A VERY special Bugatti Royale, the famed Berline de Voyage, has returned to Europe after being bought from the Blackhawk Collection in California.
But who the buyer was is unknown, and how much he or she paid is also a secret.
What we can tell you is that the price topped the US $22 million ($28.8m Aussie) paid for the ex-Clark Gable 1935 Duesenberg SSJ, which until now was the highest price ever paid for a pre-war classic car.
The transaction was reported on Facebook by former collector car auctioneer Rick Cole after the car arrived in Europe and has been confirmed by Don Williams of the Blackhawk Collection, who said said Cole was a “teammate” in the sale.
The Blackhawk Collection is one of the world’s foremost companies specialising in the acquisition and sale of classic, coachbuilt and one-of-a-kind vehicles.
Ettore Bugatti planned to build 25 Royales, the biggest and most stately of his creations, with the intention of selling them to kings and princes.
However, the Great Depression limited production and only seven cars were built between 1928 and 1932.
Only three of these were sold. One was destroyed by Ettore in a crash but the remaining six still exist.
Ettore was very particular about who qualified to buy his Royales, which he built after an Englishwoman told him she thought the Rolls-Royce was a better car than his Bugattis.
He refused to sell one to King Zog of Albania, claiming that “the man’s table manners are beyond belief!”
Zog apparently annoyed many other people too, because there were some 55 assassination attempts on his life during his 11-year reign.
He was not the only nobleman not to get his hands on a Royale.
In 1928, Ettore Bugatti said “this year King Alfonso of Spain will receive his Royale,” but the Spanish king was deposed without taking delivery, and the first of the cars was not delivered until 1932.
Chassis 41150 was the sixth of the seven Royales built.
It’s a massive car, one of the world’s biggest, measuring 6.4m in length and with a mass of 3175kg.
It’s powered by a 12.8-litre straight-8 developing up to 224kW and driving the 24-inch rear wheels through a three-speed gearbox.
It had just one carburetter and torque was so great it could drive from a standing start in top gear.
Despite its great size and mass, the Royale performed very well.
Bugatti even got Autocar magazine to conduct a review of it, which proved how excellent chassis construction allowed very good and balanced handling at speed, similar to smaller Bugatti sports cars.
All Royales were individually bodied and the radiator cap featured a posed elephant, a sculpture by Ettore’s brother Rembrandt Bugatti.
The Berline de Voyage was among the cars that did not sell initially and was kept by Bugatti and, together with 41100, the ‘Coupe Napoleon’, were hidden behind brick walls built at the Bugatti home in Ermenonville, France, so they would not be commandeered by the Nazis during World War II.
After the war, both cars were bought from Bugatti’s daughter, L’Ebe, by US sportsman and racer Briggs Cunningham.
With the French franc so devalued after the war, Cunningham acquired the cars for about US $600 each, though he also threw in a pair of new General Electric refrigerators since such comforts were not available in post-war France.