Body of Evidence (Part 2)

Reanimations are nothing new when it comes to Bugatti. 

Bugatti Type 101 by Gangloff. (c) wheelsage

Just because Ettore Bugatti could be accused of the sin of hubris, doesn’t necessarily mean his ending was neither poignant nor salutary. The demise of the Bugatti car business proved to be a somewhat convoluted one in the final analysis, complicated by the fact that Ettore had essentially been locked out of Molsheim since the bitter disputes of the mid-1930s.

Having retreated to Paris to plot his return, war had intervened and with the disputed area of Alsace quickly annexed by German forces, Ettore had little choice other than to sell the by now rather sprawling Bugatti empire (which encompassed much of the Molsheim area), to the occupying forces who used the plant to make munitions.

By the close of hostilities in 1945, the Bugatti facilities lay in ruins, and the post-war French government, in retaliatory zeal against those perceived of Nazi collaboration, seized his factory and other assets – Ettore’s Italian nationality hardly aiding his case in these matters either.

Having spent the inter-war years planning the Type 73, a new, more compact 1.5 litre saloon with an enveloping body by coachbuilder, Pourtout, and with a Parisian site at Levallois allegedly been selected, its debut at the 1947 Paris motor show proved too late. By then, Ettore had already succumbed to his final illness, never having the opportunity to relish his victory over the French authorities, who under legal duress reversed their seizure of his business later that same year.

Meanwhile, Bugatti’s younger son Roland separately attempted to maintain a semblance of the pre-war line, introducing the Type 101 saloon in 1951. Employing what was essentially an upgraded version of the Type 57 chassis and its 150 bhp 3.3 litre DOHC in-line eight cylinder engine, it was mated to a Cotal semi-automatic preselector gearbox and bodied in elegant, if conservative style by carrossier, Gangloff. However, the car failed to generate much interest – not at the prices being asked at least.

Not that other coachbuilders enjoyed better fortune – perhaps the most stylistically acceptable of these being the four-door model designed by Louis Lepoix and built, it’s believed, by German coachbuilder, Hermann Spohn. Another was a peculiar, ill-proportioned 2-seater coupé by coachbuilder, Van Antem. With a mere eight chassis in total, the Type 101’s squib went out in 1952, largely without a sound.

Well, not quite. During this period Roland, believing that Bugatti required a return to the racetracks initiated a ground-up Grands Prix car, designed under the auspices of sometime Alfa Romeo and Ferrari designer, Gioacchino Columbo. A highly advanced design by 1955 monoposto standards, its 2.5 litre straight-eight was mounted transversely across the chassis in a midships position. However, beset with engine and handling-related difficulties it proved woefully under-developed and ingloriously raced once, never darkening a racetrack in anger again.

Bugatti T-101 by Exner/ Ghia. (c) conceptcarz

It didn’t quite end there either. A single T-101 chassis had remained unbodied (not an unusual Bugatti occurrence it would appear) and during the 1960s, fell into the hands of American car designer, and former Chrysler lead stylist, Virgil M. Exner. Part of what the then freelance designer called his ‘Revival Cars’ project, this final Type 101 chassis was shortened to allow for a two-seater layout, with a somewhat cartoonish and flamboyant design by Exner, bodied by Italian carrozzeria, Ghia. It would later form the stylistic basis for Exner’s equally ill-judged Stutz recreation a number of years later.

With this final, ignominious nail, it appeared that the coffin lid was firmly sealed upon the Bugatti name as far as road cars were concerned at least. But some names exhibit too powerful an allure to let lie. The exhumations would continue; first in 1987, with Italian industrialist, Romano Artioli essentially creating a business (and car) from scratch under the Bugatti trademark.

The mid-engined hypercar was designed with input from luminaries such as Paolo Stanzani, Marcello Gandini, and Mauro Forghieri. However, Artioli never quite made the numbers add up and having purchased Lotus Cars from GM, succumbed to overambition and the vicissitudes of the luxury car business, going into liquidation in 1995.

