Hello, our dear readers! One more car today and one more exciting story. We’re going to tell you about an automobile that experts of the time considered to be “the top technology of the 20th”. However, this worthy vehicle was a drug in the market. Designed specially for royalty it was literally bricked in the wall for many years. Nevertheless, this unique automobile deserves writing about it, and not once. Cast a glance upon this car and fall in love with it. Thus is Bugatti Type 41 “Royale”.
Ettore Bugatti, the famous brand’s founder, always dreamed of creating the most powerful and luxurious series-production automobile in the world. To that end, in 1913, he started the development of an eight cylinder engine. The project was cut short by the outbreak of war throughout Europe. Bugatti redesigned the engine and it was used in the war to power airplanes.
With peace returned to Europe, Bugatti continued his project and in 1921 an experimental eight cylinder engine was shown at various motor shows. The new engine was very successful and was called the ‘Golden Bug’. In 1926 Bugatti revealed his plans for a fifteen liter engined luxury car. It would comprise the best of Rolls-Royce and was targeted at the richest customers, in particular, royals, giving the Golden Bug its more familiar ‘Royale’ nickname.
The prototype engine had the promised displacement of around 15 liters, but for the production cars a slightly smaller displacement of 12.8 liter was chosen. To allow room for such massive engine, Bugatti constructed a chassis with a wheelbase of 4.3 meters. Having overall length almost 6.5m, the Royale became one of the largest automobiles in the world. The car’s crowning glory is its radiator cap which features an elephant sculpture. This elephant has since become a symbol of the Royale and is still synonymous with the Bugatti brand.
Equipped with a place-holder Packard body, the first model was completed in 1927. Despite its exceptional dimensions, the Royale impressed everybody by its road holding capabilities and quiet ride. A road test proved how exquisite chassis construction allowed, despite the model’s weight and size, very good and balanced handling at speed, similar to smaller Bugatti sports cars.
Royale Prototype body by Packard
Bugatti succeeded in building a unique luxury car, but now came the difficult part – finding customers. In 1928 the manufacturer asserted to sell his first Type 41 to King Alfonso of Spain, but the Spanish monarch was deposed before taking delivery of a Royale. Bugatti planned to build 25 of these cars and sell them to various royal families and heads of state. But even European royalty was not buying such things during the Great Depression of the 30s. The biggest obstacle was the high price the manufacturer asked for the automobile. At the 1932 Olympia Show in London one of Type 41s was offered for a staggering £6,500 – twice as much as the most expensive Rolls Royce at the time. In the end, Bugatti only managed to build six vehicles in total and sold only three of them.
The first car, the Coupé Napoleon, was fitted with larger 14.7 liter prototype engine. It became Ettore Bugatti’s personal car and remained in the family’s possession until financial difficulties enforced its sale in 1963. Originally it had a Packard body but was rebuilt as a two door fixed head coupe after the car was crashed by Ettore Bugatti who fell asleep at the wheel.
Esders Roadster body
Coupé de ville Binder
Coupé de ville Binder was the second car built. It was sold in April 1932. Since the owner had never driven during the hours of darkness the model had no headlights. It was also equipped with two-seater open body, full-bodied wings and a dickey seat. In this form the automobile became known as the Royale Esders Roadster. Then it was rebuilt in the Coupé de ville style and became the Coupé de ville Binder (by name of the new coach builder). Due to World War 2 the model had been never delivered to the King of Romania, its possible new owner, and was hidden from the Nazis by storing it in the sewers of Paris. In 1999 was bought by Volkswagen AG and now is used as a brand promotion vehicle.
The third car, Cabriolet Weinberger, was sold in 1932. The owner ordered to build him an open cabriolet and painted the vehicle in black with yellow. In 1947 the car was modified by another owner: replaced carburetors, new paint scheme and convertible roof. In 1957 the car was donated to the Henry Ford Museum, where it still resides.
The fourth car, Foster car or Limousine Park-Ward, was sold to a Captain W. Foster in 1933, who had a limousine body made for the automobile. Now resides in the Musée National de l’Automobile de Mulhouse together with Coupé Napoleon.
Berline de Voyage
The fifth and the sixth car, Kellner car and Berline de Voyage, were unsold and kept by Bugatti. During World War II these two automobiles were bricked up together with Coupé Napoleon at the Bugatti’s family home in Ermenonville to avoid being commandeered by the Nazis. They were sold in the summer of 1950 in return for $571 USD plus a pair of new General Electric refrigerators, then unavailable in post-war France.
Only two times the cars were reunited. First, in the 1985 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and then in 2007, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed during the celebration the Royale’s eightieth anniversary.
Ironically, intended for royalty, none of these automobiles were sold to royals and to this date none of the six Type 41s has ever been owned by a royal. Once Bugatti even refused to sell a Royale to King Zog of Albania, claiming that “the man’s table manners are beyond belief.”
However, selling failure didn’t end up with bankruptcy for Ettore Bugatti. As during the First World War with his first eight cylinder engines, the clever manufacturer managed to turn a profit out of the failed project by placing Type 41 engines into railcars. Seventy-nine Bugatti Autorails, powered by either two or four of the eight-cylinder units, were built for the French National Railway SNCF. These railcars remained in regular use until 1958 turning the Royale project from an economic failure into a commercial success for Bugatti.
There is everything in Bugatti Royale: performance, size, comfort, quality and elegance. No doubt, it inspired us to create the Coupé Napoleon 3D model which you can enjoy going through this link and in out 360° viewer.
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