The Bugatti Royale, a tale of excess, troubles and mysticism.

Only 6 Royales were ever built and all six still exist, we´ll dig into their story right here.

In the mid 1920´s Ettore Bugatti set out to build the best automobile in history, it was going to be the biggest, the most expensive, perhaps the most powerful, but definetly the most luxurious of the world and only destined for royalty, the name for this fine machine would be the Royale.

But not because you were royalty it meant you could have a Type 41 (the actual model of the car), no, Ettore Bugatti was quite selective about who bought his new creation, “Le Patron” (as he was called) refused to sell a Royale to King Zog of Albania because “the man’s table manners are beyond belief!”, this was at a time where no Type 41 had been sold yet, but more on that later.

The Bugatti Royale had an intended production of 25 vehicles, however, only 6 cars were ever made, I´ll explain them here:

The first, of these cars, obviously, was meant for Ettore Bugatti himself, however the tale of the first chassis is not as straightforward as you might think.

This is the chassis 41 100P from 1926, which funny enough, had a Packard bodywork and was called the Bugatti Royale Torpedo, that body was later replaced in 1928 by one designed by Bugatti themselves, this was the Coupé Fiacré , later that year the Type Bérline arrived and finally a bodywork made by Weyman.

The latter was the “final” one for that chassis, but in 1930 Ettore Bugatti fell asleep at the Wheel of his Royale and crashed, badly, nothing fatal happened, but the chassis and body had to be replaced to the one we have today, this is the Bugatti chassis 41 100 Coupé Napoleon, designed and built by Ettore´s son, Jean Bugatti, a true artist of his craft, a gifted driver and one who had a great understanding of engineering.

This brings us to the next car, the chassis 41150, also known as the Berline de voyage, that also featured a body by Bugatti.

It might sound strange to say “a bodywork by Bugatti” or “made by Weyman”, but this was the 1930´s and car construction at the time was a bit different to what it is now.

Nowadays we have something called the monocoque, this essencially means that body and chassis are one piece entirely, but in the early days of the motorcar these two were separate things, so much so that in many ocassions manufacturers like Bugatti only sold you the chassis and you would take it to a coachbuider who would then build you a bodywork, that´s why you would see a lot of cars that are the same make and model, but don´t look the same, which is the case with many Bugattis.

The next car of the bunch is perhaps the most beautiful of the Royales, the chassis 41 111 from 1932, also known as the Esders Coupé, this bodywork was the masterpiece of Jean Bugatti.

One distinct feauture of this car was the lack of headlights, this was because Armand Esders (the powerful industrialist who bought it and was also the first person ever to buy a Royale) said to Jean Bugatti that he wasn´t planning on driving his car during night time, therefore he didn´t need them.

However this body was not to last as the car was later acquired by french politician Raymond Patenôtre, who then took the car to Henri Binder and fitted a Coupé de Ville body style to the Royale, the car was later known simply as Coupé de ville Binder.

The car survived World War Two, it was sold a couple of times, fell to the possessiono of the Harrah collection and then a U.S. mayor and nowadays it is perhaps most famous for being the Bugatti owned by Volkwagen Group.

Then there is the 41 121, body by Weinberger, this one has one of the most interesting and more car-like story of all the Type 41s, it was purchased by a german Doctor by the name of Joseph Fuchs, who took the car to coach builder Ludwig Weinberger to make a cabriolet body around the Type 41 chassis, the good Doctor changed locations quite a few times during his ownership of the car, but always took his Bugatti with him, he was the second person ever to buy a Royale.

Which takes us to chassis 41 131, the Park Ward limousine, which, you guessed it was a limousine built by coachbuilder Park Ward, the car was bought by englishman Captain Cuthbert W. Foster and he was the final person to acquire a Bugatti Royale.

If you are a Top Gear fan you might have Heard the name Park Ward before, when James May brought his Rolls Royce (built by Park Ward) in a series of challenges against Jeremy Clarkson´s Mercedes 600 big.

Tha last Royale ever to be built was the 41 141, also known as the Kellner Car.

But hold on, if there was a 25 car production intended, why did Bugatti never made the other 19 cars?

Well, the answer is quite simple, Ettore Bugatti was decided to build the most luxurious and expensive car in the world , however the financial situation of the world decided otherwise, in 1928 the great depression hit and it hit hard, which made a big 700,000 dollar car (in today´s money) completely useless and the already small list of potential customers was reduced even further, so only 50% of all Royales ever built found an owner, that leaves the other half in the ownership of Bugatti and this is where things start to get a bit complicated.

