Million-Dollar Cars: The Royal Bugatti

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A story—in all likelihood apocryphal—has an Englishwoman telling Ettore Bugatti that he built the fastest cars in the world, but that Rolls-Royce built the best. As with most myths, it uses a reverse logic when attempting to explain the nearly supernatural Bugatti Type 41. Out of context, a Type 41 (better known by the unofficial name Royale) might not look outrageous. Large, yes, but not massive. After all, the proportions of the six cars made between 1927 and 1933 mask their true bulk. But stand next to a Royale, or park one next to any other car, and you can be excused for gaping. Appropriately enough, Bugatti intended these behemoths, with their elephant hood ornaments, for members of Europe’s ruling families.

No superlatives are as effective as the numbers. The chassis checks in at 170 inches—that’s over 14 feet—and the 12.7-liter, straight-8 engine (later used in railcars by the French railway) produces 300 horsepower at only 2,000 rpm. The Royale’s wheels are 38 inches in diameter. Buckets of torque mean that first gear is rarely required, and depending on the weight and aerodynamics of the coachbuilt body, these latter-day mammoths can top 125 mph.

Bugatti’s price tags matched the exuberant excess. In 1931 a rolling chassis cost $25,000, and adding one-off coachwork could nearly double that figure. And the Royale’s value has only continued to climb. In 1983 a Coupe set an auction record when it fetched $5.5 million, and in 1993 a Limousine achieved a breathtaking $15.8 million. Rumors have a Coupe de Ville changing hands recently for $17 million. Assuming you want one, and that your pockets are deep, the trick, it seems, is convincing someone to sell.

Photo by Patrick Ernzen/RM Sotheby's
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