The strange case of the Bugatti in the lake

The Retromobile Salon kicks off in Paris January 22, with an unusual lot at the centre of the prestigious car auction.

The auction's organizers are no strangers to delving into history, but amongst the classic cars and automotive memorabilia set to go under the hammer, Lot 250 has generated the most intrigue. A 1925 Bugatti Brescia Type 22 Roadster, which has lain at the murky bottom of Lake Maggiore for the past 70 years, has been raised from the depths and is expected to sell for €70,000 - €90,000.

Auctioneers Bonhams is unable to trace the exact history of the vehicle, although the remarkable preservation of the registration plates has helped. On April 11 1925, the brand new chassis ‘2461' was registered in Nancy, France, by Georges Paiva. Bonhams believes that in 1930, it was transferred to Paris and the ownership of Georges Nielly, who affixed a brass plate to the vehicle that still remains.

How and why the Bugatti made the 900 km journey from Paris to Ascona on the banks of Lake Maggiore is unknown. The most likely candidate as owner has emerged as Marco Schmuklerski, a Swiss architect who lived in Ascona between 1933 and 1936. Researchers believe that he may have studied at the Beaux Arts school in Paris, purchasing it from Nielly whilst in France, or bought it from a French tourist or client in Ascona. Either way, import duties were never paid; the story around Ascona holds that the taxes amounted to more than the Bugatti's value so it was dumped, unceremoniously, in Lake Maggiore when Schmuklerski left town.

After 73 years 52 meters underwater, Jens Boerlin and other members of Ascona's sub aqua club retrieved the wreckage on July 12 2009. Restoration, the creation of a replica, or public display are some of the most likely options for the new owner of the Roadster. For the winner of Lot 250, this year's Retromobile will certainly auction some fascinating history - along with a classic car.

Retromobile runs from January 22-31 at the Porte de Versailles in Paris.


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