In 1926 Ettore Bugatti had aspired to build the largest most expensive cars the world had ever seen, intending them to only be sold to those of royal stature, thus the name Royale. In early 1926 Ettore drew up plans for the massive vehicle and assembly of the chassis began in total secret in a small shed of the Molsheim plant.
The first of these massive cars was completed just before 1927 and was a long awkward car, slightly longer wheelbase and with a larger 14.2 Litre engine than its 12.7 Litre successors. The prototype was fitted with a modified eight passenger phaeton body borrowed from a long wheelbase Packard, and it has always been a mystery of the Royale as to why Ettore would fit his car with a Packard body rather than build one of his own. The prototype was known as the 41 100 chassis and this car was not given a specific name and has sparked much debate as to how many Royale chassis were built as this car would be re-bodied 4 times.
In 1928 the 41 100 was stripped of its bulky Packard body and refitted with a two door coupe body. Known as the Fiarce Coupe, it was a very conservative horse-carriage inspired design like many penned by Ettore at this time. The design was more eye appealing and balanced than the Packard bodied Phaeton, however the body was out of proportion with the length of the chassis.
Soon a third body replaced the Fiarce in just a few months time. It was a four door sedan much better proportioned to the oversized chassis yet retained the same retrograde design as the previous. It was very much the limousine version of the Fiarce Coupe.
In 1929 the old fashioned horse carriage styled bodies were no longer good for the Royale image, so Ettore had the 41 100 fitted with a four window two door coupe of a more up to date, handsome design signed and built by Weymann of Paris. However with each new body style the car seemed to share the same fenders and bonnet.
In 1931 the 41 100 chassis was rebodied yet again, but this was not a matter of nicety but neccessity. While travelling from France to Molshiem it is reported that Ettore, who was accompanied by his wife, fell asleep at the wheel of the magnificent car and disaster ensued soon after. Ettore and his wife surived the crash into the motorway median without injury, the 41 100 was not so lucky - the car was severly damaged.
After the accident 41 100 was rebuilt on a "short chassis" with a new body designed by Ettore's son Jean, then 21 or 22 years old. The design bears witness of being inspired by the pioneering design works at Duesenberg, as seen in the beautiful fender lines and the use of contrasting-color sweep panel decor. It is an extremely beautiful car, and it has never quite been determined how Jean managed to bring such grace and balance to such a large car. The Royale has been named "Coupé Napoleon" and is often mistaken for the later Binder Coupe, noticeable differences being the Coupe Napoleon has royal blue color sweep panels and the Binder Coupe has silver sweep panels and skirted front fenders.
This car has caused much controversy over the years. The car features a fifth body but it unsure whether the car was built on a new chassis. It is rumored that a second chassis numbered 41 100 might already have been under construction at the time of the accident, and merely been given the same chassis number as the damaged car.
The car remained in the personal possesion of Ettore Bugatti until his death in 1947. It is now a part of the Schlumpf Collection
In 1932 the wealthy French clothing manufacturer Armand Esders commissioned Bugatti to design him "a flexible car" and that meant no shift driving and since he never drove at night he requested that no headlights be mounted. Jean Bugatti answered this challenge with the graceful body design that became the 41 111 Royale or as it became known as later Esders Coupe. The car was sleek and low with continuous fenders than flowed uninterrupted front to back, giving a sense of grace and lightness to the immense vehicle. The car pictured above is not the actual Esders Roadster but an exact replica.
In early 1939 the 41 111 found its way into the hands of the French Government who then commissioned Henri Binder of Paris to refit the chassis with a limousine body rumored to be intended for King Carol II of Romania, possibly explaining the heavily armoured passenger compartment with bullet proof glass. The car was completed by Fall of 1939 and was fitted with a town car body that greatly resembled the Coupe Napoleon, but lacked the grace and style of a Bugatti design. The car was in Paris in 1940 at the outbreak of Nazi hostilities and the Binder Coupe as it was now known, never found its way to its owner but instead was lowered into a blocked off section of sewer in Paris and jacked up to prevent capture by the Germans.
in 1949 the car was in England owned by Frederick Henry, later by Mills Lane who in 1964 sold it to the famous Las Vegas Harrah's Collection. In 1986 the car was sold to William Lyon, who in 1996 at the Barrett-Jackson auction attempted to sell the car. Higest big was $11 million USD, but with a reserve of $15 million USD the car failed to sell. However in 1999 after purchasing the rights to the Bugatti name, Volkswagen bought the car for 18 million German Marks (about $14 million USD), breaking the world's record for highest auction price ever for a car.
In 1930 the 41 121 chassis was built and almost as soon as it was finished an order was placed to purchase it. A wealthy surgeon by the name of Josef Fuchs of Munich bought the chassis in late 1930 and shipped it to famed European coach builder Ludwig Weinberger to be fitted with an imposing five passenger cabriolet body, that when finished was rumored to have cost $43,000 thus making it by far the most expensive of the 6 Royales.
Fuchs took delivery of the car in 1931 and soon moved to Trieste. But these were turbulant times in Germany - with the rise of Hitler and Nazi Party, Fuchs soon moved to Shanghai then finally settling in New York no later than 1937, bringing the car with him of course.
In the winter of 1938 the engine seized and the car was kept under a tarp in the back yard of Fuchs Estate in Long Island, where it remained unattended until it was sold to a local scrap yard in 1943. It was at this scrap yard that Charles Cheyne , who later became Vice President of Engineering at GM, rescued the deteriorating Royale from the crusher in 1945 for just $412 - by far the best used car deal in history!
