Eyes widen when cars fetch six-figure prices at auction. Mouths drop when the bid reaches seven figures. Eight figures? Remarkable, and the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic is one of only a few cars that has achieved such value. The last one to head for auction was in 2010, as the world was just starting to recover from the global financial crisis, and it still managed to sell for more than $30 million.

Jay Leno explains what the fuss is all about in the latest episode of “Jay Leno's Garage.” The featured car is a Type 57SC Atlantic replica Leno has owned for 30 years. It has some authenticity, though, as it's based on a Bugatti chassis and powered by a Bugatti engine.

Bugatti only built four of the delightfully swoopy coupes between 1936 and 1938 and they remain the crown jewels of Bugatti production cars. The models came to life when Ettore Bugatti’s son, Jean, decided to modernize the company's vehicle lineup.

Rather than building many different models, Bugatti decided to develop one car with different variants. The Type 57 bore the Galibier sedan, Stelvio convertible, Ventoux two-door sedan, and Atalante coupe. By 1940, Bugatti ended production of the model after producing 800 cars.

However, the Type 57SC Atlantic was different. Jean developed the car from the Aérolith prototype built in 1935, and used aluminum for the body. The exterior also featured rivets, which recalled the Atlantic prototype made from aviation materials. Jean decided to name the coupe the Atlantic in honor of his friend, Jean Mermoz, who never returned from a South Atlantic aviation journey in 1936.

The unique design featured an impossibly long hood that hid a 197-hp 3.3-liter inline-6. By this time horse-drawn carriages had been replaced by the Ford Model T, but 197 hp was unimaginable. The coupe could also clock a top speed in excess of 125 mph.

Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

Of the four Bugatti 57SC Atlantics built, just three of these elegant models were sold to private customers. The first car (chassis no. 57374) was sold to British banker Victor Rothschild, and was the car that went to auction in 2010. The third car (chassis no. 57473) was delivered to Jacques Holzschuh of France. The car was later involved in a crash with a train that completely destroyed it, though it underwent a painstaking restoration, albeit with most of its parts being new. Despite modern technology and tools, the engine was lost. The fourth car (chassis no. 57591) was sold to R.B. Pope of Britain. Today, fashion designer Ralph Lauren owns it.

The second production model (chassis no. 57453) remains a mystery. The only example originally painted black, Jean Bugatti built the car for himself and lent it out to Bugatti racing drivers. Photos exist of the car for promotional materials, but there's not a single record of the car after 1938. Bugatti believes it could have been sold to one of Jean's racing friends. A more likely scenario, per the brand, is that the car was hidden as Germany invaded France during World War II. While it hasn't been found to this day, the car served as inspiration for a modern successor in the form of the one-off La Voiture Noire.

Click on the video above for more details about the Bugatti 57SC Atlantic in general and Leno's painstakingly built replica in particular.