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The Shah of Iran’s Bugatti

1939 Bugatti Type 57C Van Vooren Cabriolet

Tuesday 3 October 2006, by Sami BERJAOUI

As his first of three wives, Aryamehr Shah Pahlavi married Princess Fawzia, a daughter of the King Fouad and the sister of the King Farouk who ruled Egypt. The event happened in Cairo on March 14th, 1939. Since Iran had good relations with Egypt and most of the Western World, many countries sent presents for the wedding which included a royal airplane and several unique cars, but none of them were as beautiful as this Bugatti.


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Princess Fawzia
In 1948, after her divorce.

It was the French Government which commissioned the best talent within their country to provide a gift for the Shah’s wedding. To create one of most extravagant cars to come from their country France chose Van Vooren and Bugatti.

Using the flowing lines of Figoni et Falaschi as inspiration, Van Vooren worked upon chassis #57808, a low slung Bugatti Type 57C. Their result was a twin passenger cabriolet of substantial proportion and style. Unusual highlights introduced by Van Vooren included a very short windscreen which could be wound down into the bulkhead and a disappearing top which was concealed by a panel behind the interior.

Bugatti contributed a Type 57C chassis that came equipped with a supercharger. It helped the car produce an impressive 175 horsepower (130kW) from a 3245cc (198 cu in) engine.

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1939 Bugatti Type 57C Van Vooren Cabriolet
(Click to enlarge).

Until 1979, the Shah’s Bugatti stayed in the Royal Court of Iran. Afterwards, the Ayatollahs, who had nearly scraped the car, sold it at a very low price. The buyer had the Bugatti shipped to the USA and saved it in the process. At this point the car was heavily butchered to accommodate an Amercian V8 until shipped to England for a full rebuild by Rod Jolly Coach building and Louis Giron. After the restoration, the Shah’s Bugatti auctioned for $1,760,000 and has since changed owners several times.

The car currently has a good home at the Petersen Museum in California alongside some of the most important cars in world.

The Type 57

After decades of building and selling race cars, Bugatti decided to focus on a passenger car which would compete with the 1930s custom coachwork Delahayes and Delages. Largely influenced by Ettoire’s son, Jean Bugatti, the Type 57 would be a high performance chassis built in large quantities that could still capture the exclusive market which was once occupied by the Type 41 Royale and Type 46/50 range.

As far as engineering was concerned, the Type 57 was entirely new with the closest model being the Type 49 single-cam car. The engine, displacing 3.3 litres, featured twin overhead camshafts, 90 degree inclined valves and central spark plugs which offered 35 more horsepower than the preceding model. Chassis arrangements included Rudge Witworth wire wheels, fifteen inch drum brakes and an uncluttered chassis having good strength. As with most Bugatti designs the Type 57 was relatively simple in design, but the result of complicated craftsmanship.

Also complementing the Type 57 was a entirely new transmission. It was integrally linked to the engine by means of a bell housing, unlike previous models that cast the engine and transmission as separate units.

After around 230 cars had been completed, several changes were made to the Type 57 chassis. Produced from late 1936 onwards, these Series II cars featured upgrades which added to the comfort of the car. Most importantly the engine was changed from a solid mounting to a rubber mounting. Since the front of the chassis relied on the engine for rigidity, the rubber mounted cars needed extra reinforcements which made them heavier than the solid mounted cars. Subtle changes to the camshafts and engine timing were also made.

Nearing the end of 1938, all type 57s were built to Series III specification. The most important change was the inclusion of Lockheed design hydraulic brakes with twin master cylinders. Also aiding in the comfort of the car were Alliquant shock absorbers that replaced the de Rams 57S units or Hardford Friction Dampers.

A Roots type supercharger was introduced with the Type 57C. It was a relatively silent running unit that provided three to four pounds of boost pressure. This forced induction helped the engine reach 175 horsepower. Both the engine and chassis characteristics remained identical to that of the standard model.

Forum posts

  • I found this about the Shah’s Bugatti:

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    Shah’s Bugatti Model
    (Click to see the box)
  • I am afraid your info is not " quitte" right.Amongst other’s 57808 left the country in 1959 and arrived in the Netherlands in 1960.I was there on the car’s arrival. Jack Braam Ruben

    • I would say that shah of iran never give up any of his collection,not because i’m the shah’s fan,, but kings and shah never let their cars to be sold or taken away from their stables. you’re may be right as those cars you mentioned been sent away for service or resto process.just try to discover through google search his car collection till he exiled by the vulgars then the pessants came to govern iran like hungry dogs and started with all shah belongings to sell including cars. same happened in eygept and IRAQ. thank you

  • I am looking for fotos of Princess Fawzia during the occupation of Iran in 1940s.

