loss of a car that one cannot even be bothered to try and sell it. Grief stricken he just turned his back and walked away, but by giving the car to Mr. Symondson he assured its survival, and for that we should all be grateful.
57601 after the crash, but before burning down.
A lot of credit must go to Mr. Symondson for respecting the wishes of Daniel Richmond by restoring this severely damaged car instead, of using it as a spares car for his other 57S, 57375. There are no questions about its originality; only by replacing all the damaged parts could this car be put back into working order. The alternative was to scrap it.
Wakefields and Sons, of Byfleet, Surrey constructed an aluminum over tube-frame coupe body in 1968. While the wings were “age appropriate” the body was quite modern looking and not particularly attractive, but remember, the original coachwork was gone and Ronnie Symondson was certainly entitled to body it any way he liked. I applaud his lack of sentimentality and he used this car extensively. I suspect that the performance must have been greatly improved due to the new body being much lighter than the steel original.
Dan Margulies was the next owner and he advertised 57601 in Thoroughbred & Classic Car in its August 1983 issue. Brian Classic bought it and while he was full of praise for the mechanical condition of the car but he just couldn’t live with the coachwork and it was he who had a rather attractive 2-seater roadster body constructed and fitted. Strongly influenced by the Col. Giles car, it incorporated many Corsica styling cues, this car is today owned by Oscar Davis. When entered in the Meadowbrook Concourse in 1997, it was not clearly explained that this body was new and a lot of people, including the judges, were confused about its provenance.
Coupe Number Two. 57602 Engine 43S
Getting back to 57602, the 42nd and last chassis sold to a client, completed her final factory road-test on the 19th of May 1938. It was allocated to C.W.P Hampton on May the 25th and delivered to him Jun the 3rd , then sent to Corsica who, after six weeks of work, handed it over to its first owner on July the 23Rd, in time to make the start of the Paris-Nice race on the 1st of July 1938. GPK 1 did not win, but neither was she disgraced by her performance. In 1946 Peter Hampton fitted a supercharger (ex 57804C) and sold her to Matthew Pryor in 1954, who in turn passed it onto John Shakespeare during the early sixties. It formed part of the collection of Bugattis he sold to the Schlumpf brothers, in whose collection she has resided ever since.
To conclude on a personal note; I remain intrigued by the management of the Schlumf collection. The brothers had most of their cars restored, but not well, and they did the weirdest thing with the prototype Type 28. When acquired, together with the rest of the factory collection, this was a chassis only, yet they saw fit to have a body constructed and fitted, making it impossible to see Ettore’s first straight eight. But the greatest mystery to me is the impression that relatively few of the citizens of France actually like the Schlumpf collection. I believe President Mitterand called it “madness.” I could be under a mistaken impression; perhaps someone can explain to me how this collection sits with French Bugatti enthusiasts? Surely indifference cannot be the reason? I am confused – both Versailles and the Louvre are fitting symbols for French culture and civilisation, but the greatest Bugatti shrine gives the appearance of neglect. What am I missing here?
Tourer Number One. 57503 Engine 16S
One thing, though; I have never seen a photo of either tourer with the hood in the raised position. I suspect the rear to be uncomfortably high to give a modicum of headroom for the rear seat passengers. The back seats are by necessity placed higher than the front seats due to the location of the rear axle, and I believe leg-room to be similarly compromised. Does it matter? No.
This chassis was delivered to Colonel Sorel, Bugatti’s London agent, on 29/01/1937 and sent to Corsica early in February to receive the second T75S body (the first was 57375) and the first touring body. The car was registered in the name of Sir Robert Ropner , County of Durham, with the registration number DUL 351. Which means they took less than a month to construct and finish the coachwork. Which is quick. Sir Robert owned the car till 1945 when he sold it to Rodney Clarke who promptly crashed it. How very careless. In 1946 H. H. Coglan acquired the remains and over the period of a year rebuilt the car before selling it to the memorably named K.G.A. Cock de Harlow in July 1953. Although the car seems to have been a little temperamental, he enjoyed it until 1969, when he sold it to Bill Turnbull who still has it. Nearing the end of a protracted restoration, Mr Turnbull has discovered a most intriguing anomaly. Instead of the normal 3.5 mm thickness, the chassis frame, with 16S engraved front left, is of 4mm thickness. I shall remain none the wiser, but perhaps a real historian can see to it that I am just a little better informed Any ideas?
