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WITH HOMAGE to Claude Debussy’s La Cathédrale Engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral), I offer the story of Le Bugatti Englouti—a tale at least part of which happens to be true.
The Brescia was one of Bugatti’s iconic models, a small lightweight sports car that proved remarkably potent in its voiturette racing class. Between 1920 and 1926, the Brescia evolved from the Type 13, through Types 15, 17 and 22, to the Type 23, this last variant, one of Bugatti’s most popular models.
This 1925 Type 22 Brescia is particularly special. According to Bugatti experts, in 1934 it belonged to Adalbert Bodé, a Swiss playboy known for his occasional race driving, professional poker playing and bartending. Bodé is said to have won the car in a Paris poker game with famed race car driver, Bugattist—and later, restauranteur—René Dreyfus.
Bodé then motored home from Paris via the south of France and into Italy. However, upon reaching the Italian/Swiss border, he was required to pay Swiss duty on the Brescia.
Here is where the stories diverge. One version says that, being in an impecunious state—or maybe just in something of a playboy snit—Bodé abandoned the car to Ascona officials. They waited two years for him to come up with the overdue charges. Then, honor-bound to destroy the car, the officials pushed it into Lago Maggiore.
Or, possibly, Bodé himself pushed the Brescia into the lake to hide it for a while.
In either tale, bets were covered by attaching the car to a buoy with 35-ft. chain. However, the chain corroded away and broke—and the Bugatti sank to a resting depth of 175 ft. There it remained for 73 or 75 years, depending on who did the pushing.
On firmer historical ground in August 1967, members of a local diving club discovered the sunken treasure. For years afterward, it became part of Lago Maggiore lore and a popular attraction for deep divers. Matters would have remained as such, were it not for a tragedy and its community response.
A young local man, Damiano Tamagni, lost his life as a result of random violence during the Locarno, Switzerland, Carnival in 2008. In sympathy and support of the Tamagni family, the dive club devised a plan to raise the Bugatti and sell it in benefit of the Fondazione Damiano Tamagni (www.damianotamagni.ch), a charitable organization combating youth violence. Its motto, “With your head, and not with your hands,” describes a foundation goal.
Raising the Brescia involved more than 30 volunteers and nine months of work. On July 12, 2009, with more than 2000 people in attendance, the Bugatti was lifted from where it lay for all those years.
In January 2010, the Brescia sold for $360,000 at Bonhams’ Rétromobile auction, the proceeds benefiting the Fondazione Damiano Tamagni. The buyer was a European enthusiast acting on behalf of the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California.
Today, the Sunken Bugatti resides at the Mullin as one of its many wonderful exhibits.
Of course, the goal is preservation of this Bugatti Brescia, le Bugatti Englouti. It’s much too important an objet d’art to restore. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013