Perhaps the last word from the 20-30's in automotive excess or art, and both are not mutually exclusive, is the Bugatti T41, better known as the Royale. Ettore Bugatti had been very successful with his Grand Prix cars but had no real reputation in the extreme luxury motoring segment of the market. So plans to build 25 huge limousines intended for the crowned heads of Europe and other royalty was an extraordinary act of faith in his own engineering and marketing ability. Sadly the timing of the project was badly off as the Great Depression was hitting its low point and most of those who could afford this monster decided that discretion was the better part of valour. No need to be a peacock when ordinary people were going hungry.
So only six examples of this extraordinary vehicle were built. There were three on display at this year's Rétromobile, a testament to the importance of the show. This example, 41.111, is arguably the most elegant of them all. It was sold to Parisian couturier, Armand Esders, who specified a two door roadster body on the Royale chassis. Esders did not want headlamps as he never drove at night and the car was re-bodied several times till the current owner, Volkswagen AG, purchased it in 1999, restoring it to original condition.
Although at first consideration the Royale was a hugely expensive mistake, in fact it provided a route to salvation for Bugatti. During the 30's luxury automotive brands such as Bentley, Lagonda, Dusenberg, Minerva and Delage were either closed or taken over, some disappearing altogether. Ettore Bugatti was approached by ÉTAT, the French state railway, to design and build a number of railcars using the Royale's engine to power the trains. Between 1933 and 1938 some 91 Bugatti railcars were produced, saving the company from ruin.
The Royale was not a commercial success in its time but now it is one of the most sought after cars ever built, almost beyond mere money.
I bet you are already wondering what is in store for tomorrow? Then be sure to come back and see if a Bentley from the 30's made good on it's bet.