The second and (it appears) ultimate recreation proved more durable however, when Volkswagen, under the leadership of Ferdinand Piëch, acquired the Bugatti trademark in 1998, and having shown a number of W-18 engined concepts by Giugiaro, recreated car manufacture at Molsheim with the W-16 engined Veyron, styled in-house under Jozef Kaban, which made its production debut in 2005.

Arguably more of a demonstration of superiority and engineering prowess than a car in the traditional Molsheim idiom, today’s Bugatti has its proponents, but even they might grudgingly concede that the modern day Chiron and its derivations hardly represents ‘le pur-sang de l’automobiles’ Ettore (or Jean for that matter) might have envisaged – this largely now being the purview of Ferrari, whose founder essentially took Ettore’s blueprint and refashioned it in his own equally patrician and exclusive image. Recreations take many forms.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

5 thoughts on “Body of Evidence (Part 2)”

  1. I wouldn’t say that Enzo Ferrari took Bugatti’s blueprint.
    Bugatti had an Italian counterpart that was every bit as noble and, if anything, even more exclusive in form of pre-war Alfa Romeo. As Alfa’s former race manager Ferrari stepped in where state owned Alfa was forced to retreat from its former market segment. Today’s Ferraris are a very good equivalent to pre-war Alfas.

    1. Dave: Perhaps I ought to partially rephrase that. Enzo Ferrari probably borrowed from pre-war Alfa Romeo to some extent, and after all, as you correctly pointed out, he knew the business and its products very well indeed. However, from Ettore I would suggest, he took the almost wilful exclusivity, the disdain for the customer – the worse they were treated, it has been said, the more they wanted the product – and the creation of a virtual fiefdom, Maranello for Ferrari, Molsheim for Bugatti. Both even had hotels constructed primarily for customers and courtiers to stay while grovelling at their feet in homage. Where Bugatti and Ferrari digressed most was in matters of personality and taste. Ettore cultivated the persona of the grand patron and was to all intents and purposes a snob. A snob with exquisite taste. Enzo on the other hand was proudly proletarian, somewhat coarse and while he cultivated an aura of mystery and inscrutability, he retained his peasant’s tastes to the last.

      Incidentally, by the 1980s at least, Gangloff, Bugatti’s carosserie of choice in Colmar had become an Opel dealership.

  2. “…was mated to a Cotal semi-automatic preselector gearbox…”
    No, it wasn’t. The Cotal was a strange beast, but no matter how often one hears it described as a preselector it wasn’t. It was an electromagnetically operated semi automatic, much in vogue amongst expensive French cars and sometimes with limited success on less expensive ones – the Ford and later Simca Vedette was available thus equipped as was the Peugeot 402. It used electromagnets as a clutching mechanism to engage the gear of one’s choice as opposed to mechanical and pre synchromesh means and the attendant skills of double declutching. To change gear the driver need only reduce power and stir the “moutardier”, a tiny lever operating in an exposed gate and somewhat reminiscent of a spoon in a mustard pot. The clutch was not required.
    The Cotal didn’t include a starting mechanism so a conventional clutch was used for the purpose. Also not included, for reasons not clear, was a reverse gear so this was to be found in a separate and entirely mechanical reversing mechanism. This provided a direct forward gear and an underdriven reverse gear which was frequently a source of expensive grief because the increased torque resulting therefrom could damage transmission components. The recommended method of heading astern in your Cotal equipped car is to engage third gear in advance, the separation of primary gearbox and reverser meaning that in principle four speeds are available in either direction.

    1. Thanks for the clarification DP. I was thinking in terms of the Wilson system and mistakenly lumped them into the same category. As you rightly point out, while similar in overall intent, they are quite different in principle and execution.

      Incidentally, a former DTWite informs me that Carrossiere Pourtout is now a common or garden variety body repair shop…

    2. “… that Carrossiere Pourtout is now a common or garden variety body repair shop”

      Seems that they have finally found their true calling (“pour tout” = “for everything”).

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