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World's most expensive car is ready for a close-up

A 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, which reportedly sold for $30 million to $40 million this year, will be on display at an Oxnard auto museum starting next week. It's one of only three built.

August 04, 2010|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

It's just a used car sitting in an Oxnard office park, but it's got low, low mileage and a great paint job.

It's also the world's most expensive automobile, fetching a reported $30 million to $40 million at auction earlier this year.

The 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic — one of only three produced — is sleek, sensuous and the first big splash at the Mullin Automotive Museum, which is putting it on public display for about three months starting next Tuesday. Reservations are required and may be made at

Open only intermittently, the 4-month-old museum showcases the French Art Deco period in a building that once housed a collection of muscle cars and motorcycles owned by Otis Chandler, the late publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

Just who owns the Bugatti is a subject of conjecture among car aficionados. The sale in May by Gooding & Co., a Santa Monica auction house, was private. A spokesman for Peter Mullin, the insurance magnate behind the museum, has denied reports that he was the buyer.

The price wasn't publicly disclosed, but Katie Hellwig, a Gooding spokeswoman, confirmed it was greater than the previous record of $28 million paid for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO.

In any event, whoever bought the Bugatti paid roughly $14,000 a pound for a machine described as "sublime'" by Andrew Reilly, the museum's curator.

"I've seen thousands of cars and this is without a doubt the most spectacular," he said. Low-slung for aerodynamic efficiency, it was also the fastest car of its day, topping out at speeds of 125 mph.

Custom-built for a member of the Rothschild banking dynasty, the Bugatti has been through a number of owners. Most recently, it was owned by Dr. Peter Williamson, a Dartmouth neurologist who restored it and won Best of Show at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2003.

Williamson, an epilepsy expert who died in 2008, paid a record price when he bought the storied Bugatti in 1971. It was $59,000.

Since its restoration seven years ago, the Bugatti's odometer has tallied 668 miles, Reilly said.

"It was driven just yesterday," he said. "It's a fantastic, powerful machine."

On the other hand, it might not be a prudent choice for the motorist trying to save a buck.

It gets maybe 15 miles per gallon, Reilly said.

And that's premium.

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