August Thomassen was one of five children, born in Maastricht in 1923. His father was a pharmacist and his mother, of French origin, lived for painting, literature, music and culture. Thomassen’s father was one of the first people to drive an automobile in Maastricht and his eldest daughter the first woman to have a driver’s licence in the town! On Saturdays, young August was allowed to accompany his father in the car, delivering medications to the surrounding villages. The car was also a feature of their holidays, transporting the family to France. Automobiles held a real fascination for August and he made his first model of a car in wood when he was eight. It was a passion that never left him.
For decades, three Bugattis and a Citroën were in a former studio. Thomassen was worried that the vehicles would be stolen and had given access to the workshop with heavy sandbags. Now the doors were opened and the vehicles brought to light. All vehicles will be auctioned at Artcurial during the Rétromobile in Paris.
August was an unusual child who was always running off in search of an adventure. At the age of nine, he fell from a bridge and was in a coma for three weeks. Having also survived infantile paralysis and polio, he became the ‘enfant terrible’ of the family during his teenage years. While his brother and sisters went to university, August preferred to spend time with craftsmen, technicians and mechanics. Although his family forbade it, his fascination for speed and movement led him into cycle racing, in which he won many victories. His sisters kept his trophies out of sight in their bedrooms. His parents allowed him to leave school at 15 and join the famous Autoschool in Den Bosch. This was also when he first took up sculpture.
War broke out. His older brother was a leader in the resistance. One evening, while helping people cross the border, he was spotted by the Germans. Following a painful interrogation, he was deported to a labour camp in Germany, where the prisoners had to make bombs. To avoid collaborating, he deliberately cut his finger. One evening, he decided to make his escape in daring fashion, by clinging to the underneath of the freight train that passed through the camp. Dressed in prison clothes, the young August travelled through Hitler’s Germany, jumping on and off trains. Perpetually at risk of being shot, he finally reached the Netherlands alive, thanks to a sympathetic German train driver who kept quiet. Following a night spent in a coffin in a cemetery, he found his way back to his uncles Brand (of Brand beer) who agreed he could go and hide in their villa in Eijsden. During this period in hiding, he cultivated his second passion, sculpture. His involvement with the resistance led him to collaborate with the RAF in England until the end of the war.
After the war, he built a motorcycle from spare parts and travelled around Spain for five months. He spent three months studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid and the Prado, where he began to understand his destiny: to study the beauty of the human form through sculpture. On his return from Spain, was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Brussels, where he obtained his degree and won a first prize in portraiture. His first commission was for two sculptures three metres high for the ‘Liga’ biscuit factory. With his earnings he bought a piece of land in Belgium and built a studio where his future Bugatti T49 and T57, and the Citroën Trèfle, would reside for nearly 60 years.
Commissions of his typical psychological portraits of politicians, actors and businessmen took him to Geneva, where he bought his second Bugatti T57 from the Geneva chocolatier Pertuiset. His first Bugatti T49 had been acquired in the Vosges, Germigny, from two farm workers who had been using the car to transport potatoes ! In 1958, he married the lovely Renée Van Noorden, who from the start encouraged him to pursue his passions. Together they would have two daughters. Every day he played the violin to manage his hypersensitive and restless character.
In 1963, August Thomassen bought a site in the mountains in Haute Savoie : the land of his ancestors. He built his second studio there, and considered himself to be French for the rest of his life. It was here that he worked for years restoring his beloved Bugatti T40 to its original condition, working alongside Schneider, the former master craftsman at Gangloff. Around 1985, his bust of Ettore Bugatti was bought by the National Automobile Museum in Mulhouse, and remains there today. In 1987, his bronze bust of Yehudi Menuhin was unveiled by the famous violinist at the Menuhin School of Music in London. The bust of Lips, the founder of the National Automobile Museum of Holland was inaugurated in 1990.
His Bugattis inspired him by their pure forms and lines; their eternal beauty was priceless to him.
August Thomassen worked on his two passions, Bugattis and sculpture, in his studios in Belgium and Haute-Savoie, until illness prevented him at the age of 90
Bugatti Type 40, 1929
This car still has its original chassis and engine. The engine, number 633, was one of a series of twelve (numbers 632 to 643) assembled in December 1928, and the corresponding chassis for these engines were completed during January 1929.
