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


ETTORE BUGATTI WAS an artisan as well as engineer as well as automaker. It’s part of Bugatti lore that each prospective workman at the Molshiem factory was confronted with a challenging employment test: It involved two pieces of metal, a plate with a hole drilled in it and a dowel with diameter slightly larger than that of the hole.

The test was to fashion the dowel and hole into octagonal shapes so that the dowel would fit snuggly into the hole in any of the eight possible orientations. The only tools were a hand file and bench vise.


Inspection time at Molsheim. Sketch by English motoring journalist/racing driver S.C.H. Davis. This and the following image from Bugatti Magnum.

It’s likely as well that the bench vise used in this qualification test was itself a bit of artistry designed by le Patron. Today, these Bugatti vises are highly prized, with even latter-day reproductions fetching thousands of dollars.


An authentic Bugatti vise, as fitted to benches throughout the Molsheim works.

What’s more, there’s an etymological aspect in exactly what to call this bench-mounted clamping tool.

Early on, I was taught the difference between “vice” and “vise.” The latter was the clamping device with two jaws, their grip controlled by screw adjustment. The word “vice” was rather more complicated. As a noun, it meant an immoral behavior or moral weakness, The Seven Deadly Vices, aka Seven Deadly Sins.

Do you know them? Alphabetically, they’re Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth and Wrath. Extra points for pairing them with the Seven Dwarfs.

Another use of “vice” signifies next in rank: vice-president, vice-admiral. Merriam-Webster cites a related preposition meaning “rather than.” The dictionary’s example is “I will preside, vice the absent chairman.” Its indicated pronunciation is vīs, also vī-sē. Given its Latin origin, I’d wonder it isn’t “vĭ-ché.”

Last, Brits spell the gripping tool “vice.” This puzzled me initially when I checked out Tula Engineering. This Bugatti specialist in Britain manufactures Bugatti vice/vise reproductions.


Baby Bugatti vice, shown atop its big brother. Image from Tula Engineering.

The Tula baby vise is about half the size of a Molsheim original: 9 in. long, with jaws that are 2.2 in. wide by 0.9 in. deep opening to a maximum 2.4 in. Its price is £1600 (these days, $1950) plus packaging and postage.

Tula also makes, on special order, a full-size reproduction of the Molsheim vise, price £3500/$4265 plus VAT, packaging and postage.

The baby Bugatti vise would seem just the thing for maintaining one’s Baby Bugatti; the full-size reproduction, if you’re running a full-size Bugatti.

Authentic Molsheim vises appear on the market from time to time. One starting at $6000 generated a lot of internet chatter. On the other hand, if you have to ask…


Another relevant matter would seem to be whether you could pass the Molsheim octagonal qualification test. I’m confident I could not. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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This entry was posted on October 16, 2016 by in Classic Bits and tagged , .
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