The history of Ettore Bugatti's beautiful automobiles begins in Molsheim, Germany in 1909. Soon thereafter, Molsheim was returned to the Alsace region of France at the conclusion of WWI.
Born in Milan, Italy in 1881, Ettore moved to Alsace as a young man and began designing automobiles at De Dietrich before the age of 21. He eventually found his way to Mathis and Deutz, then, in 1910, finished the creation of the first automobile to carry his name. Dubbed the Type 13, this modest automobile carried a OHC four cylinder unit of 1.3L displacement.
As an established automaker, Bugatti designed the "Bebe" for Peugeot. Prior to 1913 Bugatti had four-piston engines of 1,368cc and 5,027cc which were built originally with two valves per cylinder and then four valves per cylinder. He also produced a straight eight of nearly three liters in 1913. From there Bugatti built his first production eight cylinder, the 2L of 1922. Later installed into the now-famous Type 35 ( in supercharged form).
The 1998 Concours on Rodeo featured two of the most famous Bugatti road car models - the larger-than-life Type 41 Royale from 1931 and a stunning 1939 Type 57 built as a wedding present.
Although the Type 41 Royale models were fit for royalty none were purchased by such and only six were crafted. A seventh chassis was finished but never bodied. Royales carry straight eights of 12-3/4L that produce 788.7 cubic inches of displacement. Power output from the monster eight is reported to be 300bhp at a trickling 1,700rpm. The wheels on this grand car measure 24 inches. Royales weigh approximately 7,000lbs! Another use for the massive, low revving eight cylinder engine was on rail cars.
The Royale was actually glimmering in Ettore Bugatti's mind as early as April, 1913, when he wrote to his friend, Espanet, that he was designing an eight cylinder with a bore of 100mm. From the letter:
"The car will be larger than the Hispano Suiza (changed by Ettore to read 'Rolls-Royce'), but at the same time lighter; the speed of the closed car will reach 150km/h. I hope to achieve perfect silence... There is no need to tell you that the production of these cars will be very limited and made with irreproachable care. All these cars will be delivered after tests of at least 1,000 km, and will have a guarantee of five years; the car will be extremely expensive, but will not be compared to any vehicle of this type"
Instead of having a body built to fit the first chassis, Bugatti had an eight cylinder Packard body placed atop his own for a fit comparison. The Bugatti chassis was so long (just over 15ft) the Packard coachwork hardly had any overhang on the mammoth Bugatti creation.
The coachwork on the Royale featured here is the second body on chassis 41111. The original body was a roadster, penned by Ettore's son Jean, and made at Molsheim. This was the first Royale to be sold. The current Coupe de Ville coachwork is by Parisian Henry Binder (circa 1938). This Royale was purchased by clothing manufacturer Armand Esders. No headlamps were fitted as Mr. Esders didn't drive after dark. Ettore's son, Jean, penned the roadster body originally placed on chassis 41111.
The Binder-bodied car made its way to America and into the hands of the Bill Harrah Collection. In 1966 Mr. Harrah entered the car in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Rules stated that cars must be driven to the concours lawn at Del Monte Lodge. Instead of trucking his masterpiece from Nevada to Pebble Beach and then driving the Royale a few miles to the show, Mr. Harrah had two of his collection's master mechanics drive the 300 some odd miles in the Royale! An oil line broke enroute but was repaired and cleaned off in time to capture the concours best of show award as well as class honors