An order was made by the garage Stand Auto of Paris on 5 December 1928, for chassis 40719, along with chassis 40716, 40717 and 40718, but the payment for these four orders of 31 025 francs each was later cancelled. However, the Bugatti sales register shows « 40719/633, 25 February 1929 » in the name of Stand Auto of Paris. This signified the date the chassis was delivered by the factory to the Parisian dealers, and so, even though the bill appears not to have been settled, the chassis was taken out of stock.
There is no other sign of the car until 11 November 1929 when it appears on a list of vehicles in storage at 15 rue du Débarcadère in Paris. Chassis 40719 and 40604 had just been brought back from Daste’s business, the Vanvooren coachbuilders in Courbevoie, but hadn’t been bodied. The original sales register also indicates, written in pen over the first mention of its delivery in pencil, on 25 February 1929 : « III Grand Prix Bugatti ». This refers to the chassis being one of the prizes for the « Third Bugatti Grand Prix », held on 1 June 1930, won for the second time in a row by Juan Zanelli.
The manufacturer provided prestigious prizes for this circuit race at Le Mans. There is nothing in the press about what prizes were offered for the 1930 event but in June 1929, at the Second Bugatti Grand Prix, the first prize was either 165 000 francs or a car of an equivalent value (a supercharged Type 35), the second prize was 60 000 francs or a Type 44 chassis, and the third prize was 36 000 francs or a Type 40 chassis. The winners could also choose a number of 1 000 franc cheques that could be used at Bugatti repair workshops
We must assume that chassis 40719, third prize in the 1930 GP, was turned down by its winner, Mlle Hellé Nice, and put up for sale again by the Bugatti factory. In effect, the Type 40 chassis remained part of Bugatti’s stock, and was subsequently sold as a new car to Victor Catteau, 8 bis rue François Cuvelle, in Douai, who registered it in his name on 6 August 1930 with the number 168 MB 4. The full company name was : «Victor Catteau Transports, coal, removals, road and rail, furniture storage».
It is likely that the car was bodied in the north of France, around Lille, but we have no confirmation of this. Its « milord » cabriolet body was of a high quality but didn’t have the stamp of a well-known Parisian coachbuilder. Victor Catteau used the Type 40, his only Bugatti, for some five years.
The car was sold in the spring of 1935 and registered in Paris on 9 April, with the number 6509 RJ 6. The second owner remains unknown, as the Seine police records for this period have been destroyed.
In 1937, the car changed hands again, acquired by Paul Bucher, an employee at the Bugatti factory who worked in Paris and Molsheim. His grandchildren have provided us with valuable information on the car, including a photograph, handwritten on the back « Bugatti Type 40, bought second-hand in Paris in 1937, departed for Holland in 1958 with unknown mileage. »
His grandchildren shared their memories of an unusual man : « Our grandfather was a truculent and independent character, who followed his own path. He worked at Bugatti on and off as a toolmaker. During the war, he was sent to Bordeaux by Bugatti. (…) He set up a repair workshop for butchers’ machinery. But his vines on the Molsheim hillside, the mirabelles, the making of Schnaps, fishing in the Bruche or the Rhine, the smoked eels and saucisson (he had his own smokehouse) were just as important to him as anything mechanical ! Our grandmother Lucie and her daughter Marlène hated getting into the Bugatti and were embarrassed about that « old banger » which was always breaking down…Grandfather set off on every journey with a box of tools. One day, they all went to see their son Jean-Paul in Luc-sur-Mer, where he was working as a chef. What a trek! The Bugatti broke down, and our grandmother said she never wanted to hear the car mentioned again ! »
And so in 1958, the cabriolet 40719 left Alsace for Holland, before taking up residence in Haute-Savoie. On 27 October 1972, the little brown landaulet was registered in the name of August Thomassen, at his second home in Haute-Savoie, with the number 950 PB 74. He used the car, after a first restoration in the 1960s, without making any notable modifications to it. It was repainted in blue and black, and Thomassen took part in various rallies in the Alps. This included a rally in Mont-Blanc in July 1984, when the car had a minor off which damaged the original body. As a consequence of this, August Thomassen decided to remove the coachwork and build a small four-seater torpedo body, a Grand Sport model. This remains unfinished to this day. At the time, he called on an ex-employee of the Gangloff Carrosserie, Albert Schneider, to help with this project. Schneider tracked down all the original plans, some of which will be passed on to the future owner, and the wooden body is perfectly constructed but not quite finished. The wooden framework has been built, and the wings and lights are in place. A large amount of original parts will come with the car. When the Type 40 was discovered, all the boxes of spare parts were taken with the car for the future owner.
