Meet the Bugatti Type 101C Exner
Was this the last Bugatti that had elegance and sportiness in one?
Where is Bugatti now? Are they keeping the company’s tradition like Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Porsche…? Or have they decided to turn their head and forget about their past? It’s possible that Bugatti forgot about their history after VW bought them, but wasn’t there at least one person who could raise their hand and ask: “Why are we so obsessed with breaking speed records?”
Bugatti Type 101 Credit: Robb Report
I know that many of you will argue that Bugatti is special and is “the top of the range”, but that’s not the best argument out there. I already know that it’s exclusive…even the name “Bugatti” is bursting with exclusiveness. If you see that written on a can of beans, you would pay a 4-digit sum for those beans. And you would eat those beans with a golden spoon, while wearing a cylinder hat, 3-piece suit and talking in an aristocratic accent. Why? Because Bugatti is EXCLUSIVE! Or at least, it was.
Today, they are so preoccupied with making fast cars. I don’t mind that, of course; I would love to have a Chiron in my garage. But, what if I don’t want a Bugatti that’s going to take me from point A to point B fast? What if I want a Bugatti that’s going to let me enjoy the drive between the two points?
Ex-Nicolas Cage Bugatti 101 Antem. Credit: Supercars.net
Well then, I should get the Type 101. I’m kidding…I can’t get one. But I can dream, right? I mean, Nicolas Cage had one (a black and red T101C Antem); it was sold at an auction in 2015 for $616.000. So, if he used to have one, there's some hope for me too, right? No? Nevermind then. I'm actually more interested in the blue drop-top, called Ghia Exner Bugatti T101C Roadster. The gorgeous roadster is what you get when you combine 3 great names in car industry back in those days:
-Virgil Exner, one of the best car designers at the time; known for making finned “forward look” on 1950s Chryslers (his name came up in yesterday’s article about Mercer Cobra)
-Bugatti, a name so legendary that it doesn’t need further introduction
-Ghia, one of the most famous and best coachbuilders
Put these three together and you’ll get this blue car that will warm your heart. But before I talk about this car, let’s dig more history up.
101 Antem. Credit: RM Sotheby's
After WWII, Bugatti fell into a financial oblivion and was struggling in the 1950s. Ettore’s death in 1947 brought difficulties, as most of the money was split between the families of his two marriages. But, out of this financial mess, Bugatti’s glamour came up again. This was possible because both Ettore's families felt a sense of responsibility towards the designers, workers and everyone else who worked for “Le Patron”.
The two families settled their differences after four years, and the Molsheim factory opened its doors again in 1951. The soul was not lost, meaning that this company could once again carry its tradition. Under its new ownership, Bugatti released the Type 101. It was made by the general manager Pierre Marco with a help from Roland Bugatti (Ettore’s youngest child). This car was mostly based on the pre-war Type 57, and featured a 3.3-litre straight-8 engine producing 133hp and giving it a top speed of 144km/h (89 mph). Other features were a dual overhead camshaft and solid axle suspension.
Credit: RM Sotheby's
There was also a supercharged version, called T101C, which came with 200hp. Despite looking glamorous, this Bugatti wasn’t really a success, and that’s because of a thing called 'tax horsepower'. I’ll explain that term but, I’m warning you, it’s a bit boring.
You see, taxable horsepower was a system by which tax rates were charged by the power of your car. Not by ACTUAL power, though. There was a simple formula that was based on the diameter of a cylinder bore and number of cylinders put in the engine. Basically, the bigger the engine was, the higher the taxes were. Before WWII, France was the birthplace of many luxurious and powerful cars (Bugatti, Talbot-Lago, Delahaye, Delage).
But after WWII, the French government decided to put an end to this 'luxury car overload', so they imposed the tax horsepower regulations to encourage companies to make smaller engines with lower horsepower output. That destroyed these luxury car makers, since people started buying cars with smaller engines.
And now, we come back to the car. Only 7 were ever made, and all of them were different. However, the most special one was the blue roadster I mentioned in the beginning. Ghia wanted to thank Virgil Exner, and his son Virgil Jr., for helping them not only with the Type 101, but also with Duesenberg Revival cars.
And in 1961, in form of a payment, Ghia took the very last T101C (chassis number #101506) and gave it the mother of all coachbuilding redesigns. The chassis was shortened by 46cm so that the new steel body could fit perfectly. It took them 6 months to make this gorgeous 133hp one-off, which was presented in Turin in 1965.
The revival of 101C Exner at the 1965 Turin Motor Show. Credit: Auta5p
Sadly, this was the last PROPER Bugatti. The entire Type 101 range was an attempt to resurrect a dying name. But financing could not be arranged and there was not enough money to keep the company going. Virgil Exner owned the car until 1989. Since then, the car has been a part of Lyons Family car collection.
I wouldn't mind having this in my driveway. Credit: Fav Cars