The Bugatti Type 41 Royale was a beast of massive proportions, even by today’s standards

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

Bugatti Type 41 Royale Park Ward on display at Cité de l"Automobile national museum in Mullhouse.

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With a price tag starting around $6 million (2020 USD) when it was new, the Bugatti Type 41 Royale was easily one of the most expensive vehicles ever made. In its heyday, it was also one of the largest and most luxurious.

For that price, buyers received a chassis with the drive and grille. The Type 41 Royale had a wheelbase of over 169 inches and an overall length of over 236 inches (that’s 33 inches inches longer than a modern Honda Odyssey). The first prototype of the vehicle was built in 1926 and it was even longer than the first production measurements.

Bugatti Type 41 Royale Roadster​

Photo courtesy of Bugatti

Coachbuilding companies including Kellern & Cie, Weymann, Binder, Weinberger, and Park Ward then took possession of the components to complete construction.

The vehicle was wholly unique. Bugatti founder Ettore Bugatti designed an aircraft engine in 1927 on the behalf of the French government. It wasn’t as strange an ask as it might seem on the surface. While he was displaced during World War One, Bugatti had spent his time designing aircrafts. After the war, he designed a railcar and continued his work on planes alongside automobiles.

Under the Type 41 Royale’s hood was an engine befitting the car’s size, a 12.8-liter inline eight-cylinder that achieved 300 horsepower. The initial design called for a 14.7-liter engine that was able to get the same horsepower. The 12.8-liter power plant moved the car, which could weigh as much as 3.5 tons, to about 200 km/h.

The engine was connected to a dry sump lubrications system that pumped 23 liters of oil to the required points. It required 43 liters of collar oil to keep the engine temperature just right. A vertical shaft connected the crankshaft and camshaft together, and the long crankshaft sat on nine plain bearings. To open the hood, it took two fitters to unlock it and fold it up.

​Bugatti Type 41 Weymann coach

Photo courtesy of Bugatti

The rear-wheel drive car’s multi-plate dry clutch was shifted Bia a three-speed manual gearbox.

Bugatti’s buyers required comfort. The company doubled the quarter elliptical suspension on the axles in order to achieve a better ride. Solid alloy wheels with slots ensured that the large brake drums did not overheat and a 200-liter gas tank ensure that the car could make it from Point A to Point B and beyond.

Though the first prototype was built in 1926, it wasn’t until 1932 that Bugatti sold the first production model. Parisian industrialist Armand Esders. Esders was a unique fellow, an Antwerp native who had been sent to New York after college with a million gold francs (upwards of $2.2 million in 2020 USD) in his account with which to start a business.

Upon his return to France, Esders implemented a streamlined approach to mass manufacturing ready-to-wear clothing that was then sold at a variety of chain stores throughout Europe.

Jean Bugatti Royale

Photo courtesy of Bugatti

Esders had a passion for aviation and motoring. He hosted car manufacturer André Citroën and the aircraft manufacturer Henri Farman at his estate. And he owned several planes and 20 motor vehicles, including the Bugatti model that would become known as the Coupé Esders.

Ettore Bugatti’s son Jean was put in charge of the coachbuilding of the Esders Royale. He gave the car large wings that ran the length of the body, a dickey seat, and eschewed headlamps. This style model became known as the Esters Roadster.


Three other vehicles with different bodies went into customer hands. Overall, a Cabriolet, a Pullman limousine, a travel limousine with a folding top and a two-door limousine were built in the few years to come. In the Coupé Napoleon, owned by Ettore and used as a personal car for a number of decades, the passenger communicated with the driver via an electrical intercom.

Bugatti royale

Photo courtesy of Bugatti

The Royale is the only Bugatti vehicle to ever have a hood ornament. It features a dancing elephant, designed by Ettore’s deceased brother Rembrandt Bugatti, a well-known artist and sculptor.

Bugatti royale

Photo courtesy of Bugatti

The Royale is the only Bugatti vehicle to ever have a hood ornament. It features a dancing elephant, designed by Ettore’s deceased brother Rembrandt Bugatti, a well-known artist and sculptor.

Bugatti royale

Photo courtesy of Bugatti

The Royale is the only Bugatti vehicle to ever have a hood ornament. It features a dancing elephant, designed by Ettore’s deceased brother Rembrandt Bugatti, a well-known artist and sculptor.

Bugatti royale

Photo courtesy of Bugatti

The Royale is the only Bugatti vehicle to ever have a hood ornament. It features a dancing elephant, designed by Ettore’s deceased brother Rembrandt Bugatti, a well-known artist and sculptor.

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Photo courtesy of Bugatti

The Royale is the only Bugatti vehicle to ever have a hood ornament. It features a dancing elephant, designed by Ettore’s deceased brother Rembrandt Bugatti, a well-known artist and sculptor.

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The global economic crisis of the 1930s prevented the Royale from becoming a success. Through 1933, only six models were built. Only four were sold.

Today, all six still exist. The prototype model was destroyed in an accident in 1932. The Bugatti family’s Coupé Napoleon and the Limousine Park Ward, chassis 41100 and 41131 respectively, reside in the Musée National de l’Automobile de Mulhous.

The Royale Esders Roadster was renamed the Coupé de ville Binder and rebodied. It was slated to be sold to the King of Romania but World War II stopped those plans. Instead, it went to England for a few years then was brought to the U.S. and rotated among several owners. In 1999 it was purchased by Volkswagen AG, the parent company of Bugatti, and is currently used as a show vehicle.

Chassis 41121 was dubbed the Cabriolet Weinberger and lived a colorful life, traveling the world with owner Josef Fuchs, a German obstetrician. Collector Charles Chayne, who would later become vice-president of Corporate Engineering at General Motors, found the car in a scrap yard in New York in 1946 and purchased it for $75. Today, the car resides at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

The two unsold Bugattis, chassis 41100 and 41150, were named the Kellner car and Berline de Voyage, respectively. They were bricked up during World War II to keep them from being procured by the Nazis. Following the war, the cars were sold together to American Le Mans racer Briggs Cunningham, in return for the equivalent of $571 USD and a pair of new General Electric refrigerators. Today, the models are under private ownership.

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