Monday, July 18, 2011

Underwater automobiles

Ascona, Switzerland
(1st image)
A 1925 Bugatti Brescia Type 22 Roadster (here's one being driven by French racer René Dreyfus, who won the 1929 Grand Prix in one) was recovered from Lake Maggiore 2 summers ago after it had lain 150' underwater for almost 70 years. The best reconstruction of the car's history reveals that it had been purchased in 1930 by Georges Paiva of Paris. Swiss architect Max Schmuklerski bought the car a few years later from Paiva (or a later owner) and drove it in Switzerland for years without having paid import duties. When Schmuklerski moved from Ascona in 1936, he left the Bugatti behind. Local customs officers demanded that the new owner pay the duties, but by that time they exceeded the value of the car, so it was sunk in the nearby lake.
The race car (click here for a schematic drawing and here for more period photos) was rediscovered in 1967 and became a popular target for local divers. In 2009, the diving club raised the sunken car to raise money to fight youth violence after one of its members was attacked and died as a result. The Bugatti was lifted by crane before a sizable crowd of onlookers (video and photos here). It had deteriorated extensively, particularly on the right-hand side which had not lain buried in the silt. After its salvage (here is another photo from a Swiss newspaper), it was auctioned by Bonhams without being restored. Expected to bring in between $98,000 and $127,000, the car fetched $366,500 to fund the diving club's charity. The winning bid was placed by the Mullin Automotive Museum in California, where the Bugatti is now on display.

Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, U.S.A.

(2nd image)
When he was vacationing near Lake Winnipesaukee as a child, Connecticut IT specialist Brad Swain became intrigued when he heard a story about a car that had gone through the ice in the 1930s or 1940s. After he graduated from college and continued to spend part of every summer near the lake, the car was still on his mind. In 1981, he became a certified SCUBA diver, but his delayed attempt to locate the car in 1991 was unsuccessful. In 2002, research of the story led to the front page of the Granite State News for February 26, 1937. The article details the accident. Roy Thompson, 30, had been driving when the car broke through ice 12" to 14" thick on the way to a fishing house. Although he was known to be a good swimmer, he drowned, possibly weighted down by his heavy wool coat, and his body was recovered the following day. Thompson's passenger, 20-year-old Mary Sullivan, was rescued by nearby fishermen as she floated on a piece of ice. During another dive on August 23, 2004 - 67 years later - Swain was surprised: "Suddenly I found something dark looming in front of me, something with right angles. I came right up to the front of the car and was looking right at the radiator and headlights. My heart started pounding. I realized I had discovered what I'd been looking for all these years." The diver describes the car, identified as a 1930 Oldsmobile: "It is upright and sitting, slightly tilted front end down, in about 29' of water. The car still has some structure remaining but all of the top and the interior has rusted out. The two front headlights and radiator are in place. It is a 2-door Oldsmobile as identified by the radiator medallion and hubcaps. It has a 4 cylinder engine and spoke wheels" (see more photos here).

Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
(3rd image)
Off the coast of this island are
cars, trucks, and earth-moving equipment dating back as far as the 1940s. The vehicles were sunk just offshore in the 1960s to create an artificial reef. The Car Pile, as it is known, is in water 60' to 125' deep. In addition to coral- and sponge-covered wrecks, divers are likely to see spotted drum, turtles, angelfish, lobster, silversides, and - appropriately enough - trunkfish (to experience what it's like, take a dive).

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