From what I can gather, Mr Turnbull seems to have gone to great lengths to ensure restoration to exact original specification, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing DUL 351 being enjoyed by the man who has honoured this beautiful car with such sincere originality. She is well prepared for immortality.
Now if someone could just return her to original appearance, I can devote all my time to achieving world peace, and a cure for the common cold. But until such a glorious event takes place, you will simply have to do without.
Roadster Number One. 57375 Engine 3S
Now let me be clear, I am not prepared to state, as fact, that Mr Corner can walk on water, I merely suspect him of being able to do so. This man was responsible for collecting and restoring both a 1939 Mercedes Benz Silver Arrow and a 1938 Auto-Union Grand Prix racer. Both are now sold, but he chose to keep 57375 and today she remains a highly original car, just oozing an authentic patina of use. Sporting the most deliciously careworn appearance, I suspect this to be one of the most finely honed performers left. Looking at her engine compartment, with oil stains and many badges of use displayed so proudly, I am overcome with a feeling of great humility. A great man, who owns a great car, enjoys said car for what she can do, not what she looks like. And by doing this Neil Corner ensures that 57375 remains one of the few T57S’with a continuous race history. This sorry world of ours is made bearable by men imbued with the historical sensitivity of the Neil Corner’s of this world. The esteemed Mr. Corner is not the only one, but he is, however, one of very few. A precious few.
Roadster Number Two. 57491 Engine 8S
Oh dear. Today she both survives and resides in the collection of Spanish collector Senor Gonzales, or at least she did when Pierre-Yves Laugier first picked up a phone to the printers and posed the now immortal question: “Do you do books?” The last surviving gorgon T57S provides a salutary warning against cultural cross-pollination. To put it with merciless bluntness: Do not ask Corsica for a convertible Atalante; you go to Gangloff for that sort of thing, chassis 57533 jumps to mind. Now that is one elegant automobile; I wish she was painted her original metallic blue, two tone burgundy is so very Duesenburg, don’t you think?
T.A.S.O. Mathieson ordered 57491 during November of 1936. Delivered via Col Sorel to Corsica December 28, 1936, Mathieson received his new car on the 1st of March 1937. Used initially as a road car in 1938 her coachwork was removed and replaced with a lighter, cycle winged, racing roadster coachwork. After a not-terribly-successful period of racing, TASO decided to have the original body reinstated, and used her as a fast road car until shortly before the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. It was during this period that TASO tried to buy a T57S Tank ex-factory. Interestingly enough, Jean Bugatti turned down this order, sighting the mechanical problems the factory had to deal with following the sale of four T59’s to British racing drivers.
Following Armistice, TASO soon had 57491 providing singular duty as transport from one race circuit to the next. More often than not TASO would be accompanied by the beautiful Mila Parely, the woman he formed a union of love with that lasted the rest of their lives. When his racing career ended with an accident at the Caen Grand Prix, Mila immediately gave up her career as successful actress to nurse her husband back to health. It would be ten long years before TASO fully recovered, during which time his fortune was squandered by the very people appointed to guard it. During his later years he devoted himself to the history of automobile racing and authored several seminal works on the subject.
T.A.S.O. Matthieson may have been unlucky as far as his inherited fortune is concerned, but having Mila and racing as his two complimentary passions, I do not believe he ever considered his life as anything but extraordinarily blessed.
Meanwhile, 57491 moved to the collection of Scottish collector, James Farr during the year 1948. Mr. Farr used her so sparingly that the most of her recorded mileage of 65000 km. must have been accrued during her tenure with TASO. Branislav Sudjic (another Scottish collector) bought her in 1975, Andre Binda had her by 1978, then Nicolas Seydoux in 1985, before being acquired by Miguel Gonzales in 2000.
