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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.
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.”
“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.
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, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022