Editor: Jaap Horst
“You’re a fucking homosexual” said my drunk father “and a total failure.” Then he slapped me. When he finished his tirade I returned to my room, picked up Conway’s Great Marques and started reading: “In August 1936 Molsheim launched a new sports version of the Type 57 under the designation 57S, …..You’re a fucking homosexual…. initially unsupercharged but soon to have a blower added to become the 57SC. The chassis had a shorter wheelbase….You’re a fucking homosexual… and, by arranging for the rear axle to pass through large holes in the rear of the frame, the whole frame line was lowered. You’re a fucking homosexual. Much of the”…..It’s not working, I can still hear him, look at the photos of EXK 6.
I ran my finger across the elegant curves and I imagined driving EXK 6, my private dream world welcomed me again..……..You’re a fucking homosexual…….EXK 6 was mine, I could hear her mighty engine roar, feel the heat blowing into the cabin, and then, yes, finally I regained my absolute control over my emotions. I controlled nothing except pain. Just like it was at school. “Let’s beat up the queer” was the mantra that announced the next beating. I never cried. I never once cried.” You’re a fucking homosexual indeed.” Welcome to my beginning.
I love those two photos of EXK 6. She was owned by Tom Price then, still painted blue. It was Ralph Stein who introduced me to Bugattis you know. I bought his The Greatest Cars in 1978 when I was just 16; not because of the Bugattis, I hasten to add, but because of the Duesenbergs. I loved Duesenbergs ever since my father bought me a plastic kit of one, telling me it was better than the Rolls Royce. Yearning for my father’s approval, I believed him. But Ralph Stein wrote about Bugattis with such passion that I fell in love. And since I discovered Bugattis all by myself; it became my first delicious secret. A private world of my own making, where I was safe and happy and the cars were my beautiful friends. First came the Royales, then Bill Harrahs’ T50T Semi-Profilee and his two-tone yellow T57SC. Only discovered the chassis number in 2007 though.
As I sit here writing, 2008 beckons. Thirty years after I bought The Greatest Cars, I still have it. Its lying next to the computer, open on page 76/77 and the Coupe Profilee still look so exotic as it sits there in the dry open spaces of Nevada. Special photo that, it once saved my life. I was sitting on my bed with my gun under my chin, praying to God for the courage to pull the trigger. I so badly wanted to stop hurting, and then I caught a glimpse of this same photo, half covered by a magazine and I reached out with my left hand and my finger followed the line of the wing as it danced up and over the alloy wheels. To and fro my finger went along that little ridge on the edge of the wings; I could almost feel the heat from the Nevada sun. I put the gun down and picked up the book and held it to my chest, clutching my arms around it and rocked to and fro. I did not make a sound. I just rocked; God was somewhere else.
It was always thus, Bugattis were a constant throughout a life squandered. I was given enormous gifts at birth, especially brains. Born with a high I.Q, my first years at school was happy, I achieved good marks and one of the teachers really pushed me to excel. My father misinterpreted this as victimizing and I was moved to another school without understanding what I did wrong, my marks started dropping and my father finally created the failure of a son he so badly needed. I barely scraped through high school and dropped out of university after six months. In June of 1982 I started my national service, discovered a love for fire-arms, and fell in love. Surprisingly enough I rather liked playing soldier, almost as much as I loved experimenting with drugs. And the medic who supplied me, became my first real lover. He was so alive, he loved life, women and me. We were on the border between Angola and Namibia, fighting a war more futile than most, and he shared my bed and I was happy. They would send us back into civilization at certain intervals, he would sleep with as many women as possible, and when back in the war zone he would tell me about them. He was rough and handsome and I loved him; it couldn’t last. It didn’t.
After the army I sort of fell around aimlessly, became a croupier, a drunk, a drug addict and a failure. I would occasionally escape from home, try and make a life for myself, fail, and crawl back home with my tail between my legs. My father howling with delight, he had someone more of a failure than himself to bully. He told me I was a failure, so I became a failure, hoping to finally gain his approval. Never happened. In 1997 my last period of freedom ended. I returned from Cape Town and the manic depression I battled my whole life slowly consumed me. I became totally withdrawn, lying in my room endlessly reading and rereading the few bits of info I had on Bugattis, all the while my father explaining to me what shame I had brought on him. I still have those talismans, those precious magazine articles and books. An issue of Car Collector, featuring the Royale gathering of 1985 contained the full history, and photos, of all of them. The Great Marques had a photo of the Weinberger Royale as she looked originally, and EXK 6. To this day, I have never seen a Bugatti, but I know what EXK 6 is like to drive. The ride is choppy, the noise inside the cabin makes conversation blissfully impossible, the clutch a little sudden, the brakes, while powerful, has a short travel action on the pedal while that thin accelerator pedal unleashes the full booming glory of that supercharged straight eight. At least I always had a strong imagination.
