The 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia that was fished out of Lake Maggiore after 73 years underwater sold for an astonishing $370,000, three times Bonhams’ pre-sale estimate. The bidding for the rusting hulk was brisk at the Rétromobile sale, with buyers vying over the phone as well as in the room.
The winning bidder was a representative of US Bugatti collector Peter Mullin. He intends to put it on display in its current condition in his new museum in California. The Mullin Automotive Museum is opening this year in Oxnard, after an extensive remodel of what used to be the Chandler Vintage Museum of Transportation and Wildlife. It will include all of Mullin’s 12 Bugattis, plus cars from the former Schlumpf collection with a particular focus on French Art Deco masterpieces.
The underbidder was another American collector, only he intended to restore it. He couldn’t compete with Peter Mullin, however, who instructed the European dealer representing him at the auction that there was no limit to what he would pay. As the representative put it “Bugatti is the first disease.”
Acting on [Mullin's] behalf, Dutch dealer Jack Braam Ruben said: “Anyone can buy a restored Brescia [Bugatti]… To us it is the ultimate sculpture, an automotive Dali or Monet, created by the world’s most fabulous automobile creator and completed by the greatest creator of all, mother nature.”
Hear, hear. The story — for decades thought to be a legend — of the Bugatti at the bottom of the lake is the reason it sold for as much as it did. Restoring it fully would make it just a rebuilt old car. Only 20% of it is useable, so why take a car with such a luscious history and make it look new when you’d have to start almost from the ground up? By the time the restoration was done, hardly anything would be left of the original.
Keeping it as is will be quite a preservation challenge. The conservators will have to walk a very thin line between keeping it from degenerating further without fixing its many problems.
The Drowned Bugatti will be in great company in the Mullin Automotive Museum. You can preview/drool over of some of the beauties that will be its roomies on the museum Flickr stream.