Italian-born Ettore Bugatti had his first personal encounter with a petrol-engined tricycle in 1898; within a year the Milanese machine-shop apprentice had built his own tricycle with which he achieved a superb record in local races of eight wins from ten events. Thus encouraged, he moved from Italy to the De Dietrich company, based in German-held Alsace, and practically without a pause began to build cars under his own name. A Bugatti finished second in the 1911 French Grand Prix, and the same run of success continued after the end of the war in 1918.
In the period between the wars the racing Bugattis were practically invincible; the car which led to this domination was the Brescia, named after the racetrack at which it took the first four places in the Italian Voiturette Grand Prix of 1922. This was basically a prewar Type 13, but the four-cylinder 1368cc engine, with its single overhead camshaft, was replaced by the larger straight eight, which was based on Bugatti’s experience building aero engines for Duesenberg during the war years. Such was the domination of this car that it won over 1000 events in the period of one year, 1925-26, and a further 800 in 1927, as well as scoring five successive victories in the Targa Florio.
The race-car chassis was known as the Full Brescia, but there were longer touring chassis as well, known as Brescias Modifies; off the track the Bugatti name was by now associated with fast, luxurious tourers with a distinctly rakish appearance, low-slung swooping bodies crouched behind the famous Bugatti grille. This latter may have been simply based on a horseshoe, but it was also the same shape as the entrance arch to the Bugatti premises at Molsheim; it’s impossible to say which came first.
Perhaps Bugatti may have continued to make the same sort of race and sports car forever, but during that first decade of peace there came a string of luxurious sedans and closed tourers which are widely considered to be among the best of their kind ever made. Certainly not cheap, they became almost exclusively the transport of the exceedingly wealthy and were reputedly inspired by the visit to Bugatti of a wealthy English lady. She had complimented Le Patron on his racing and touring cars, but rather acidly observed that anyone wanting a motor car of great distinction must necessarily speak with Rolls-Royce.
This conversation is reputed to have taken place over the dinner table which Bugatti promptly left, heading directly to his drawing board to rectify the situation. The result was one of the most desirable cars ever built, the two-ton, 20-foot Bugatti Royale.
It appeared first in 1929, powered by a massive 12.7-liter straight-engine capable of hurling the huge car up to a maximum speed of 125mph at a time when the first short link in the Italian autostrada had been completed in 1923 and was still the only piece of freeway anywhere in Europe. The German autobahn network wasn’t started until 1935, so there was no road anywhere within driving reach where the Royale could approach anything like its maximum speed.
Minor concerns of that nature had little or nothing to do with the Royale’s raison d’être, however. It had been created simply to put Bugatti on the map as a manufacturer of the very best automobiles available, and had been named appropriately; the next step was to make sure that it retained a suitably high degree of exclusivity. In order to achieve this Bugatti refused to sell the Royale to simply anyone who could afford it, and reversed the traditional routine of car purchase. Instead of prospective buyers examining the car to see if it met their needs and would fulfil their requirements, Le Patron scrutinized his prospective clientele to make sure that they came up to the same high standard as his motorcar. Simply having enough cash or a title wasn’t good enough.
It was not a technique which encountered overwhelming success, however, and for several years not one Royale was sold. Eventually six were built and four sold, the other two being retained by members of the Bugatti family.
At the same time as he had reversed normal car-buying procedures, Bugatti had turned the tables on the lady who had spoken of Rolls-Royce in such glowing terms. Anyone with enough money could have one of those, but only the chosen few were privileged enough to be allowed to buy the incredibly expensive Royale. Understandably very few Royales were ever made, and still fewer survive today. Although practically every car museum has its Bugatti racer, and the Brescias come up in auctions of antique automobiles on a fairly regular basis, the Royale is just as sought after now as it was 50 years ago.
Standard coachwork was a four-door sedan sat behind a tremendously long hood; sweeping fenders, huge lamps and the Bugatti horseshoe topped it off. But the Royale also went to specialist coachbuilders, and the best example of their art is beyond doubt the Weinberger-built drophead model in the Henry Ford Museum at Dearborn; this is not only stupendously good looking, it is also a touch on the expensive side, even for a collectors’ item. The Museum recently decided to Americanize their collection and part with the Bugatti, but only at the right price; an offer of $1 million for the car was turned down.
The production life of the Royale was limited, being restricted to the 10 years between its introduction and the outbreak of World War II; it took two years of postwar court hearings for Ettore Bugatti to regain tenancy of his factory, and it was eventually restored to him in 1947. He died in his sleep the same evening, and there were no more Bugattis of any kind.
BENTLEY ALL CAR MODELS:-
Bugatti EB 110 SS Reviews
Bugatti Type 35 Reviews
Bugatti EB 16/4 Veyron Reviews