Ettore Bugatti planned to build 25 Royales, also known as the Type 41, the consensus choice for the most magnificent cars ever made. Unfortunately for Bugatti, the Great Depression had depressed the market for $30,000 automobiles – by comparison when the Ford V8 powered Model B was introduced in 1932 it’s starting price was $495 – and he ended up making only 6. Two of them are in the French national automobile museum, the confiscated Schlumpf brothers’ collection. VW, which owns the Bugatti brand, owns a third. A fourth is in a private collection in Switzerland and the fifth is part of the Blackhawk collection. So if you want to see a Bugatti Royale, you’re going to have to go to either Europe or California… or Detroit. Well, properly speaking Dearborn. The Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit contains a number of great and historically significant cars, but the jewel in the collection has to be Bugatti chassis no. 41-121, known as the Cabriolet Weinberger. 41-121 has a colorful history, which is below the jump.
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The second production Royale built, it was ordered by Dr. Joseph Fuchs, a German physician and successful amateur racing driver. Dr. Fuchs had the 169.3-inch wheelbase chassis, which was delivered in 1931, bodied by Weinberger of Munich. Delivery of the completed Cabriolet occurred during 1932.
Shortly after Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Dr. Fuchs slipped away to Switzerland and soon traveled on to the lively open city of Shanghai, China. He had his massive Bugatti shipped to him there, but by 1937, the advance of Japanese troops into the south of China put the Doctor and his Royale on the move yet again.
Dr. Fuchs and Bugatti next traveled to Canada and then down to New York City. There, the 12.7-liter straight-eight engine in the Royale fell victim to the American winter of 1937-1938-water froze in the block, severely damaging and cracking it. Dr. Fuchs tried to sell his large, broken car, but there were no takers. Eventually it ended up in a Bronx salvage yard.
During World War II, Charles Chayne, a General Motors executive engineer, found out about the Royale in the junkyard and rescued it in 1943. He began to repair the engine and restore the car after peace returned in 1946, completing the project just a year later. Chayne also installed a custom manifold with four Stromberg carburetors in place of the original single carburetor and converted the original mechanical brakes to a hydraulic system.
During its restoration, the exterior color was changed from the original black to oyster white. Chayne also replaced the interior, modifying it to make it more adaptive to his 6-foot, 3-inch frame.
In 1958, Chayne and his wife, Esther, donated the Royale Cabriolet to the Henry Ford Museum. The museum took actual possession in 1959 and the car has remained part of the collection there since. In May 2007, technicians from Classic & Exotic Services helped get the big car running for the first time in several years for display at the Meadow Brook Concours.