Marcel Romijn travelled to the French town of Mulhouse for a visit to the famous Schlumpf Collection and was dazzled by the crown of the museum, the Bugatti Royale.
In 1912, only two years after opening his workshop in Molsheim, Ettore Bugatti starts realising his dream, the ultimate in luxury on four wheels. His dream is to produce a car so powerful, so extraordinary and so expensive, that only the ridiculously wealthy on this earth can afford one. Ettore does not just want a car, he wants an automobile that will establish his name once and for all. It is not easy to reach what he has in mind. First of all the engine has to be the largest ever used in a luxury motorcar. Not only that, the car has to possess the smoothest of handling the world ever experienced. A car destined for the royalty of the old Europe. Every aspect of the car has to live up to the name he came up with for his creation, the Royale!
In Molsheim only the rolling chassis and engine of the car are build, not uncommon in these days. Renowned coach builders are given the privilege of creating bespoke bodywork to clients specifications. The engine specs are of mouthwatering beauty. Almost 13 litres of capacity, with a combined block and cilinderhead cast as a single block, even today this engine is still one of the largest ever to be created for use in a passenger car. Harnessing the latest technology, such as two inlet valves per cylinder operated by a single overhead camshaft, but twin spark ignition as well. This beast of a straight eight engine produces nearly 300 bhp, largely sufficient to propel this heavy car including its passengers at vigorous speeds. With a wheel base of nearly four and a half metres and a weight of three metric tons, the Royale is enormous, dwarfing even a modern day Rolls Royce. To reduce noise, the gearbox is situated way down at the back of the car, straight on to the rear axle. After all, one has to be able to have a decent conversation while traveling. Before the chassis’ are delivered to the coach builders, they are equipped with a dashboard sporting whalebone knobs and a steering wheel covered in walnut. A rampant elefant, an artwork by Ettore’s brother Rembrandt, is placed on top of the characteristic Bugatti radiator.
The Bugatti Royale has truly set the benchmark in the world of luxury and comfort. With his regal automobile, Bugatti makes immortalizes his name. A name everybody remembers, even those who don’t show any affection to the world of the automobiles. Sales of the Royale do not live up to the expectations unfortunately. Of the originally planned production of twenty, the factory only manages to sell a handful of cars. When introduced in 1926, the Western world is still recovering from the devastation and tragedy of the first World War, when the Great Depression kicks in. The already very limited target group melts away like snow in the sun, ironically none of the Royales is ever sold to royalty. One prototype and five production models are built, no more than three are ever sold. Number five and six plus the original prototype are walled in to hide them from the Nazis. Production in the Molsheim factory grinds to a halt because of the Second World War. The factory never recovers. It closes for good, but the name of Ettore Bugatti lives on forever.
Bugatti’s are generally regarded as works of art by many and, as worthy examples, all six Royales produced ended up in museums. Number one has a home at the Volkswagen Group, the present owner of Bugatti. Number two went to the States with its German owner just in time before World War 2 and finally ended up in the Henry Ford Museum. Car number four is privately owned, but is being put on display around the world every now and then and number five has found a place in a Californian museum. Closer to home is the prototype, which is sold to the Schlumpf Collection by the Bugatti family in 1963. It can be admired in the Musee National de l’Automobile in Mulhouse, France. Amongst a collection of a hundred different Bugatti’s, you can also find number three and a replica of the beautiful number two with the original green roadster body shell in this great museum. We may never have the pleasure of being driven in such a royal automobile, thanks to these museums we can enjoy and admire the regal creations of Ettore Bugatti.