By Phil Skinner
It was Ettore Bugatti’s most exclusive creation, the Type 41 Royale. From the onset, only 25 examples were ever planned and in the end, only six were ever produced. Using a huge 12.7-Liter, inline eight-cylinder engine rated at 300 hp, everything about the Royale was massive. Each car had a 169.3-inch wheelbase, 24-inch wheels, a weight of more than 7,000 lbs and a price tag that was just as colossal at around $25,000 U.S. dollars in 1929. On top of the base chassis price, each car had a custom-ordered body ranging in price from $5,000 to $18,000 in pre-depression 1929 dollars.
To finish off this grand automobile, the radiator mascot had to be something just as special and just as big. For the crowning touch, Ettore Bugatti turned to the work of his beloved younger brother Rembrandt, a noted and talented artist. The younger Bugatti brother made animals the subject of his art. He was a patron of the city zoo in Antwerp, Belgium, and used many of the animals there as the basis for his works. Sadly, during World War I, many of these exotic creatures had to be killed due to the inability to properly care for the animals in the zoo during the war. The story goes that Rembrandt was so distraught with these actions, he traveled to Paris and committed suicide in 1916.
Ettore Bugatti felt that one of his brother’s most exquisite works was the mighty elephant rising up on its rear legs with his trunk high in the air. This, he felt, would be the finishing touch for his most exclusive automobile, the Type 41 Royale.
Using an original bronze casting from Rembrandt, a very limited run of these mascots were produced. Each was cast in sterling silver by the Charkles Valsuani Foundry in Paris using the “Cire Perdue” (lost wax) method.
One of those rare mascots has surfaced and is being offered at auction by l’art et l’automobile, the world-famous gallery featuring some of the most sought-after automotive collectibles produced. The gallery was founded and is operated by Jacques Vaucher.
“According to documentation we have, in the 1950s, an avid collector of mascots was good friends with the owner of Bugatti Royale chassis 41111, known among enthusiasts as the ‘Binder Coupe,’” Vaucher told Old Cars Weekly. “The owner at the time, Dudley Wilson, told his friend if he could produce an exact replica of the standing elephant mascot, he would allow a trade for the original.”
Shortly after the new silver-plated bronze mascot had taken its place on the top of the radiator of this magnificent car, the Binder coupe was sold by Wilson for a reported $4,500 in 1961. It would eventually become one of the stars of William F. Harrah’s automotive collection.
The original silver cast example being offered by l’art et l’automobile carries that original founder’s mark, plus a personal hallmark from the foundry’s owner featuring very small initials of “C V” separated by a raised torch. According to Vaucher, these marks attest to this beautiful piece of artwork’s authenticity of its content and origins.
“I have sold hundreds of other mascots over the years,” Vaucher said, “but I don’t think any of them could be compared to the historical importance and authenticity of this example.”
There has been a strong interest in collecting these radiator ornaments, and Vaucher cited the recent sale at the Bonhams Auction in Carmel Valley where the glass Lalique mascot “The Fox” sold for $380,000 at auction.
“I believe this example from Royale 41111 is much more impressive and significant than even The Fox,” Vaucher said. “I really expect the bidding for this piece to be very strong, and I dare say it might even set a new world record for such a piece.”
In recent trading of several original Rembrandt Bugatti original bronze works, prices have well exceeded the million-dollar mark. It makes one wonder if this Bugatti original could do the same when bidding opens Nov. 14 on the website www.arteautoauction.com. The auction will close Dec. 12.
To view this piece of work, as well as other works offered by l’art et l’automobile, visit www.arteautoauction.com.