Simanaitis Says

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JUST OPENED AT the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is The Art of Bugatti, in a sense a recreation of an earlier exhibit at the Mullin Automotive Museum described back in March 2014 in ”Bugatti Art at the Mullin.” The Petersen exhibit runs now through October 2017 and, like the earlier one, celebrates Bugatti family artistry, including that of Carlo and his sons, Ettore and Rembrandt, and Ettore’s son Jean.


For exhibit details, see the Petersen Automotive Museum. This and other images are from the exhibit’s website.

Carlo specialized in Art Nouveau decor incorporating Arabic influences popular at the fin de siécle. His tables, chairs, cabinets and other furnishings were renowned for the intricacy of their workmanship.


The furniture of Carlo Bugatti; at the rear, son Ettore’s Type 35.

Rembrandt, Ettore’s younger brother, was known for his sculptures in bronze, especially of the wildlife he loved. His life was tragically short; Rembrandt died by his own hand at age 31.


The wildlife art of Rembrandt Bugatti. He also rendered the elephant ornament of the Type 41 Royale.


Ettore’s contribution is rolling art in the automobiles fabricated at his Molsheim, Alsace, factory. A striking example in the Petersen exhibit is a Type 57SC Atlantic, its bodywork designed by son Jean. The exposed riveted seams are dictated by the car’s bodywork of Elektron, a magnesium alloy.


The Type 57SC Atlantic of Ettore and Jean Bugatti. Of four produced, three are known to survive.

From the 1909 Type 13 through the pre-World War II Type 59, Automobiles E. Bugatti fabricated perhaps 8000 cars, each one of them a work of art. Bugatti also designed and built motorized railcars and a racing airplane.

A modern recreation of this 100P aircraft was exhibited at the Mullin back in 2014. Alas, it crashed August 6, 2016, on what was to be its final development testing. Scotty Wilson, the replica’s builder and pilot, perished in the accident.


Examples of Ettore’s artistry of fabrication.

Some of Ettore Bugatti’s engineering solutions have been questioned on grounds of practicality, but few on design aesthetics. My favorite is the typical front suspension of a Bugatti: an axle suspended on two longitudinal leaf springs–in the most elegant of ways.


A Bugatti Type 35 front suspension detail. Image from my visit to the Mullin Automotive Museum.

On each side, the longitudinal leaf spring passes through a square hole in an artfully shaped hollow axle. A square hole through a hollow piece of metal? It sounds not unlike the Bugatti workman’s file-and-vise challenge described in ”Bugatti Vises and Vices.”

Fortunately, a drawing of this artistic fabrication is given in Hugh Conway’s Bugatti Magnum.


A Bugatti front axle, patent no. 235168. Image from Bugatti Magnum.

A description is given in Motorsport, June 1959: “This illustrates what since 1924 has been one of the great novelties of the Bugatti car–a solid one-piece forged axle with a hollow centre section. The specification illustrates how this was carried out, by boring a hole through the axle and punching square slots for the springs, and then forging the axle to shape afterwards. Since the loads on a front axle are a combination of bending and torsion, the hollow tubular construction is logical. The mounting of a spring in a hole through the axle is also an elegant refinement.”

Perhaps not the most straightforward approach, but for engineering elegance–and sheer art–my view is it starts with Ettore Bugatti. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016


  1. Michael Rubin
    October 27, 2016

    Whenever I see a Bugatti or other work of automotive art from that era I wonder how many of them were lost to the German war effort as they gathered classic cars and melted their parts to provide materiel, especially for the Luftwaffe.

  2. Jim in SoCal
    October 27, 2016

    When the Petersen closed to remodel and Mullin took over the board, there was concern in the great www social network, that the Petersen would become “Mullin South.” My wife and I have been to three after hour events since the museum reopened, and I have been very impressed. However, I’m wondering if this is the nose of the Camel appearing under the tent.

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