Now painted black with yellow side panels, this car’s proportions still bothers the heck out of me. The rear, both longer and uglier than an Atalante’s, looks obese and the window sill line is way too high, pulling the windscreen upwards with all the subtlety of a reverse bowel movement. As for the front wings, seen in isolation they are not that bad, they just don’t look like they belong with rest of the body – that’s all. Let us pray that, not only the present owner, but all subsequent guardians will think her to be the most beautiful creature on this earth, otherwise this little mistake may just end up following the fate of 57601 and be torched all the way to Kingdom Come. Oh dear.
Roadster Number Three. 57531 Engine 25S
By common consent, Malcolm Campbell’s roadster is considered to be just a touch more elegant than 57593, and I think that’s about right. Campbell’s car has a restrained elegance that the louche beauty of 57593 just plain do without. Complimentary to this, stands, as supreme achievement by the talented craftsmen of Corsica, the manner of their employing the very continental proportions of the chassis to so successfully beautify the British ideal of quiet good taste. The details at the front are deftly resolved, especially at the bottom of the radiator, and fitted with quite beautiful headlamps, while viewed from behind, the “English line”, which imbues her with such exquisitely rendered conservatism, may be clearly observed.
Malcolm Campbell, the first owner, took delivery of DYF 4 on the 22nd of April 1937, only to be returned to Col. Sorel a short time later, then sold as new, to R.E. Gardner Jr. for the sum of 865 Pounds during February of 1938. Mr. Gardner had a supercharger fitted and used her sparingly, yet enthusiastically, until 1951, when he decided to freshen her up with a full mechanical renovation. At the same time, Hauswald, the head mechanic at Bugatti’s Levallois garage before the war, fitted 57531 with a Cotal preselector gearbox. Mr. Gardner kept her for nearly forty years, a feat which ensures his place in the pantheon of the gods, before selling it to the iconic Mr. Neil Corner in 1976. Strangely enough, he sold her in 1979 to Tom Perkins. Not that Mr. Corner was without a T57S for long, in 1984 he acquired 57375.
Tom Perkins proved to be as careful a guardian to 57531 as he was to 57591. It was during his twenty year tenure that she received her second mechanical refurbishment, carefully performed by Phil Reilly during 1998. Everything was rebuilt, with the exception (and what an utterly brilliant exception it was) of the coachwork. While in the care of Mr. Price, 57531 remained one of only a handful of untouched original T57S.’ He went on to build one of the greatest collection of supercharged 1930’s sports cars, as well as writing a book on the subject, before he disbanded his collection, fearing that it was becoming what he has long criticized other collections for becoming; under-utilised. In my humble opinion, the ability to discern between collecting and hoarding is noble enough justification for the disbanding of such a treasure, but unfortunately it allowed them to fall into the hands of those whom history will remember for their avarice, and not for their service to the marque. At any rate, Tom Perkins did hang on to 57531 for much longer, only selling her to Arturo Keller in October 2002. She is still painted blue, which means she has not been restored yet. Burgundy paint, a cream coloured interior and chrome wire wheels will herald the completion of another merciless Arturo Keller restoration.
While we anxiously await her fate of doom, let us enjoy her as she has been for all her 70 years, blithely untouched by the passing of time. It shall not remain thus.
The 1998 Pebble Beach Car of the Show, 57593 is my favorite Corsica 57S, bar none. Sometimes I think it may just be even more awesome than La Atlantic. Maybe not the Williams car, but the Lauren one – certainly, especially now. Taken in isolation, there are some extremely unconvincing features on this car. The front end is messy, the rear is ghastly and the windscreen is just plain wrong, and yet, like Sophia Loren, the beauty is beyond compare. The story of 57593 is inextricably linked to John Mozart and since he restored the car slightly different to original, I initially allowed my prejudice against Bugatti collectors to get the better of me. In these days of politically correct fascism, prejudice is a precious thing that should be flown as proudly as a flag – a banner of protest against the worship of the lowest common denominator that have all but destroyed the concept of excellence.
