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ETTORE BUGATTI’S LIFE and cars have been oft documented, but seldom in as charming a fashion as in his daughter L’Ebé’s account in The Bugatti Story. Here in Part 2 we continue sharing tidbits from this book, including photos I don’t recall encountering in other sources.

Above, Molsheim, 1911. The factory was built in the paddock seen in the background, after the First World War. The two children in the car are Lidia and Jean Bugatti. Below, a man, his toy, and his boys: Bugatti with Roland, middle, and Jean in one of his cars at the Lyon Circuit, 1925. These and following images from The Bugatti Story.

A Second Flight from Molsheim. L’Ebé recounts, “Less than a month after the tragic death of Jean Bugatti [in an August 1939 accident testing a new car], the Second World War began. And, as in 1914, Ettore Bugatti chose to serve France…. During the ‘phoney war’ he evacuated his factory to Bordeaux, in conditions of indescribable difficulty, and turned it over to work of national importance. The German invasion and subsequent capitulation of France brought an end to his business, for the factory was taken over by the Germans and he was obliged to sell out.”

Complex times. “After the war,” L’Ebé describes, “in order to have the business and premises restored to him, a court action became necessary.” 

Bugatti lost his first case with the Administration des Domaines in 1945. “But his own advocates,” L’Ebé writes, “were armed with indisputable documents and obtained judgement, dated 11th June, 1947, whereby the Molsheim factory and property were legally restored to their founder and rightful owner, Ettore Bugatti.”

L’Ebé describes, “By a final irony, it was while the ownership of his factory was being disputed that Bugatti had a brilliant win on his own ground—which was different from that of his judges.” 

Grand Prix de la Libération. “The first major motor-racing event in France after the war was the Grand Prix de la Libération, which was held in the Bois de Boulogne, over a temporary circuit, on 9th September, 1946. There were three races: 1. The Prisoners of War Cup, for cars of more than a 3-litre capacity. 2. The Liberation Cup, for supercharged 1.5-litre sports cars. 3. The Robert Benoist Cup, for 1100-cc cars.” 

Robert Benoist was a French race driver and war hero. He co-drove a Bugatti Type 57G to victory with Jean-Pierre Wimille in the 1937 Le Mans. During the war, he escaped occupied France and joined the Special Operations Executive. Parachuted into France, he helped organize sabotage cells with the French Resistance. Captured in June 1943, he leapt from a moving vehicle and escaped the Gestapo, eventually being smuggled back to Britain. His second SOE mission lasted from October 1943 to February 1944. His third SOE mission ended with his capture in June 1944 and subsequent execution at Buchenwald. 

A Wimille Win. ’Ebé describes the race: “There were sixteen starters for the Prisoners of War Cup (5 Bugattis, 7 Delahayes, 2 Talbots, 1 Alfa, and 1 Maserati). It was won by Wimille in a Bugatti, with a time of 1 hour 3 minutes 33 seconds, and an average speed of 70 mph. The car, which was the fastest ever built by Ettore Bugatti, was a supercharged 4.7-litre eight-cylinder with bore and stroke of 84 mm. x 107 mm. It weighed 17 cwt. and could reach a speed of 185 mph.” 

The car with which Wimille won the Prisoners of War Cup in 1946—Bugatti’s last great success. 

“For Parisians,” L’Ebé writes, “deprived of motor-racing spectacles for six or seven years, it was a great return to other days and the win was loudly acclaimed. For Ettore Bugatti, it was a farewell to the racing scene, though he was unaware of this at the time.” 

The Guv’nor’s Death. Several places in the L’Ebé’s narrative, she refers to her father as “The Gov’nor.” I don’t recall any use of Le Patron. In April 1947, Ettore Bugatti, exhausted and in low spirits about court matters, developed influenza and then an obstructed artery leaving him partially paralyzed.

“He lingered on for four months,” L’Ebé writes, “and despite the care of specialists, he gradually sank into a coma and died on 21st August, 1947, at the American Hospital in Neuilly. He was sixty-six years of age.”

The Book’s Concusion. L’Ebé includes An Appreciation of Ettore Bugatti by the Duc de Gramont, a great friend; a chapter on The “Bugattists;” and 17-page Appendices of The Seventy-Four Types of Cars, Etc. Built at Molsheim.

Ettore Bugatti wearing the driving helmet he made by cutting off the rim of one of his bowler hats. 

 L’Ebé tells a charming tale of the British Bugatti Owners’ Club, which “began to hold an annual ‘Dinner and Dance’ at a well-known London hotel. It was customary to have a Bugatti on display, standing on a platform at one end of the room, polished to shine like new. At some time between the dessert, the speeches and dancing, members of the committee would start up the engine and the room would be filled with noise and the familiar fumes, reviving memories and evoking the thrills and keen contests of the race-track.”

I’m confident The Gov’nor/Le Patron would have enjoyed this. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

9 comments on “L’EBÉ’S VIEWS PART 2

  1. Bill
    March 26, 2022

    Might that be the same “well known London hotel” at which the Bentley Driver’s Club had an annual meeting and dinner?

    • simanaitissays
      March 27, 2022

      I’m guessing the Savoy, though L’Ebé doesn’t say.

      • Bill
        March 27, 2022

        The BDC met at the Dorchester. I was thinking of Ettore’s famous remark about Bentley building “les camions plus vite” and the irony of both clubs meeting at the same hotel. The BDC would bring cars in too.
        Thank you for your excellent site!
        Stay well.

  2. sabresoftware
    March 26, 2022

    I recognized the name “Robert Benoit” having just recently read “ A woman of no importance : the untold story of the American spy who helped win WWII”, by Sonia Purnell. A fascinating read about Virginia Hall who was a major factor in setting up resistance cells in France, initially working for British SOE under the guise of being an American reporter in unoccupied France (Vichy) pre US being at war, and then later working for the American OSS.

    • sabresoftware
      March 26, 2022

      Of course Benoist, not Benoit.

      • simanaitissays
        March 27, 2022

        Ha. Funny story here, Sabre.
        In reading your second comment, I thought at first it was I who had misspelled his name and checked over my text carefully a couple times (all on my iPhone, still abed). Only when I reread your two comments here on the computer screen did I realize where the typo occurred. (Thanks for catching it, in any case.)

      • sabresoftware
        March 27, 2022

        I wish I was always that quick to catch my mistakes. I’m Andy and my wife is Ann, so we often call ourselves Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. We even have personalized license plates that reflect that (RGDANN AND RGDANDY, not what I wanted, but RAGANDY was already taken). For Christmas I bought my wife a new iPad, and Apple gives the option to personalize it with an engraving. I dutifully sent in the following “Ragedy Ann’s iPad”, but only noticed the error after I got the order confirmation!

  3. Jack Albrecht
    April 4, 2022

    “Buchenwald” not “Buckenwald” is the name of the concentration camp. My wife’s grandfather survived it!

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