Here is the beginning of the entry for this make in The Beaulieu Encyclopedia Of The Automobile:
“No make of car has earned such a charismatic reputation on such a small output (about 7,800) as ________. Noisy, firmly sprung, and challenging to drive, they have attracted a devoted following all over the world.”
OK…how about if I told you the company was founded in one country, saw its headquarters “move” to another country after World War I without actually moving and its founder wasn’t born in either country. Do you think you know the make? It’s Bugatti, but the original company and not the 1990s revival or the current entity that is a subsidiary of
Volkswagen, although that status is about to change. Bugatti Automobiles and the sports car operations of Rimac Automobili, a Croatian company, are merging with the transaction set to be finalized later this year. In the interest of fairness, though, the current curator of the Bugatti name has allowed for much of the history of the founding company to be displayed on its website. What would Ettore Bugatti, born in Milan, Italy just 20 years after the formation of modern Italy, have thought about the Internet?
After building powered tricycles for a German company, Bugatti built his first car in 1900 (or 1901, reports vary), but the company that, in a way, still bears his name was founded in 1909. In that year, and wanting to build his own vehicles, he rented a building previously used for making dyes at Molsheim in Alsace. In 1909, this was German territory and had been since 1871. After World War I, the defeated Germans were forced to return Alsace to the French from whom they had “won” the province in the Franco-Prussian War.
I am out of my depth in trying to write about Bugatti’s early automotive history and incredible success in racing. (Oh, the reference to an output of 7,800 is about the original company as the Beaulieu Encyclopedia was last published in 2000, just two years after
Volkswagen purchased the rights to the Bugatti name. Actual production did not begin until 2005.)
It is quite interesting to me that a Bugatti automobile that is so famous today is written about in Beaulieu under the heading, “La Royale, Ettore’s Greatest Folly.” Until researching the company I had no idea that only seven Royales were ever made (between 1927 and 1933) and, apparently, only three were sold. In the interest of accuracy, though, Ettore Bugatti only intended to build 25 Royales. From Motor Authority, a picture of a Bugatti Royale:
Yes, this is a large car. Its wheelbase–169 inches–is slightly longer than the total length of the 2009 BMW Z4 I owned. The Royale was 21 feet long and weighed 7,000 pounds. Its engine was a 12.8 liter/779 cubic-inch straight-eight. Yes, 12.8 liters/779 cubic inches.
Bugatti is also famous for making the Type 57, the last true production Bugatti from the original company. The 57 was intended as more of a grand tourer than pure sports car, but it was this model that gave Bugatti its only Le Mans wins, in 1937 and the “terminal” year of 1939. The death of Ettore’s son Jean and the outbreak of World War II that year ended development of the Type 57 successor, the Type 64, and ended the company as well, for all intents and purposes. 684 Type 57s were built, with most of them being the longer wheelbase cars (130 inches), but 42 were Type 57S and 57SCs. These had a 117-inch wheelbase and were designed to be sportier than the “base” 57s. The Type 57C and 57SC were supercharged. From Supercars.net a picture of the famous, and very valuable, Bugatti Type 57SC:
That’s a magnificent car and a prime example of why the company “has earned such a charismatic reputation on such a small output.”
As always, I welcome thoughtful comments. In addition, anyone with more knowledge of Bugatti than I have is welcome to chime in.
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PS, one of the first views of the day was from Monaco. I wonder if it’s from someone who owns a classic Bugatti.