But in a relatively short period of time I have received much information about Mr. Mozart and a great many, highly respected, Buggattisti holds this man in very high esteem. Was I wrong about him? Answer – Yes. Very wrong; in fact, he turns out to be a man greatly aware of the history of his cars. Winning at Pebble Beach is easy you know, just throw enough money at a coachbuilt classic and the thing’s done. However, winning at Pebble Beach without destroying the soul of the car, is another matter entirely.
While 57593 is less original in its finish than the 2003 winner 57473, it must be said that if John Mozart restored 57593 as close to original as Dr Williams did with his Atlantic, then he would have been laughed off the field at Pebble. It’s a judgment thing innit? And John Mozart has achieved the near impossible; he has improved a Bugatti without destroying its originality, and how he achieved this makes for a great story.
Chassis 57593 was originally bought by Col. Giles in 1938. His brother Eric designed the coachwork and Corsica did the construction. In 1939 57593 passed to Herman H Harjes who sold it in 1950 to W.A.L. Cook. During the mid 1950’s it crossed the Atlantic owned by A Erwin Goldschmidt and when he died in 1970 it went to Richard Paine who sold it to John Mozart in the mid 1980’s. The first time I became aware of John Mozart’s ownership of 57593 was when Classic and Sports Car, Nov.1998, p13, wrote about the “dismay” caused by the 1998 Pebble Beach Car of the Show’s “customized” condition. One of the few truly offensive articles by C&SC, it dutifully indulged the British Bugatti mafia’s rampant xenophobia. Allow me to quote from this piece of ill researched garbage entitled “Tears over crocodile Bugatti”:
I am a huge fan of Classic & Sports Car and Martin Buckley in particular, but Simon Taylor allowing his creation to be used by the B.O.C./Bugatti Trust to propagate their own brand of intolerance, still casts a long dark shadow over C&SC’s journalistic integrity. Their refusal to own up to this egregious lapse of judgment is made even more mystifying when seen against their recent offensively obsequious little hagiography of Ralph Lauren and his Alfa Romeo 8C2.9. M.M Spyder, restored to much better than new condition by the ever servile Paul Russell.
Now lets look at the car as it appears now. The chrome panels attached to the front of each of the rear wings links beautifully with the silver spear and the chrome wire wheels is a huge improvement on the original. The headlights are now both pointing in the same direction and the dark blue paint neatens up the messy front no end. Looking closely at the two winglets carrying the headlights one can still see the slight differences in shape as per original and those overly large indicators are also still there. This car may have been restored but its soul has been left intact. The dark paint also helps to hide that clumsy shut line around the boot and while it fits better now than it did originally, it still reveals its hand built origins. Would that the same could be said for EXK 6.
That interior: Let me ask you a question – Say you have a one-off Bugatti, worth millions, and you wish to win Pebble Beach for the second time; would you upholster it in mock crocodile as per original? Yep, didn’t think so. The new interior has been beautifully executed, and as for the crocodiles who so gallantly sacrificed their lives; As a citizen of South Africa I happen to feature on the menu of our overly large crocodile population, right under the course commonly referred to as ‘small rural child’. Bastards. And not many crocodiles ever make it to Pebble Beach, do they? It was a good death, you hear me, a good death. Again I digress, squeal about originality all you like, but the execution of the new interior is ravishing. “Nothing is too beautiful. Nothing is too expensive.” So sayeth Ettore Bugatti.
By the way, have you noticed that those who bemoan the fate of cars being “sacrificed” for Pebble Beach are all enthusiasts of historic racing? Crash a priceless Bugatti during a prestigious historic race meet, and the press calls you a hero for “using it as it was originally intended.” Exhibit it at Pebble and suddenly you are “destroying a precious original” Ah yes, there will always be a Bugatti Owners Club. Congratulations Mr. Mozart, GU 7’s true beauty was only revealed once you finished her in a manner befitting her lines, and she still has soul, still has her provenance and her dignity intact. A truly remarkable achievement.
I am so done.
28 January 2008
This article was originally written for www.bugattibuilder.com
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