I’m no petrol-head, as anyone who has seen my battered Honda would attest. Unlike many of my mates, I don’t feel the need for speed. I rank safety, reliability and economy much higher. However, there is a chink in my automotive armour. I think Bugattis are the most beautiful vehicles ever conceived.
There’s a reason for this affliction – and a story, of course. A strong rev-head vein runs through my family and my grandfather used to own a Type 22 Bugatti. Pa Ern wasn’t a wealthy man, so he was atypical of Bugatti owners today, who tend to be millionaires. A trained mechanic, he worked two jobs, playing banjo in a band and supervising a production line at the Massey Ferguson factory, so he could afford to buy the pre-owned race car in 1926. Apparently my grandmother used to say “once he heard the engine noise of that car he was never the same again”.
It was a tiny, narrow vehicle built for speed not comfort and unsuitable for a young family. My uncle remembers sitting in it crushed against his sister and father, with hot engine fluids leaking onto his legs. Pa owned the car until 1948, by which time he’d cut a dickie seat into the rear bodywork in order to squeeze three children in.
I grew up thinking Pa only sold his eccentric, much-loved racer because finances were tight in the aftermath of World War II. My uncle also points out that the car was no longer practical (if it ever was) and that his Dad agreed to a “regretful sale”. Family members have often remarked on what the car would be worth (in excess of $100,000 apparently) if we’d manage to keep it, given it was an unusual variant of approximately 2000 Type 22s built and Bugattis are highly collectable. That’s all academic though, as the car is gone. Pa Ern was a wise man and wouldn’t have made the decision to sell without good cause and much consternation.
The car was in America, last we heard, hopefully in the care of someone who loves it like Pa did. It would be good to know its full story.
I’ve retained an interest in Bugatti, renewed recently by the Veyron experiment where engineers set out to build the first 1001 horsepower car and ended up with a vehicle capable of 407 km/hr. Having succeeded in building the world’s fastest car, Bugatti are now looking toward the quickest ever four door vehicle. I do confess to being somewhat conflicted here. At full throttle, the Veyron runs out of fuel in 12 minutes. Fuel economy clearly wasn’t a design consideration. That said, I believe the Veyron and its sibling-to-be, the Galibier, don’t belong on the road so much as in an art gallery. Check out the interior shot at the previous link and you might understand what I’m getting at.
Anyway, I managed to visit the Bugatti family exhibition at Victoria’s National Gallery earlier this year and here’s a gorgeous Type 57 coupe. Apologies for the picture quality; I was snapping sans flash while restraining two small creatures from climbing on the cars. Perhaps there’s Bugatti in their blood too.