In 1947 Cheyne had the car restored and repainted from its original black with yellow trim to white with black trim, as well as having the rusted out original cast aluminum Royale pattern rims replaced with the rims the car features now.
In 1958 Cheyne donated the car to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan where it resides today as the showpiece of the collection. The Weinberger Royale recently underwent a total frame off restoration to bring it back to factory condition and was repainted to a light shade of ivory in 1999.
Chassis 41 131 is beleived to be the last of the original 6 Royales to be bodied. Purchased as just the chassis in 1932 by Captain C.W. Foster who then shipped the chassis to London to be fitted with a massive seven passenger partitioned limousine body sporting dual mount spares by Park, Ward & Co. Ltd.. It is interesting to note that this is the only Royale to feature side mount spares.
Foster sold the car after the war in 1946 to Jack Lemon Burton, who had earlier owned the Esders Roadster before it was rebodied. In 1956 Burton sold the car to John Shakespeare of Illinois, whose Bugatti collection ultimately numbered 30 cars, making it the largest private collection in the United States until the entire collection was purchased by Schlumpf in 1966, where the Park Ward Limousine resides today.
In 1931, inspired by the Fuchs and Esders sales, Ettore Bugatti was determined to penetrate the royalty-sensitive British market. To do this he commissioned the finest carriage builder in Paris, Kellner to design a grand limousine body for the 41 141 chassis that would be the last word in serene good taste.
Kellner, who was richly experienced in working with many of the finest chassis of the day, from Hispano-Suiza to Duesenberg, submitted variuous proposals. The one chosen for execution and for presentation at London's Olympia Show late that year was a stunning two-door sedan.
In late 1931 the car was completed and displayed at the show, bearing a pricetag of $32,500 it was by far the most expensive car at the show. It was praised for its exquisite proportions and nobility of line, but due to the ailing economy no sales took place, there or thereafter.
This showpiece remained in the Bugatti family as personal car for Ettore's daughter and weathered World War II being shunted from one shelter to another. It is one of the two Royales obtained from L'Ebe Bugatti by Briggs Cunningham and is one of the crowning pieces of that great enthusiast's collection, one of the top few in the world. Maintained in perfect operating condition, it is exercised regularly, often with museum guests as passengers.
The car was purchased from Cunningham's in 1990 by the Japanese Meitec Corporation for an astounding $15 million USD and has remained on display there since.
Contrary to popular belief Volkswagen, who was rumored to be interested in 41 141 after purchasing 41 111, was never in contact with nor had any intention of purchasing 41 141 from Meitec.
Chassis 41 150 carries the highest chassis number of the series however it is one of the first so called "short chassis" to be bodied. There has been much confusion over the dating this car, the book "Bugatti Royale" Le Reve Magnifique published by Kestler in 1933 dates the chassis from 1929, and the zero in the chassis number is significant here helping to identify it with the older chassis style as well as carrying the old style shoulder-less radiator. It has even been rumored that the 41 150 may even preceed the last body style on the prototype 41 100 chassis.
The 41 150 was built and bodied in Bugatti's Molshiem factory, and the body is of the "old style" horse carriage type much like the first body styles fitted to the 41 100.
The body features a partitioned passenger compartment with a false convertible top complete with landau bars and a removeable chauffer's roof in the front. The body style was known as a Double Berline and Ettore named the car Berliner d' Voyage. The 41 150 Berliner d' Voyage like the 41 100, was never sold and remained in the Bugatti family and was used by Ettore Bugatti himself as his personal car until his death in 1947.
In 1950 the 41 150 was sold to Briggs Cunningham along with the 41 141. The 41 150 was later sold to Cameron Pack of Chicago, then to Dr. B. Skitarelic, who then in turn sold it to Jack Nethercutt who then sold it to Bill Harrah in 1964.
Harrah then sold the car to Jerry Moore of Texas, who then sold it to Tom Monaghan, the neuvo riche founder and owner of Domino's Pizza. When Monaghan went bankrupt, he sold the car to the Blackhawk Collection where it was co-owned along with the Imperial Palace Collection of Las Vegas.
The Berliner d' Voyage remained on display at the Blackhawk Collection in California until 1999, when Volkswagen purchased the car along with the 41 111.
|Engine||Aluminum monoblock inline eight
3 valves per cylinder
2 spark plugs per cylinder
solid cast one piece crankshaft
|Bore & Stroke||5 X 5.2 inches (125 X 130 millimeters)|
|Displacement||5,014 CID (12,736 CC)|
|Horsepower||300 @ 1700 rpm|
|Top Speed||130 mph (210 kmh)||Transmission||Mounted on rear axle; 3 forward speeds + reverse|
|Clutch||Off engine, centrally mounted under front seat; wet type|
|Front Suspension||solid axle; semi-elliptical springs|
|Rear Suspension||solid axle; reverse 1/4 elliptical springs|
|Brakes||Cable operated drums|
|Wheelbase||170 inches (4.3 meters)|
|Tires||266 X 14 inches (6.75 X .35 meters)|
|Weight||7,055 pounds (3200 kilograms)|
|Fuel Consumption||City: 1.5 mpg
Highway: 7 mpg
|Chassis Production Years||1927 - 1933|
|Price Complete||$30,000 - $40,000|