  • I was the Shah of Iran’s service manager in charge of all the shah’s cars from 1969 thru 1972. I have never seen this car!

    • The fact that you never saw the Bugatti is no surprise as it left Iran in 1959. If you like I can produce the B/Sale from the Imperial Motor and hunting Dept. info@fineautomobiles.nl Sincerely.

      Jack Braam Ruben

    • I just wonder - I do not remember the car’s chassis number., but I have worked on the car that looked exactly like this one and its owner claimed it was Shah’s car. It was in a private collection near Pittsburgh and I rebuilt its engine. If camboxes still sport the old markings . it might have been redone since - I would recognise if they are of my "hand writing"....

    • hello mr McKinnon

      My name is Prince Sean A Bigdeli 2. My grandfather was a friend to Mohammad Reza Shahs Pahlavis father ,(Reza Shah Pahlavi ) and he also was in the royal palace often. what i wonder is if you have pics or something from your time in iran at that time , maybe you remember special thing or storys from that time that you whant to tell me. i am so glad if we start a contact in hotmail or some other web.

      My hotmail is Bigdelu@hotmail.com

      best regards

    • ok for the bugatti, but the shah was a true lover of exclusive cars. I know that he was in possession of maserati 5000 GT, Ferrari’s, Mercedes and Rolls-Royces, among others. Can you give me some infos about the cars he owned? # numbers, maque and type, colours and special specifications?

      Truely yours.

    • I remember Mr.Stern very well. I met him in Hershey for the first time, when he showed 57808 after restoration. Afterwards I visited him and exchanged 2 Landrovers for his Lotus Elite. The car was bought by Blackhawk and then went to Oscar Davis. It finally ended up at the Petersen Collection. One morning my father received a phone call from Teheran at that time. A friend found a Bugatti with a long,long bonnet. It belonged to the Shah .I still have the bill from the Imperial Garage and Hunting Dept. My father wired the money as we were hoping for the missing Royale. We were very disappointed when the car arrived in Rotterdam around 1960 with a GM Engine in it. He bought an original BugattiT57 Engine incl.Supercharger from Van Ramshorst in Amsterdam. Salim Bahary drove it around in Europe with his very beautifull and exotic girlfriend. I was 10 year’s of age but remember the car very well and the girlfriend even more. Happy days. info@fineautomobiles.nl ( Jack Braam Ruben )

    • Dear Mr. Mckinnon ;

      Hereby introducing myself as Borzou Sepasi , the journalist of classis vehicles in Iran during 10 years I am working for the famous and oldest Car Magazine named “ Machine Magazine” which you can check it under website : www.machinemag.com.

      For your information, It is about 11 years that I am working on my own book with subject of Royal vehicles of Shah of Iran ,I already have got good information about them in details and I have been searched many sources and found out about you .As I been informed you were the service manager of Royal garage of Shah so I would be so much appreciated to keep in touch with you on line and complete my data for finishing my book and increasing my knowledge in this regard.

      Many thanks to giving me this big opportunity to enable me get to know about your experience at that moment about Royal vehicles and I hope to get this chance to meet you one day soon as well .

      Here are my contact information :


      Mobile : 912 34 33 046

      I will be waiting to receive your email soon.

      Have a great weekend ,


      Borzou Sepasi (Mr.)

    • I am writing an article concerning the cars of the Shah and would like to communicate with you by email or telephone. would you be agreeable? Roger Thompson 615-202-8393 rogerthompson7 (skype) omni.mtheory@gmail.com

  • who paid for this beautiful and example of automitive excellence? the iranian people-and the american hostges in the 1970s. face it folks we created the iatollah. by pandoring to his excesses. worst of all- the animosities contiue today.

  • I have heard many stories re this car n actually went to Peterson mud. this past weekend to visit the car. The story I am trying to put my finger on is the validity that the car was sold for only $275.00!! This does not sound reasonable to me. Also the other mystery is who was the buyer n what is the situation w the GM motor. So the present motor is not original??? If so, does that diminish the present price? Any light shed on abv questions would b highly appreciated. Also where can I get more info re this particular car. I am Iranian as well as a huge antique car buff. Kindly respond to my email: elgak1@gmail.com thx in advance

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