Legendary Bugatti Type-41: Born wrong time, but 1 stone 2 birds
Born in the Great Depression, nevertheless Bugatti Type-41 won two outstanding reputations for it's unique charm.
It's called "Bugatti Royale", born for those blue-blooded. However, no imperial kinsmen has ever own one.
25 Bugatti Type-41s should be built. However, only 6 have come real. And they experienced different destinies each.
Bugatti built the Type-41, hoping to win a reputation once again. It turns out that Type-41 won 2 reputations for Bugatti - not only in automotive industry, but also in another aspect.
Type-41 "Royale", a real hero from Bugatti.
Talking about ultimate luxury vehicles, the French brand Bugatti is always recognized as a symbol of them. Dating back to that period. Type-41 suffers from a sluggish sales, but it is remembered till now. And then unexpectedly, it leads to Bugatti's success - as an express train manufacturer.
"Best for the best, also the most expensive", this motto guides Ettore Bugatti and his company in car manufacture. In 1926, the Bugatti Type-41 was born. Target consumers of the Type-41 were those blue-blooded of the European monarchy, this positioning also explains the origin of Type-41's alias, which is "Royale".
This "Royale" has got a 4293mm wheelbase, it's nearly the lenth of a Ford focus. Powered by an extraordinary 12.76 liter inline 8-cylinder engine which produces 300bhp at only 2000 rpm, this 3.2 tonne giant could reach a top speed of 200 km/h. It's got a three-speed manual gearbox. Definitely the best performance at that time. Not only the performance is ultimate, the price is also "ultimate", costing 660,000 franc.
Bugatti is expected to sell at least 25 Type-41s to his target consumers. In 1928, they announced: "Our loyal customer - Alfonso XIII of Spain will receive the first Type-41 this year." Until the poor Alfonso XIII was dethroned 3 years later, he was not lucky enough to see his Type-41.
The Great Depression that broke out in 1929 severely hit the production progress and sales of this ultimate car. The delivery of the first Type-41 was in fact realized in 1932. In the end, Bugatti only produced six "Royale", and only three were successfully sold. Ironically, none of the three buyers is a royal one!
Luckily, all the 6 Type-41s survived till today. They once got together at the Pebble Beach Concours d’légance. Their family photo is above.
The Bugatti family kept the three unsold "Royale". During World War II, the Bugattis tried their best to hide these three cars, freeing them from the ravages of war and the misfortunes of being requisitioned. However, to ease the financial difficulty after World War II, they sold two of the Type-41s to Briggs Cunnigham, an American racer and team owner.
Thanks to the popular Haute Couture culture of those years, all 6 Type-41s' shapes and interior styles are different from each other. A two-seat convertible "Armand Esders" model designed by Jean Bugatti with a chassis serial of 41.111 is the best known one. However, it is a pity that this beautiful two-seat convertible was transformed into a "Coupé de Ville" in 1938, with driver's seat convertible and passenger seat roofed. In 1999, Volkswagen bought this car for $ 20 million and handed it to Bugatti's collection.
Wagon Rapide, another Bugatti victory!
In addition to making the model even more rare, the Type-41's commercial failure has also dragged Bugatti into bankruptcy, leaving 23 sets for Type-41 engines that have been manufactured but nowhere to use. Ettore Bugatti thought of an old customer who would surely save Bugatti from the fire - the French government. However, in that economic situation, it was no way to sell luxury Bugatties to them. Finally they came up with a plan to build express trains.
In 1932, Bugatti started the manufacture of "Wagon Rapide, WR" , just for "fast"! Only nine months later, the WR prototype was rolled out at the Alsace factory in early 1933. This is a single-carriage train with an outstanding aerodynamic shape and a domineering design. This Bugatti, which can carry 48 passengers, installed 4 Type-41 engines, which output a total of 800 horsepower. It uses two sets of hydraulically-driven 4-axle bogies and ran 172 km/h! Bugatti became one of the world's earliest express train manufacturers.
This picture shows the timetable of Paris-Lyon Bugatti express, it takes only 5 hours single way. In May 1933, the French National Railways purchased the WR prototype from Bugatti for passenger transportation in Paris-Deauville, with an average speed of 116 km/h. In 1934, the National Railway Administration ordered another six single-carriage WRs. In October that year, a WR running in Le Mans-Connerré set a new record of 192 km/h! Later the record was pushed to 196 km/h!
WR's beautiful appearance, outstanding performance and good reliability have earned Bugatti a commercial success. Bugatti has also introduced more variants, including a single-section WL (Wagon Léger) equipped two Type-41 engines. Also they built trailers without power.
Perhaps it is destined to inherit Type-41's unfinished "Royale" mission, the Bugatti express serialized ZZy 24408 served as the presidential train for Albert Lebrun, last president of the Third Republic of France, during the inauguration of Cherbourg Coast Railway Station. This train is currently on display in Mulhouse, France.
One stone, two birds.
The Type-41 is a legend. It well demonstrated how high Bugatti could achieve in industry. Born with the Great Depression and the War after, nevertheless these tough ages were not able to vanish the beauty of Type-41. Type-41 helped Bugatti won two reputations, one in automotive industry, one in train history. Certainly it will be remembered forever.