Back in 1935, Bugatti presented the Aerolithe at that year’s Earl’s Court Motor Show. It was based on the automaker’s Type 57 chassis but looked like no car that had come before. It was a strictly a design study, with its swoopy lines going on to inspire the legendary Atlantic cars.
The design wasn’t the only thing that was revolutionary about the Aerolithe, however. The car also featured a body made of magnesium, which meant it was even lighter than cars made from aluminum. Bugatti actually used an alloy known as Elektron for the Aerolithe, though 98 percent of the material was magnesium.
Sadly, the Aerolithe disappeared less than a year after it was presented. It’s possible it was destroyed during World War Two, though the more likely scenario is that Bugatti stripped it for parts. The design was a bit too radical for the automotive scene at the time. Even the later Atlantic cars weren’t big sellers, with just four created.
There’s a new Aerolithe, however, and it’s based on an original Bugatti Type 57 chassis. There’s also an original engine, a 3.3-liter inline-8 mated to a 4-speed and devoid of a supercharger.
The new Aerolithe is a replica built by a team of expert craftspeople at Guild of Automotive Restorers, a restoration company based in Bradford, Canada. Led by David Grainger, the team had to rely on nothing but old black and white photos, a painting (a godsend for identifying the color), and a handful of plans for a few components. They also had to learn how to bend and shape magnesium, which is no easy task.
Work on the car was completed in 2013, after which it’s sat mostly in museums. Grainger recently brought the car to Jay Leno’s Garage and was kind enough to let Jay Leno take it for a spin.
You have to remember that the Aerolithe was a design study and not a production car; that’s why Leno has such a hard time driving it. Did we mention that the brakes have no hydraulic assist? It might explain why Leno looks so flustered behind the wheel. That and the 100-plus-degree heat combined with zero ventilation.
This article was originally published by Motor Authority, an editorial partner of ClassicCars.com.