Oh yes, I grew up with Bugattis.....

Someone said/asked:

“I’m still trying to pick my jaw up of the floor. You learned how to drive/wrench in/on Jean Bugatti’s personal T40?! Simply incredible.”

 Yes.  My father was a eye surgeon, a fierce loving, deeply devoted husband to my mother (who had been almost completely paralyzed by polio a year after my birth), an all around tool and knowledge freak and Renaissance man.  He had this incredible gift for finding, learning and coming to know quality in art, work and life.  He painted/sculpted passably, he cooked well, made sourdough bread (“You knead the dough until it is the consistency of a soft but firm young breast”) and gardened *very* well with a greenhouse we built with him full of his camellias.  He wanted and was always on the lookout for something we could do close to home (in the days before handicap access and parking).  One was something to learn my brother and I about machines: old cars. Funny: recall that then (1960 or so) these cars were 30 years old: like a 1980 Chevy now.  Anyway, no one much then knew or much cared about old cars, certainly not in Kentucky.  We got the T49 from De Dobbeleer of Brussels in 1959 and T40 from Loyens, of Luxemburg and the Netherlands in 1960.  He had it ex-works from Molsheim. Bugattis in France itself are National Treasures not allowed sold out of the country.

I don't remember one person back then in KY that came upon the cars (the random person on the street, as opposed to an enthusiast) and knew what they were...or were even much taken with them.  So they were cheap: the two Bugs together cost about the price of one new Buick...really a pittance.  And my father had some attitudes that related to the Bugs (and machines/tools in general).  One: I grew up catching Holy Hell if I abused or neglected tools.  Two: knowledge is precious and invaluable; he threw me in to learn anything and everything.  Three: even the finest tool isn't to be put behind glass but to be used; it is not a possession but an enabler.  Four: when you gotten the knowledge, the experience out of fine objet and tools, when you can no longer keep them, much less honor them by their passionate experienced use, you pass them on.  He drove those cars regularly and with glee.  After my older brother and I were gone to college, he couldn't keep up both Bugs,either driving or maintaining them to his high standards (every fall, up on blocks, drain the gas tank and carb, float the battery and, every so often, spin the tires so the bearings don't rust pit), he sold the T49 and kept that little T40, the honey.  When my mother developed throat cancer, he kept her home and devotedly tended her...and couldn't the T40....so he passed it on.  1978 or so (no Ebay, no bringatrailer.com) he put an ad in the Sunday NYTimes exotic cars classified for 10x what he had paid for it 15 years earlier.  This worked out to $12,000, what he thought was a princely sum.  The phone rang long distance in KY at 6AM...and continued to ring throughout the day with people offering him double...he was a man of his word and it went to the first caller for the asking price.

My father knew what the Bugattis were: a priceless, pure-bred of highest standard...but few other did then.  Another time, another place, gone.

My father experienced the hell out of the Bugattis, gave my brother and I a priceless experience...and then gracefully surrendered them when his life didn't allow him to give them their due.  He was then 62 or so, four years younger than I am as I write this.  A man of parts.

I carry a torch for my parents, don't you know.

And…while this was Jean’s car, it was also a plaything, like an Austin Healey Sprite of incomparable class.  Jean’s /real/ cars were the bigger, more powerful GP racers and roadster Type 54 and 57s.  This Type 40 was a bagatelle for a summer’s picnic in the country