Analysis of the components of the vehicle indicate that the original engine, number 630, is still fitted in the chassis, with the series number 40719 engraved on the engine crankcase. The original rear axle is numbered 630. This mechanically original Type 40 Grand Sport torpedo has only had two owners since 1937, Paul Bucher and August Thomassen. With such a pedigree, and the assurance that it was maintained by a mechanic from the factory between 1937 and 1958, this Type 40 will be highly desirable to all Bugatti enthusiasts. It is a wonderful project that has been largely completed.
1932 Paris Motor Show demonstration car
1932 Bugatti Type 49 Berline 2/4 portes Vanvooren
Chassis 49487 was finished in January 1932 and the coachwork was fitted several months later. It was the longer version, with a wheelbase of 3.22m. The engine (n°348), the first of 18 versions, was assembled at the factory in December 1931. The body was built by Vanvooren, in Courbevoie, as recorded in the Bugatti coachwork register : « The 2/4-door saloon coachwork by Vanvooren, Courbevoie, on chassis 49487, was billed to the factory on 7 June 1932, for the sum of 21,500 fr. » This body was number 2316 in the list of Vanvooren creations, and an identical car, chassis 49488, body 2317, left the workshop in Courbevoie on 27 June 1932.
Three months later, on 1 October 1932, the Vanvooren saloon 49487 was transported by road to the Motor Show at the Grand Palais, where it served as a demonstration car for the marque. Once back at the factory, it was used by Bugatti representatives during 1933 and 1934.
On 3 November 1933, the car was invoiced to an agent by the name of Dumont, based in Nantes, for the sum of 39 000 francs. We discover from an exchange of letters in February and March 1934 between the factory and the dealer in Niort, J-B Arnaud, that vehicle « Type 3-litre 300 ex-Dumont, chassis 49487 » required the engine to be dismantled in the Arnaud garage, put in a crate and transported to the workshop in Levallois. During February 1934, the chassis was cleaned and the engine re-fitted in the car. There is letter dated 5 March 1934, addressed to J-B Arnaud by the factory, concerning « The engine belonging to chassis 49487 ex-demonstration Mr Bouchard. » This tells us that having been bought by the agent Dumont in Nantes, it was used as a demonstration car by Mr Bouchard, a travelling Bugatti representative, and driven throughout the Charentes, Deux-Sèvres and Vendée departments.
The Bugatti was registered on 25 May 1935 with the number 9747 AF 3, in the name of “Baillier father and son, Coucy-les-Eppes, Aisne.” This was changed to Marcel Baillier on 28 May 1936. Marcel Baillier’s parents earned a good living, running a hotel and a business trading in grain and coal in Coucy-les-Eppes. Marcel Baillier enjoyed a comfortable life, studying law and living on the Boulevard St Germain in Paris. In 1935 he met Simone Beaudier, a pharmacy student, and they got married on 4 April 1936. Coming from the Parisian bourgeoisie, Simone Baillier could have found it difficult adapting to rural life in a small village in Aisne, a long way from her huge apartment on the avenue Henri Martin. However, the couple took over the family business and Simone Baillier founded the « Coopérative Agricole de Coucy les Eppes » which she continued to run until the age of 75. Marcel Baillier died in Courcy on 26 June 1992, and there is now a street named after him in the village.
Around 1955, Georges Ponsart re-registered the Bugatti in the new system, and it was given the number 333 CB 51. One of his daughters-in-law, who married in 1950, has confirmed that the Bugatti was used around this time before being sold to August Thomassen on 18 November 1957.
A current inspection of the vehicle has revealed that the mechanical elements of the car are totally original. The chassis plate, number « 49487-19cv » is original and has never been removed from the bulkhead. The engine case is engraved with chassis number 49487 and has the correct engine number « L 348 » on the front bracket. The bonnet, engraved with the engine number, and the rest of the bodywork are original. The four pillarless doors with vertical locking (Vanvooren pillarless patent), offer optimal access to the passenger compartment.
The dashboard features the large oval display, completely original, containing six gauges including a clock and speedometer, on a black background. The vehicle still has its two spare wheels on the wings and when it was discovered in Germigny in 1957, it still had its original bumpers. The two-tone yellow and black livery is likely to be the original choice of colours from when it was sold to Mr Baillier. The small owner’s brass plaque, engraved with « G.Ponsart. Germigny (Marne) » is still on the dashboard.
