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