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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.
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 http://wp.me/p2ETap-10r for my recounting of his Type 251 Grand Prix car.
The Art of Bugatti is the current exhibit at The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, from March 28 through mid-December. See http://wp.me/p2ETap-JU for my earlier visit with this museum’s collection of Voisin automobiles; see http://wp.me/p2ETap-Fr for my tale of Le Bugatti Englouti, one of the museum’s cars on exhibit.
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.
Carlo also showed artistry as a silversmith, several examples of which are included in the Mullin exhibit.
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.
The horrors of World War I affected Rembrandt deeply. He took his own life in 1916.
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.
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.
What’s more, the Type 51 engine added dual overhead camshafts to the architectural beauty of previous Bugatti eight-cylinder designs.
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.)
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.”
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.
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.
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, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014