Finally in 2000 I discovered that treatment for mental illness is free of charge here in South Africa and I was put on Prozac and a whole slew of anti-depressants. By the time I turned forty, in 2003, I was off drugs and booze, my weight problem was something of the past and I had learned to simply ignore my old man. Not getting a rise out of me anymore he turned his hatred to others. South Africa’s politicians mostly, I was delighted, he left me alone. I just needed a job. This was a problem, there are not a lot of opportunities for jobless middle aged white men in South Africa. In 2005 I landed a job as part time library assistant, weekends only, at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. The pay was lousy, but I had a job. I have done few things right in my life, but I immediately realized that this was the second chance I thought I would never get. I loved the work and I worked myself like a pack-mule. There are a 112 people working at the library, or Library and Information Services as its called, of which only 9 are men. I had discovered the glory of women, one in particular; a lady called Roelien. She appreciated my commitment, and told me so. She also arranged an evening contract for me for 2006 and in June of 2007 I achieved the near impossible. A full time job as assistant librarian. Notwithstanding my age, my lack of qualifications, my race or my gender, I received the whole package; medical aid, a decent pension plan and complete job security. God gave me a miracle. I also decided to continue living at home and help care for my father who had suffered a massive stroke in August of 2006. I do not understand why I do this, it remains a mystery to me.
I had a job I love and an income and few expenses. I lacked a new challenge and then I remembered about an American couple I read about in an old issue of Architectural Digest. Both teachers, they set about transforming their New York apartment into a palace. By carefully saving their money, and frugal living, they slowly acquired precious antiques and over time turned their home into a thing of wondrous beauty. I decided to collect a motoring library. In July I bought Bernard Simon’s Bugatti Type 57S and while not a bad piece of work, it left me hungry for more. In September Pierre-Yves Laugier’s Bugatti 57 Sport arrived at work. (We have a post office on campus) The day it arrived, my boss, a lady half my age, asked me what I paid for it. So I told her. “You white people are so very strange” she said. “Boss” I replied,“ you have no idea” She put her hand on my arm and with a very serious look in her eyes and a soft voice said to me: “Don’t call me boss, you are older than me” I realized then just how much I love this remarkable woman and proceeded to explain to her the wonders of the Bugatti T57S and the Atlantic in particular. I showed her the photographs of Dr Williams’ car. “It’s beautiful, and the colour is nicer than the other one” she said. I’ll make a Bugattiste out of her yet.
Two months of saving and scrimping later, Dr Bob King’s The Brescia Bugatti arrived. The day before, a contributor to Bugattibuilder.com had asked for information on a most attractive Brescia. During an unforgivably long lunch hour, I discovered that this car, ch.no.2615 was one of few totally original Brescias left. Excitedly I posted the all the details. “Merci” posted the contributor. When an American contributor asked for clarification about the Royales. I posted a potted history of all 6 chassis and the 11 bodies completely from memory. “Thank You” posted the American gentleman. I had discovered writing. I wrote an article for Bugattibuilder about the Atlantics, the response was overwhelming and I gained the friendship of a world famous model builder. A famed author and historian let me know he enjoyed it. I am building my library and gives meaning to it by sharing the knowledge I am gaining. The continual growth of my curiosity pleases me; with every new addition I gain knowledge. I am on a quest to learn everything about Bugatti, the impossibility adds to the delicious challenge. And my soul is learning the gift of happiness. I have joy. Finally I can repay the generosity of the internet Bugatti community in kind. As a Christmas gift to myself, a copy of Conway’s Bugatti Magnum will arrive towards the end of January. By that time my next article, a styling appreciation of the 8 Corsica T57SC’s should be on Bugattibuilder.
2008 is here. I’m 44 years old and my father is lying in his bed sleeping. I never raise a hand to him, I help him carefully from his wheelchair into his bed, or move him wherever he needs to be. Slowly I watch as the life slips from his eyes, and I care for him with tenderness and my hatred churns like stomach acid. But I never show him any emotion; it would serve no purpose, he does not recognize me anymore. My tormentor is dying and I am growing stronger every day. Soon I will bury the son-of-bitch and I shall be free of him, free of my self-imposed shackles. I write. I play with the words, try to explain, try to understand and as the sentences flow I discover the catharsis of sharing. My name is Johan Buchner, I’m 44 years old and I have purpose. I am a survivor. The best is yet to come.