The Bugatti Type 41, better known as the Royale, is a large luxury car with a 4.3 m (169.3 in) wheelbase and 6.4 m (21 ft) overall length. It weighs approximately 3175 kg (7000 lb) and uses a 12.7 L (12763 cc/778 in³) straight-8 engine. For comparison, against the modern Rolls-Royce Phantom (produced from 2003 onward), the Royale is about 20% longer, and more than 25% heavier. This makes the Royale one of the largest cars in the world.
Ettore Bugatti planned to build twenty-five of these cars, sell them to royalty and to be the most luxurious car ever. But even European royalty was not buying such things during the Great Depression, and Bugatti was able to sell only three of the six made.
Crafted by Ettore Bugatti, the Type 41 is said to have come about because he took exception to the comments of an English lady who compared his cars unfavourably with those of Rolls-Royce.
The prototype had a near 15-litre capacity engine. The production version, its stroke reduced from 150 mm (5.9 in) to 130 mm (5.1 in) had a displacement of 12.7 litres. The engine was built around a single huge block, and at (apx. 4.5 ft (1.4 m) long x 3.5 ft (1.1 m) high), is one of the largest automobile engines ever made, producing 205 to 223 kW (275 to 300 hp). Its eight cylinders, bored to 125 mm (4.9 in) and with a stroke length of 130 mm (5.1 in), each displaced more than the entire engine of the contemporary Type 40 touring car. It had 3 valves per cylinder (two inlet:one exhaust) driven by a centrally positioned single overhead camshaft. Three bearings and only a single custom carburettor was needed. The engine was based on an aero-engine design that had been designed for the French Air Ministry, but never produced in that configuration.
The chassis was understandably substantial, with a conventional semi-elliptic leaf spring suspension arrangement at the front. At the rear the forward-facing Bugatti quarter-elliptics were supplemented by a second set facing to the rear.
Strangely, for the modern day observer, the aluminium clutch box was attached to the chassis, not to the engine, and the gear box, also in aluminium was attached to the rear axle, so was part of the unsprung mass of the suspension. The reason placing clutch and gearbox at such odd locations was reducing noise, so increasing comfort inside the cars, a difficult problem in those days. On the other hand, in view of the Royale's huge mass, placing the gearbox on the rear axle did not present a driveability problem.
Massive brake shoes were mechanically operated via cable controls: the brakes were effective but without servo-assistance required significant muscle power from the driver. The car's cast "Roue Royale" wheels measured 610 mm (24 inches) in diameter.
Reflecting some tradition-based fashions of the time, the driver was confronted by a series of knobs of whalebone, while the steering wheel was covered with walnut.
A road test performed in 1926 by W.F. Bradley at the request of Ettore Bugatti for the Autocar magazine proved how exquisite chassis construction allowed very good and balanced handling at speed, similar to smaller Bugatti sports cars, despite the car's weight and size.
All Royales were individually bodied. The radiator cap was a posed elephant, a sculpture by Ettore's brother Rembrandt Bugatti.
In 1928 Ettore Bugatti asserted that "this year King Alfonso of Spain will receive his Royale", but the Spanish king was deposed without taking delivery of a Royale, and the first of the cars to find a customer was not delivered until 1932. The Royale with a basic chassis price of $30,000, was launched just as the world economy began to sour into the 1930s Great Depression. Six Royales were built between 1929 and 1933, with just three sold to external customers. Intended for royalty, none was eventually sold to any royals, and Bugatti even refused to sell one to King Zog of Albania, claiming that "the man's table manners are beyond belief!"
All six production Royales still exist (the prototype was destroyed in an accident in 1931), and each has a different body, some having been rebodied several times.
41.111 - Coupé de ville Binder
- The second car built, but the first to find a customer, is chassis no.41.111
- Known as the Coupé de ville Binder
- Sold in April 1932 to French clothing manufacturer Armand Esders. Ettore's eldest son, Jean, fashioned for the car a dramatic two-seater open body with flamboyant, full-bodied wings and a dickey seat, but no headlamps. In this form it became known as the Royale Esders Roadster.
- Purchased by the French politician Paternotre, the car was rebodied in the Coupé de ville style by the coach builder Henri Binder. From this point onwards, known as the Coupé de ville Binder
- Never delivered to the King of Romania due to World War 2, it was hidden from the Nazis by storing it in the sewers of Paris
- Briefly found its way to the United Kingdom after World War 2, and was then acquired by Dudley C Wilson of Florida in 1954. On his death in 1961 it passed to banker Mills B Lane of Atlanta before in 1964 taking up residence in The Harrah Collection at Reno, Nevada, bought at the then sensational price of $45,000 (approximately what the car had cost new).
- Sold in 1986 to Californian collector, home builder, and Air Force Reserve Major General William Lyon, he offered the car during the 1996 Barrett-Jackson Auction by Private treaty sale, where he refused an offer of $11 million; the reserve was set at $15 million.
- In 1999, the new owner of the Bugatti brand, Volkswagen AG, bought the car for a reported $20 million. Now used as a brand promotion vehicle, it travels to various museums and locations
A Bugatti Royale features in the 2012 book Lucia on Holiday by Guy Fraser-Sampson, an addition to the Mapp and Lucia series of novels by E.F.Benson. In the story Major Mapp-Flint is asked by a maharajah to drive the car from Paris to Bellagio, but he drives so badly and inflicts so much damage that the maharajah has the car driven into Lake Como.
The Bugatti Royale 41.151 Berline de Voyage 1931 also features throughout the 2014 book "The Eye of Zoltar" book 3 of The Last Dragonslayer series by Jasper Fforde. The car is referenced ten times within the book. The protagonist Jennifer Strange describes her choice of car "After looking at several I'd chosen a massive vintage car called a Bugatti Royale. Inside it was sumptuously comfortable, and outside, the bonnet was so long that in misty weather it was hard to make out the hood ornament."
The Bugatti Royale features in the David Grossman book "The Zigzag Kid"
A blood-red Bugatti type 41 Royale Coupe de Ville appears in Leslie Charteris' "Vendetta For the Saint" (Doubleday 1964, ghostwritten by Harry Harrison) as a rental car (!!) for Simon Templar.