The Bugatti Type 41, better known as the Royale, was intended to be the biggest, most luxurious, most expensive car in the world. It was to be sold only to royalty. Launched into the teeth of the Great Depression, just six of a planned 25 were built. None of the original six has changed hands since 1999.
Today, four are owned by museums and a fifth by VW Group, current owner of the Bugatti brand. Ownership of the sixth, which survives, is unclear. Now, there’s a seventh Royale — more or less.
It was originally built on a chassis with an astounding 169.3-inch wheelbase and fitted with a Packard touring car body from the mid-1920s. Its engine was a straight-8 of 15 liters, producing 275 to 300 horsepower.
The prototype was soon fitted with two-door fixed-head coupe coachwork by Weymann of Paris, which was destroyed in 1930 or 1931 when Bugatti himself fell asleep at the wheel and crashed.
The elephant on the radiator
After that, it was rebuilt with a Coupé Napoleon body. The prototype and two production cars were bricked up inside the family home in Ermenonville, France, during World War II to prevent confiscation by the Nazis.
Today, that car is one of two on display at the Musée National de l’Automobile de Mulhouse, formerly the Schlumpf Collection.
All other Type 41s were fitted with a smaller straight-8 of only 12.7 liters, mated to a three-speed gearbox. Each car was 21 feet long, making it 20% longer than a current Rolls Royce Phantom, and about 25% heavier as well.
Every Royale was fitted with a radiator cap with a sculpture of a posed elephant, created by Ettore’s brother Rembrandt Bugatti. The steering wheel was walnut, while the dash knobs were made of whalebone.
Now there’s a documentary, produced by N-TV in the Netherlands, covering the 15-year re-creation of the original prototype, for which the video above is a promotion.
It relates how the original frame of the prototype had been entirely replaced when the crashed Weymann coupe was rebuilt, and was discovered in the U.S.
Hevec Classic Cars in the Netherlands, the company behind the project, then located a mid-1920s Packard touring car body, a replica Royale engine, and as many original Bugatti parts as possible.
Two thousand original factory drawings of the Royale, some of the 26,000 held by the Bugatti Trust, were used to fabricate missing parts where necessary.
This photo of the re-created red prototype, still unfinished, was taken in 2011 at the former Bugatti factory in Molsheim.
And then there were nine
However, this new seventh Royale could also be counted as the ninth, if you include two exact replicas.
One was built using original Bugatti parts by obsessive Bugatti collectors the Schlumpf Brothers, whose collection is now in the French Musée National de l’Automobile de Mulhouse.
The other was created by British businessman Tom Wheatcroft, perhaps better known as the man who resurrected Donington Park race course.
In 1999, Volkswagen Group is rumored to have paid $20 million to acquire its Royale from an American collector.
Collectors have suggested that if an original Royale ever came up for sale, it might become the first nine-figure car ever sold — far surpassing the $38 million paid in August 2014 for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO.
[Photos courtesy of Daniel Lapp, posted by Jaap Horst on his Bugatti Page.]