The automobile was not even thirty years old when racing had taken a firm hold on enthusiasts. Enzo Ferrari was driving his performance cars to championships all over the world and others wanted in on the action. Ettore Bugatti was one of these men and he decided to take on Ferrari in a very different way than the others. He initially started with smaller, lighter, and less powerful cars than the Ferrari racecars of the time. This allowed the cars to be more nimble on the track and even finish second behind Ferrari in the Grand Prix du Mans of 1911.
This major accomplishment gave Ettore Bugatti the supporters and money necessary to continue his small operation in Molsheim. He began to produce stronger competitors and won more races every year. By 1920, Bugatti had its own Grand Prix championship under its belt and was ready to expand the company into different areas.
Ettore was a very respected man and ran his company with an iron fist, Le Patron as he was known, acted as a member of the upper crust and often invited them for factory tours and extravagant meals. According to Bugatti lore, at one of these dinners a woman remarked, “Everyone knows you build the greatest racing cars in the world. But for a town carriage of real elegance, one must go to Rolls-Royce or Daimler, isn’t that so?” This statement must have enraged Ettore, whether he showed it or not to his guests, he knew this was true. His company had been one-dimensional for many years and it was time to take some risks in the public sector. What came next is one of the most revered luxury automobiles ever made, the Royale.
Hit the jump for more details on the Bugatti Royale.
One must realize that cars were built in a much different fashion during this time. Assembly lines cranking out one after another of the exact same car were few and far between and no luxury coachbuilder was doing things in this fashion. The celebrities and music stars of today buy Rolls-Royces and Maybachs as status symbols, but in the past these cars were hand-built for Kings and royalty of a country’s true elite.
Ettore designed a magnificent vehicle that stretched nearly 15’ long and sat on 24” wheels. The car was to be so exclusive that only 25 editions were planned and only 6 actually built. The great depression began at the beginning of production for the Royale. Nonetheless, Bugatti offered the car as a chassis-only setup, assuming that his clients would be able to pay for their own coachbuilder on top of the already high price. By the time you were done actually building your Bugatti Royale it would have cost $40,000 or half a million dollars today. Rolls was offering a fully built car from the factory for around $25,000.
Of the six cars built, Bugatti chose who would be allowed to buy the car. Being named Royale one would expect some royal monarch to be offered the car and the first was King Alphonso XIII of Spain. It took Bugatti four years before the first car was ready to be delivered and by that time Alphonso had already been deposed, this is the closest that a Royale car would come to being owned by royalty.
For the other cars built it is relatively hard to describe their complex lives in detail. We know that chassis number 41111 started life as a roadster and is today seen in Coupe de’Ville bodywork. This is also the car that won the 1966 Pebble beach Councours d’Elegance.
Chassis 41121- This car was built by a designer in Munich and sports a two-seat cabriolet setup. The car is displayed at the Henry Ford Museum.
Chassis 41131- This Royale was the Royale Park Ward Limousine. Built in London as a six-window model featuring one of the longest cabs on any of the cars, it has only had one body in its life. The car had several features not found on other Royale’s including side mount spare tires. This car is on display at the French Museum.
Ettore’s daughter L’Ebe owned chassis 41141- The Kellener Coach. Eventually it was sold to an American collector, and once again to a British collector for nearly $10 million. The Bugatti family had owned two of the cars and even stored one of them behind a false brick wall to avoid detection of it during the war.
Chassis 41150- This car has one of the most odd histories and body styles. It is known as the Berline de Voyage. It cabriolet/limousine bodywork is similar to that of the Coupe De’Ville which was owned by Ettore himself. It never made it to its intended owner and during the war was stored in the sewers of Paris. Undeterred by that disgusting fact, the car was sold to Tom Monaghan along with one of the others for a multi-million dollar price tag.
Engine and Chassis
To put it simply the engine of this car was huge. Displacing over 12-liters and weighing over 750 lbs, the straight eight was a force to be reckoned with. In the end, Bugatti actually sold more of these engines to French Railroad companies than Royale owners. Every part of the engine was on a grand scale and the two-piece crankshaft weighed 220 lbs. The SOHC straight eight put out around 200hp @1,700-2,000rpm allowing the big car to reach 100mph.
In order to support the large engine and overall weight of these land yachts, the chassis was a pressed steel unit that featured 10-inch cross-sections. Being delivered as a car without a body, the setup must have looked something like a freight car being delivered on top of a freight car. Much like trucks today, the suspension used semi-elliptical leaf spring to hand the weight. By having the leaf springs connected to the chassis loosely, it provided a type of independence that gave the car a better and more stable ride.
The transmission was a 3-speed unit that transmitted power all the way to the rear wheels through the flywheel underneath the passenger compartment. The length of travel was so long that the brakes for the car, drums integrated into the wheels, were operated by cables stretching from the front and rear axles into the cabin.
Royale Fit For A Royal
This car was stern departure from anything Bugatti had made in the past and thus it was not as important to him to create a drivers car. You were meant to be seen in this car, meant to show it to all your friends, not race around the French countryside. By designing a car so unique and rare, Ettore Bugatti had succeeded in eclipsing his rivals in terms of all-out luxury. Rolls Royce still remained the choice of royals like the monarchs of England, but today those cars are worth nowhere near the money that a Bugatti Royale demands. Even the 57c model, often revered as the most beautiful Bugatti, was derived from some of the ideas and lessons learned in the Type 41 Royale.
No Two Cars Alike
Legendary Straight 8 Engine
Rarely Go Up For Auction
Too Large To Drive Around Town
Could Buy 10 Veyron’s