Ettore Bugatti planned to build twenty-five of these Type 41 Bugatti Royales. They were built for royalty, but even royalty wasn't prepared for such an exotic and elegant automobile during the Great Depression. Bugatti was able to sell on six. Today, the Bugatti Royale is the ultimate status symbol. They are one of the biggest, rarest, most desirable cars in the world.
The Bugatti Type 41, better known as the Royale, is one of the most extreme luxury cars ever built. It was enormous, with a 169.3-inch wheelbase and 21-foot overall length. It weighed 7,000 lbs and used a massive 12.7-liter straight-eight engine. Everything about the Royale was magnificent. Its cast 'Roue Royale' wheels measured 24-inches in diameter. All six production Royales still exist; each wears a different body, some having been rebodied several times.
The massive engine (apx. 4.5 feet long x 3.5 feet high), produced 275 to 300 horsepower, its cylinders, bored to 125 by 130 mm, each displaced more than the entire engine of the contemporary Type 40 touring car. It was a high-tech design, as well, with 3 valves per cylinder driven by a single overhead camshaft. Nine bearings were specified for reliability, but only a single custom carburetor was needed.
Only six Royales were built between 1929 and 1933, with just three sold to external customers. The second, displayed here, was owned by a German obstetrician, Dr. Josef Fuchs. It was built to exacting standards and above its radiator grill cap perched a replica of a Rembrandt Bugatti elephant sculpture. This Royale incorporates one of Jean Bugatti's most fantastic designs. The car surfaced in a New York junkyard in 1943 and was bought and restored by a General Motors executive, Charles Chayne. In 1958, he and his wife, Ester, donated it to the Henry Ford Museum.
Everything about the Bugatti Royal is of the first magnitude. Its size, scarcity and value are extreme. Only six production chassis were built and all survive. Even among its Royale peers, however, the story of the Cabriolet that resides in the museum collection of They Henry Ford is uniquely intriguing.
The second production Royale built, it was ordered by Dr. Joseph Fuchs, a German physician and successful amateur racing driver. Dr. Fuchs had the 169.3-inch wheelbase chassis, which was delivered in 1931, bodied by Weinberger of Munich. Delivery of the completed Cabriolet occurred during 1932.
Shortly after Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Dr. Fuchs slipped away to Switzerland and soon traveled on to the lively open city of Shanghai, China. He had his massive Bugatti shipped to him there, but by 1937, the advance of Japanese troops into the south of China put the Doctor and his Royale on the move yet again.
Dr. Fuchs and Bugatti next traveled to Canada and then down to New York City. There, the 12.7-liter straight-eight engine in the Royale fell victim to the American winter of 1937-1938-water froze in the block, severely damaging and cracking it. Dr. Fuchs tried to sell his large, broken car, but there were no takers. Eventually it ended up in a Bronx salvage yard.
During World War II, Charles Chayne, a General Motors executive engineer, found out about the Royale in the junkyard and rescued it in 1943. He began to repair the engine and restore the car after peace returned in 1946, completing the project just a year later. Chayne also installed a custom manifold with four Stromberg carburetors in place of the original single carburetor and converted the original mechanical brakes to a hydraulic system.
During its restoration, the exterior color was changed from the original black to oyster white. Chayne also replaced the interior, modifying it to make it more adaptive to his 6-foot, 3-inch frame.
In 1958, Chayne and his wife, Esther, donated the Royale Cabriolet to the Henry Ford Museum. The museum took actual possession in 1959 and the car has remained part of the collection there since. In May 2007, technicians from Classic & Exotic Services helped get the big car running for the first time in several years. It is rarely removed from display at the museum, so the opportunity to view it on the grounds of Meadow Brook Hall and to see and hear it run and drive, is indeed a treat of the first magnitude.
The Type 41 Royale with a chassis price of $30,000 was launched as the world slipped into the Great Depression. Just six of these cars were built between 1929 and 1933 and only three were sold to customers. All of the production Royales still exists today although the prototype was destroyed in 1931. Each has a different body style, some having been rebodied several times. This is the first of the production Royales. The car was ordered without headlights as its owner, textile industrialist Armand Esders, did not intend to drive at night! After Esders sold the car, the chassis received this new Coupe de Ville body built by Henri Binder in the style of the Coupe Napoleon that was owned by Ettore Bugatti himself.