WILLIAM Tishman and Bart de Vries were both inspired by pictures of an exotic 1930s car — and both just had to have one.
Tishman was in the US, De Vries some 8500km away in Holland. Neither knew of the other, yet they started their projects at almost the same time.
What got both men going was an image of car few people had even heard of — a French Bucciali. This particular one a cabriolet with body by Saoutchik, as presented at the Paris Grand Palais in 1930.
Tishman found a faded photograph of it, while De Vries had acquired a copy of a painting by Dutch artist Piet Olyslager.
Apart from being smitten by the sight of the car, the two men had nothing in common.
Tishman was a wealthy man who already owned a Rolls Royce Phantom II, a Marmon Speedster and several other classics, while De Vries was an artist and designer.
The American commissioned professionals to fabricate the complex car, a task that took some eight years.
It was started shortly before WWII and by the time it was ready, it had cost about US $650,000, which today would be closer to US $2 million.
By contrast, de Vries built his dream car from scratch all by himself.
He was not an engineer, but a gifted artist who took time to get everything just right.
With the modified GM chassis almost completed, he began making the doors, window frames and the grille, dashboard and all the rest of it.
He worked in iron, steel and aluminium, fashioning every piece with passion, precision and perfection.
“My car is not a recreation or a replica, but inspired by the body Saoutchik of Paris made for the brothers Bucciali in the beginning of the 1930,” he said.
Like Tishman’s, his car is also Buick-powered and not for sale, but for personal use — and he still drives it regularly, putting on over 120,000km in trips through Europe.
So what kind of car warrants such dedication? It’s another story that leaves the brain reeling.
The brand was a product of Angelo and Albert Bucciali, musicians and craftsmen, who learnt their skills from their French Corsican dad, Joseph, an organ builder of repute — despite being blind from birth.
Albert saw his first car race in 1902 and immediately wanted to build cars and race them.
He liked cars and aeroplanes equally but was even more intrigued with aircraft and learned to fly even before the onset of WWI.
During the war, he was assigned to the 26th squadron which had a stork with swept-back wings as its insignia.
He was an ace flyer and was sent to the Eastern front, where he met Czech mechanic, Némorin Causan, who later figured in his car making venture.
Post-war, the Buccialis set up a car factory in the town of Courbevoie and the first person they hired was Causan.
They began by modifying cars for other owners, but then built their first car called Buc, using a shortened version of their surname.
They were cyclecars with Violet two-stroke V4 power and made their debut at the 1922 Paris show.
Then they went racing, with a new aerodynamic car powered by a single overhead cam 1459cc six, designed by Causan.
It was called the Buc B6-C24 and had some success in the Tour de France.
For them, conventional cars were, well, too conventional.
Also, at that time, competition was fierce with 104 different brands in France alone, plus a further 156 in the UK, 62 in the US — and dozens more elsewhere in the world.
So they abandoned cyclecar production after having built about 120 of them.
Albert had many ideas and he could see the wisdom in just being an engineering firm, selling his ideas to car makers.
So they started off in that direction, developing a front-wheel drive system.
Albert patented all his designs, which went on to include an all-independent suspension system, all-wheel drive, an electromagnetic transmission and several other innovations — all way ahead of their time.
How does anyone born into music end up designing innovative cars and components?
Albert’s quote: “Organ building is a remarkable school for learning the principles of physics and mechanics.”
Citroen showed interest in Bucciali’s FWD system, but in 1934 developed a more rudimentary system sufficiently different to avoid infringing the patent.
The name of the business was changed to Bucciali Freres (Bucciali Brothers) and the new chassis they were developing was named the Bucciali TAV, for Traction Avant (front wheel drive) and made its debut at the 1926 Paris Motor Show.
But there were no orders, so they decided on something very different and imported a straight eight Continental engine from the US.
The 1929 show had the completed TAV and a rolling chassis all on display.
As a result, the Buccialis were able to sell the American rights to their front drive system to a US citizen, Coldwell S Johnston, who launched a PR campaign and had talks with major US car makers, among them Willys-Overland, Chrysler, Ruxton, Graham Paige, Peerless and Hupmobile.
Finally a licensing deal was struck only with Peerless, a well-reputed maker of luxury cars which used Continental engines.
They signed an agreement to manufacture cars using some of Bucciali’s patents.
In return, the brothers were given exclusive rights to distribute a future front-wheel drive Peerless model in Europe.
When the brothers got back to France they began upgrading the two running cars and also embarked on one with a fabulous engine – a V16 of their own design (created by combining two Continental straight eight blocks at an angle, using a single crankshaft).
It was called the “Double Huit” or double eight.
At the Paris Motor Show of 1930, things were looking up. They had a new backer and took their first front-wheel drive Bucciali order from a private customer, wealthy pharmacist Georges Roure.
But there was a hitch. They had displayed the car with a mock-up of the V16 but were unable to deliver it with that engine.
They mollified Roure by telling him they would install a Continental straight eight instead and call it the TAV 8-32.
So they began building the car. Then Roure decided he wanted a Voisin V12 motor instead of the American eight-potter.
Along came the year 1931 and many companies were soon in deep trouble as the depression took hold.
However, the brothers went ahead and built a new car, with body by Saoutchik and memorialised by the name Fleche d’Oro or Golden Arrow, derived from the insignia of Albert’s fighter plane in WWI.
The car was completed in April, 1932 and delivered. But it was too late: their sponsor was running dry, and no car maker was willing to buy their patents.
Meanwhile, Peerless, their American partner, realised the market for luxmobiles was next to zero, so they made a radical change and installed a brewery in their car plant.
That turned out to be a wise move, for it’s still operating today as Carling.
The one completed Bucciali was sold to Count de Rivaud, a Paris banker who liked the body so much he later moved the Saoutchik design to his new Bugatti Type 46, where it didn’t quite fit as well, the original chassis having been front drive.
But there were still some Bucciali fans and in the 1970s enough parts of the TAV 8-32 were found so that the Fleche d’Oro could live once again.
These included the very rare Voisin engine, the bodywork and drivetrain together with a new chassis, front bulkhead and rear axle.
The car was offered by Christie’s in a Pebble Beach auction in 1997, but with the word “reconstruction” attached, it failed to sell.
Christies later took it to their booth at Retromobile in Paris where an unnamed Swiss bought it.
From 1926 to 1932 Bucciali made six chassis; three of them surviving to this day:
TAV 1 of 1926 was probably never been driven and scrapped
TAV 2 is in the Blackhawk Museum in the US
TAV 2 / TAV 3 of 1927/28, is also at Blackhawk
TAV 2 year 1928 was scrapped in 1933
TAV 5 of 1930 was probably never driven and in 1954 Albert Bucciali had it scrapped
TAV 8-32 of 1931/32 began with engine of Voisin V12 and Saoutchik body, after the series of renovations and extension has been completed in 1997 and from 1998 is in private European collection
In his later years, Albert Bucciali spent a lot of money and energy defending his various patents.
The popular opinion was that he was in the right, but he had trouble winning cases.
In 1954, the French court ruled in his favour, confirming that several US companies, Willys in particular, violated his patents and produced thousands of vehicles based on his designs.
However, the ruling was later overturned. Relentless, Bucciali continued seeking justice.
In 1970, the US Court of Appeals ruled against him regarding the Willys Jeep infringement, and he finally gave up.
He lived the rest of his life shunning publicity and the company of anyone but his immediate family. He died in 1981 at age 82.