These three extremely rare Bugatti sports cars untouched since the 1950s and worth around a million GBP have been found in the dilapidated shed of an impoverished 95-year-old artist.
The remarkable discoveries were made in a long-neglected shed in the Liege area of Belgium, near the border with the Netherlands.
Sculptor August Thomassen, 95, and his family had kept the presence of the vintage Bugatti cars, as well as a 1920s Citroen, a secret for years.
He originally bought the cars in the 1950s, from farmers in France where he then lived, purely for their beautiful lines rather than to drive them.
One of the artist’s daughters, who declined to be named, said: “At a certain moment we were not even allowed to talk about it. Although their existence was known by real Bugatti fans.
“At the time there was an interest in Bugattis, but only for the racing cars, not for these. These were just scrapped. My father always said: ‘I rescued them from the scrapyard’. We did not see the cars for their financial value.”
Mr Thomassen was such a fan of the cars that he even made a portrait of car designer and company founder, Ettore Bugatti, which is currently on display in the Cite de l’Automobile car museum in the city of Mulhouse, eastern France.
The family did come to realise the value of the cars in recent decades but still declined to sell them despite living in impoverished conditions.
The daughter said: “We often had enthusiasts at our door who wanted to buy the cars. But my father refused to sell them. Even though as a family we barely had any money. You could honestly say that we were poor.”
The cars were kept hidden away in the locked shed, as the family could not even afford to insure them, and people interested in buying them were told they had “disappeared”.
The daughter added: “We just put sandbags in front of the shed to make it more difficult for anyone to remove the cars. We were in constant fear that someone would steal them.”
They finally agreed to sell the cars after finding traces of an attempted burglary last November and deciding they could no longer live with the risk of them being stolen.
The sale will be handled by Matthieu Lamoure, managing director of Paris-based Artcurial Motorcars, who said he was ecstatic when he first saw the cars in the barn.
He said: “Clearly, this is the stuff of dreams, and because it’s Bugatti, it’s even more magical.
“When I was a young adolescent, I never imagined finding such sleeping beauties hidden for years in incredibly well-conserved conditions. This is the thrill of a treasure hunt.”
The cars, which according to Lamoure have been untouched since the 1950s, will be auctioned on 8th February at the company’s 2019 Artcurial Paris Retromobile Sale.
The star of the show will be a 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet par Graber valued at between 400,000 and 600,000 EUR (between 360,000 and 540,000 GBP).
The vehicles also include a 1930 Bugatti Type 49 Limousine, thought to be worth up to 200,000 EUR (180,000 GBP), and a Bugatti Type 40, valued at up to 130,000 EUR (117,000 GBP).
A Citroen C3 Torpedo, which was also found in the shed, is expected to sell for a more modest 10,000 to 15,000 EUR (9,000 to 13,500 GBP).
It means that Mr Thomassen, who never really cared about money, could become a millionaire overnight.
His daughter said it did not matter who ended up buying the cars “as long as it is a car enthusiast and someone who sees the true beauty in them.”