In the 1930´s something quite worrying was happening in Europe, the rise of a Mr. Adolf Hitler and his political party, this brings us back to the chassis 41 151, the one acquired by German Doctor, Joseph Fuchs, who in the midst of the political tensions in germany headed to Italy and then, oddly, to Shanghai and he always brought the Royale with him and his family, as if the car was a member of the latter.

Eventually he, his family and the Royale arrived to New York in 1937, but this is where the car met a faithful destiny, Dr. Fuchs forgot to drain the water from the cooling sistem during winter, which caused the fluid to freeze, expand and crack the engine block, making it essencialy useless.

The car found it´s way to a scrapyard and somehow managed to never be brokem up for spares or metal for the war effort, between 1941 or 1943 GM engineer Charles Chayne became aware of the Royale and bought it for 400 dollars through the phone.

He restored the car, repainted it, fixed the engine, modified the looks of it (the Bugatti purists scream and cry over this) and then he used the Royale as his personal car for quite some time before donating it to the Henri Ford museum.

Many Bugatti purists give Charles Chayne quite a lot of grief for the aesthetic modifications he did to HIS car (now known as the Royale Victoria), but that´s why this example in particular has the most car-like story of all the Type 41s, it wasn´t bought to be tucked away in a museum, someone actually used it and took it all around the world with them, it became an old problematic car and then an enthusiast rescued it from oblivion and changed it to his liking.

So that´s one car down, we already explained the journey of the Esders Coupé, now Coupé Binder, so let´s explain what happened to the cars owned by Bugatti during the german invasion of France.

Many Bugattis met a faithful end when they were comandeered by the wehrmacht, who then destroyed the cars in order to obtain the bronze and aluminium so they could build cannons, guns and planes with them, many cars, beautiful cars were destroyed.

Ettore Bugatti was understandably worried about this and moved many Bugattis from place to place during the german invasion, around this time the famous “voiture noire”, Jean Bugattis personal car and the most sought after Bugatti ever, went missing and is said that Ettore knew where it was hidden, but took that secret to his grave, but that´s another story for some other time.

The Bugatti 41 100, the Coupé Napoleon was hidden in the catacombs throughout the entirety of the war, meanwhile the other unsold Bugatti, the 41 150 Berline de Voyage was hidden between the walls of the Bugatti family home, as well as the Kellner car to avoid them from being taken by the german military.

After the war the cars were retrieved from their hidding spots , but in the 1950´s the Bugatti family found themselves in financial difficulties and were forced to sell the Royales for not much money, the Berline de Voyage and the Kellner Car were bought by U.S. racer Briggs Cunningham.

However only the Kellner found itself on Cunningham´s museum, where it remained until 1987 when the museum closed, when it was sold to a private swedish collector and then changed owners a couple of times before being in the hands of a -presumably- Swiss collector.

The Berline de Voyage was sold to the Harrah collection upon arrival on the U.S. and then sold to a real estate developer Jerry Moore and after a year Domino´s Pizza founder, Tom Monaghan, bought it.

This car later ended up in the Blackhawk collection and it made the headlines once again when it was sold earlier this year at an unknown record setting price to an unknown buyer, but it is said it was sold for over 22 million dollars, which was the previous record for a pre-war car.

So those are two cars that L'Ébé Bugatti (Ettore´s daughter) sold due to financial troubles, that leaves the Coupé Napoleon, which was sold to excentric textile tycoons Hans and Fritz Schlumpf for their -perhaps- excesive collection, the two brothers also bought the Royale Park Ward, which had been sold by it´s first owner to british Bugatti dealer Jack Lemon Burton and later to U.S. collector John Shakespeare, who after financial troubles sold it to the before mentioned Schlumpf brothers, who had the ambition of acquiring every single Bugatti ever made.

But their ambition and perhaps obsession is what eventually forced them to abandon their collection which later became the Cité de l´Automobile, which has the biggest gathering of Bugattis in the entire world, but then again, that´s a story for a different time.

This has been a short story of the most exclusive cars in the world, only six ever built and amazingly despite all the odds, the full production of cars still exists to this day, the wherabouts of some are very well known, while some of them aren´t and most of them will probably never drive ever again.

The Bugatti Royale, a tale of excess, troubles and mysticism.

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