Owned by August Thomassen since 1960
1937 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet by Graber
This Bugatti Type 57 started life in January 1937, when chassis 57500 was fitted with engine 373, at the same time as seven other chassis of the same model. On 9 February 1937, chassis 57500 was the subject of an order by the Bugatti agent in Geneva, Jean Sechaud, and the build sheet states a planned delivery date of 12 February. For once, the factory kept to time, and the chassis was delivered on 15 February 1937.
It was transported, in all likelihood by road, from Molsheim to the coachbuilder Herman Graber, in Wichtrach, Switzerland. Between 1926 and 1940, Graber, a highly regarded coachbuilder, built some 751 bodies for the most prestigious marques, including Bentley, Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye, Duesenberg, Lagonda, Lancia, Maybach, Mercedes, Packard and Voisin.
Graber’s records indicate contract numbers (which possibly refer to the body numbers), starting with 300 in September 1934. And thus, car no. 300 was a 4-seater Bugatti cabriolet, chassis 57161, and the first of nine Bugatti 57 cabriolets built by Graber between 1934 and 1937. The others built in 1936 were chassis numbers 57394-57444-57448-57483 and in 1937, chassis 57446-57447-57500 and 57539. For these cabriolets, the reference numbers of the Graber bodies ranged between 300 for chassis 57161 to 372 for the final chassis 57539. These Graber Type 57s have all survived. Their bodies all differ in particular details. Chassis 57444-57448-57483-57446, in the order they were built, had a bonnet with three rows of three vertical louvers. The coachwork of chassis 57447 had five rows of five louvers placed at an angle, and 57500 was the only one to have five rows of vertical louvers. Moreover, the bodies of 57171-57394 and 57539 were unique in their design and styling.
The Graber register records that the first buyer of this elegant 57 cabriolet 57 was Raymond Barbey, CEO of the Banque Lombard-Odier between 1941 and 1973 and grandson of the banker Gustave Ador.
The archives of a collector, containing research on many of the fine cars circulating in Geneva during the 1940s, provides specific information on the car : « Bugatti registered GE 18787. Still in circulation in 1940. M. R. Barbey, authorised signatory in Chambesy. » We believe that Mr Barbey kept his Bugatti during the war and sold it afterwards. The Bugatti Register of H.G. Conway written in 1962 states that the banker only used his Bugatti during the summer, and that the car would have spent the period between 1939 – 1947 in the showroom of the Sechaud garage. However, the record for the 1940 entry appears to partially invalidate this, as the car was still in circulation at this point. Either way, the cabriolet was taken in by Jean Sechaud for a service, before being sold to the client and Bugatti enthusiast, George Pertuiset. The Swiss police archives state: « Bugatti type 57 châssis 57500, registration GE 31319 24 May 1951. Georges Pertuiset, born in 1883, Industrialist, 3 rue du Marché in Geneva. » At that time Mr. Pertuiset was the head of « G. Pertuiset, Biscuits Chocolats et Pains d’Epice », an established and thriving family business that sold confectionery all over the country.
There is a photograph of the Graber cabriolet with the registration GE 31319, in Jean Sechaud’s garage on rue du Stand, next to a Ferrari 195 Inter from 1950 or 1951, probably before the Geneva Motor Show. If this was the spring of 1951, it is possible the car had just been bought by Pertuiset. In 1954, according to H.G.Conway’s records, the Bugatti was serviced by Sechaud and, after nearly ten years of use by the biscuit maker from Geneva, it was sold on 3 December 1960. The new owner was a Dutch sculptor, August Thomassen, who was living at the Hôtel des Rives du Rhône in Vernier, an area of Geneva. Newly serviced prior to being bought, the vehicle was registered and given the number GE 1737.
Citroen 5 HP
André Citroën wanted to make the 5 HP a “real” car, not a simple cyclecar, but one able to meet the needs of those who could not afford a 10 HP. Well designed, economical and robust, the 5 HP quickly becomes very popular. Initially offered as a two-seater tourer, the range was extended to a cabriolet, then a three-seater tourer in the shape of a cloverleaf.
The car on offer has the most comfortable body, the cabriolet, since it is equipped with sliding side windows, protecting well from wind and weather. It joint the Thomassen collection decades ago and coexisted with the Bugatti 49 at the back of the garage. In apparently sound condition, the car has benefited from an old restoration, which has helped keeping it in exceptional condition. The many fine details gives this car a lot of charm, such as the hat net behind the bench, or the Radiax accessory radiator cap with built-in thermometer. A very complete car, with the exception of the clock, and in keeping with its original configuration, the car needs a mechanical overhaul to be able to get back on to the road, and will surely delight both driver and the astonished passersby.