Editor: Jaap Horst
One of the reactions to my "best Bugatti ever" inquiry was this story by Guy Mangiamele.
There is so much sadness in this story, what expresses exactly the feeling of real Bugattistes when they think about the cars in the Schlumpf collection. Therefore I decided to include the whole story as a separate article. JJH
I met three of my favorite Bugattis while on jobs for Automobile Quarterly. I had been sent to the Schlumpf Collection to photograph several of the cars, but the two that amazed me most were the Type 73A and the Type 251. I spent six days in the area location hunting because there was so much to do, and because for me it was such a personally important project. I had the run of the museum, behind the ropes, in the restoration shop during the first stages of the "new" Royale's preparation, etc. I spent so many hours in that place, simply in awe. I saw bodywork that I had never seen before, and had never dreamed even existed. On several occasions, I really remember fighting back tears.
The weather had been horrendous, and it really didn't seem like we were going to be able to shoot a single car. As far as I know, no other photographer had ever been allowed to truck cars away from the site, but the magazine rented a flatbed for a week, and this time they said "yes." We took the 73A over to a lovely little town about 50 minutes from the museum, and I really got to know it. From every angle, it was one of the most descriptive, elegant shapes I had ever known. There was also a hint of sadness about it--its condition, the fact that nobody knew (or seemed to care) about when it had last run, the expression of its face. We started the shoot on one of the high streets in the town so that afterward we could move the truck and push the car downhill by hand to location after location that followed. When it started to sprinkle and we finally had the car loaded backwards on the truck, I really didn't want to see it go. As the truck left the narrow street, the car seemed to look back at me and wonder why I couldn't save it. I did cry that day.
Sometime that week we loaded up the Type 251. The plan was that we would take that car out to the location, and the mechanics would return to the museum with the empty truck to pick up the bare chassis. While they were putting the car up on the flatbed, I noticed a chip about the size of a tennis ball at the very front. We had spoken about it before, and it was to have been touched up before the shoot. Without showing my frustration I pointed it out, but not because I felt that there was something that could be done. Saying it was no problem, one of the mechanics disappeared into a back room. He returned with a large can of paint that said "Bugatti Blue" on the label. In his other hand was a paint brush, about the same size that one would normally use to refinish the exterior of a house. I watched with horror as he dipped the brush, carelessly wiped the paint beyond the area of the chip, cleaned off the excess with a cloth, and stood back to look at the job. Due to the painting and a seized brake drum that had to be freed, we were over an hour late getting underway. Now it had started to pour, and I had the feeling that things were falling apart around me. I went back to them and said that I thought we would have to cancel for the day because of the weather. One of the mechanics looked outside like they didn't know what I was talking about....because of a little water? "It was just an old car," he assured me, "and old cars do not melt." When I asked if we shouldn't try to cover it in some way, he didn't seem too concerned, but to please me he returned with a box of plastic garbage bags. They proceeded to cut open the bags and tape them over the Bugatti like a mosaic. They then ran straps over the bags to hold them to the car.
As we left the museum, it was raining so hard that visibility was probably down to less than 50 meters. I followed the car for a while as I usually did, just to make sure that everything was riding fine. As we turned onto the Autoroute, one of the bags flew off of the car and blocked my entire windshield, nearly causing me to crash. I felt as though I could have been sick thinking of all the water in the car, but we plodded on.
As we arrived at the location, the sun came out from below a low cloud deck, and what followed was one of the most enjoyable and inspiring shoots I've ever had. They left me alone with the car for hours while they returned to get the chassis, and it felt as if it were mine. History seemed to come out of the car through the body and the steering wheel when I touched them. The Colombo engine, the incredible machine work done for two examples, the art of the riveting, the desperation in that last attempt....it was all so evident. It was a strange feeling to be left alone with a car that was so important to Bugatti and the history of the automobile. So much love had been put into that car by so many men that knew, all along, that at best they had only a flickering chance. Alone on that hilltop, in an entire day, nobody passed but us, nobody knew the secret that this piece of history was out and breathing.
The third car was the EB 110SS, a car which I love dearly despite its many faults. It was a courageous car, in the way that all Bugattis were courageous, and so seemed to quite deserving of the Bugatti name. It was the only Bugatti that I ever had the pleasure to drive, but in my imagination I saw Bugattis of the past as having, in some way, a very similar personality. Even the way the company rather fell apart, despite the amazing talent and enthusiasm that existed among those that worked there, was an amazing coincidence.