How can one explain the mammoth 1926-1932 Type 41 Royale? The answer lies in the man himself.
Ettore Bugatti died in 1947 after 66 years "full of frenzy and creation," to use journalist Ken Purdy's words. Thirty of those years he spent building some 7,800 cars-mostly lithe racers and sportstourers unrivalled for handling, performance, and craftsmanship.
All Bugattis mirrored their creator, but the Royale was perhaps the fullest reflection. Purdy described Ettore Bugatti as "an Italian who lived his life in France among Frenchmen, and was, they said, un type...a character...greatly gifted, proud, unswervingly independent, indifferent to any opinion but his own ...aristocratic, impractical, profligate..."
He was just as much the Michelangelo of motoring. Born the son and brother of artists, he believed "a technical creation cannot be perfect until it is perfect from an aesthetic point of view." How strong was that belief? Look no further than the simple visual elegance of most any Bugatti engine, or even front suspension.
But Ettore also possessed the great drive and native mechanical ability of a Henry Ford -- and an equally monumental ego. The story is told of the Parisian Bugatti owner who, still dissatisfied with several details on his car after two visits to the dealer, went in again and met Le Patron himself. "You are the one who has brought his [car] back three times?" Bugatti asked. Thinking things would be put right at last, the customer said yes. "Do not," Bugatti huffed, "let it happen again."
By that time, as Purdy observed, Bugatti "had earned the right to be arrogant." He had, after all, built his first car from the ground up in 1898 at the age of only 17. A second car completed the following year won him a gold medal at a 1901 exhibition in his native Milan -- and an engineering job with the French automaker De Dietrich.
After brief stints at Mathis, Deutz in Germany, and Isotta-Fraschini, Bugatti decided to build his own cars based on a miniature chassis he'd constructed around 1908: a four-cylinder shaft-drive design evidently inspired by the contemporary Isotta Coupe de Voiturettes. With financial backing from a Monsieur de Viscaya, he set up in an old dye works near Molsheim, then in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, later the Bas-Rhin district of Germany.
On the next page, learn of the ideas leading to the Bugatti Type 41 Royale.