Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


ARTISTIC GENIUS surfaced often in the Bugatti family. Ettore Bugatti built cars—with an artistic flair. His brother Rembrandt was a sculptor. Their father Carlo designed and fabricated Art Nouveau furniture.


Three generations of Bugatti genius. From left to right, Carlo (1856 – 1940), Ettore (1881 – 1947), Rembrandt (1884 – 1916), Lidia (1907- 1972), L’Ebé in car (1903 – 1980), Jean (1909 – 1939) and Roland (1922 – 1977). Images from The Bugatti Legend and The Art of Bugatti.

Ettore’s daughters L’Ebé and Lidia were family chronicler and artist, respectively. Ettore’s elder son Jean brought state-of-the-art engineering to the Bugatti marque. Ettore’s younger son Roland’s talents were in striving to extend le Pur Sang, the thoroughbred reputation of the Bugatti marque. See for my recounting of his Type 251 Grand Prix car.


The Art of Bugatti: A Comprehensive Retrospective of the Bugatti Family of Artists, The Mullin Automotive Museum, 2014. This catalog is available through the museum gift shop at

The Art of Bugatti is the current exhibit at The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, from March 28 through mid-December. See for my earlier visit with this museum’s collection of Voisin automobiles; see for my tale of Le Bugatti Englouti, one of the museum’s cars on exhibit.


A view of the exhibit from Floor Two of The Mullin. A Type 41 Royale is at left. On the pedestal is the 1928 Miller 91 Duray Indy Special, the twin overhead camshafts of which were to influence Bugatti. Beyond is the Reve Bleu 100P replica aircraft. Image courtesy of Tom Wilson.

Carlo is well represented in the exhibit through his bizarre furniture in Art Nouveau style with heavy Moorish influence. The workmanship in ebony, bone, pewter, silk, vellum, even camel skin, is remarkable.


Cabinet, c. 1898; smoking table, 1902, by Carlo Bugatti. Images courtesy of The Mullin Automotive Museum.

Carlo also showed artistry as a silversmith, several examples of which are included in the Mullin exhibit.


Poster of the 1910 Antwerp Exposition. Self-portrait of Rembrandt Bugatti. Image from The Bugatti Legend.

Ettore’s younger brother Rembrandt was a gentle man with a profound love of nature. His animal sculptures, highly prized today, are both modernist and warm.


Elephant Stretching, cast bronze, by Rembrandt Bugatti, 1905.

The horrors of World War I affected Rembrandt deeply. He took his own life in 1916.


The Bugatti Legend, catalog of an exhibition, part of the Urban Resort Fair Kobe ’93, Luca Gentili Editore, 1993.

Back in 1993, a similar celebration of Bugatti art took place in Kobe, Japan. By the way, another of Rembrandt’s famed pieces, the exalting elephant hood ornament of the Bugatti Type 41 Royale, can be seen on the catalog cover.


1931 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix. Image courtesy of The Mullin Automotive Museum.

A Type 35 of the 1920s is the epitome of vintage race car, but the Type 51 of the 1930s retained many Type 35 features, including its iconic shape, cable-actuated brakes and artful (if archaic) front axle design.


Engine of the Type 51. Image courtesy of Michael Furman.

What’s more, the Type 51 engine added dual overhead camshafts to the architectural beauty of previous Bugatti eight-cylinder designs.


The Bugatti-De Monge prototype 100P. Image from The Bugatti Legend.

Bugatti designs weren’t only road-going. Ettore worked with Belgian aeronautical engineer Louis de Monge in developing the 100P, an advanced aircraft designed as a world record breaker. The Reve Bleu replica of the 100P is on exhibit at The Mullin. (More on this tomorrow.)


The You-You offered by Chantiers Navals de Maisons-Laffitte, one of Ettore’s businesses post World War II, poster by R. Geri. Image from The Bugatti Legend.

After World War II, Ettore got into boat design through acquiring Chartiers Naval de Maisons-Laffitte. His intent was to build “luxury boats, either sail or power.” One example was the You-You, French slang for “little boat.”


A You-You is part of the exhibit at The Mullin. Image courtesy of Michael Furman.

Ettore’s designs also traveled the rails of France, in the form of the Bugatti Autorail, in single and multi-carriage layouts, and the 1000-CV Bugatti locomotive.


Bugatti Automobiles Autorails Molsheim, poster, by R. Geri, 1935. Image from The Bugatti Legend.

These precursors of today’s TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) remained in service until 1958.

My favorite example of Ettore’s artistry—sometimes even beyond engineering rationale—is the design and fabrication of his traditional beam front axle.


Above, an earlier, cost-effective approach: Each longitudinal leaf spring was U-bolted to the axle. Below, later Bugattis had this artful means of linking each spring to the axle.


To achieve his later linking of spring and axle, Ettore had two box shapes forged out of the axle stock. Each box was drilled and then finished into a square opening. Last, the leaf spring was passed through and shimmed into place.

Which approach is more practical? Ah, but which is more artful? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: