Editor: Jaap Horst
By Pete Vack, originally pubished in Velocetoday.com
Top photo: Legendary mechanic Jim McGee works on the Bugatti while Charles Addams looks on. Watermill, NY., 1978. Photo by H.R.Krause.
In 1960, Charles Addams was about to embark upon the most lucrative years of his career as a cartoonist. By 1964 his income had almost tripled and the Addams Family was just making its debut on nation-wide TV. Like never before, Addams, an otherwise “normal boy” from New Jersey, would be able to enjoy both his cars and his freedom.
The women came and went but the Bugatti stayed for forty-six years.
He dated Jackie Kennedy, and he claimed he drove her down Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue at 110 mph, but in his 1960 black Bentley, not the Bugatti. “It was pretty clear to all that Jackie and Addams were dating as a convenience–she would never get really serious about Addams (or the Bugatti) as he wasn’t rich enough”, recalled VSCCA Secretary Tony Carroll, who first met Addams in the early 60s. By 1966 Addams was facing a declining income due to the cancellation of the first TV series and Jackie found harbor with Aristotle Onassis whose income was considerably greater. Greta Garbo was another very good friend, and Addams always respected her right to privacy. Another friend was Alexandra “Axie” Whitney, who married F3 and Cad-Allard driver Harry Payne Whitney and is a famous sculptor in her own right.
Bugatti historian Sandy Leith traced the history of the Purdy-Addams Bugatti, chassis 4813: “Its early history (pre-1939) is unknown, but it was delivered to the Paris Showroom in August of 1926. When new chassis s/n 4813 was an unblown 2 liter, roller-bearing T35. Eventually it made its way to the U.S. and owned by Bill Fleischmann. The car was the only “Pur Sang” Bugatti to successfully climb Mt. Washington in 1939…it was not supercharged yet. Fleischmann added the blower in 1939/1940. Purdy acquired it in the 1950s before passing it to Addams.”
Bugattis were not unknown to Addams. He bought his first Bugatti, a Type 35A in July of 1947. He would take writer John O’Hara (“Butterfield 8“, “Appointment in Samarra“) out for a ride, and while pretending to be brave, Wylie O’Hara later admitted to Linda Davis that the famous writer, who was also a classic car enthusiast, was instead “really terrified’. He sold it to Charles Moran who raced it at Watkins Glen in 1949, probably regretting the sale.
Along the way Addams had purchased an Amilcar, often using the excuse that it was a “poor man’s Bugatti”. Apparently it was a two seater, but according to Amilcar expert Ed Godshalk, when he found the ex-Addams car in 1998 residing with George Davidson in Kentucky, it had a motor identification tag stamped: “31, Route de la Revolte, St. Denis, Serie 3CGS, No. 364? which tells us that the car was originally a three seater CGS model produced in the St. Denis factory circa 1925. It was sold several times since then. Another car of serious interest owned by Addams was a second series 1933 Aston Martin 1.5 liter Bertelli Le Mans, purchased in 1961 from Dereck Edwards. Addams changed the color from white to red. Like the Bugatti, it was a keeper.
After years of service as a bachelor, Addams married another longtime friend, “Tee” Davie in 1980. But he didn’t give up the Bentley or the Bugatti or the Amilcar, and added an Alfa GTV in the 1970s and bought a new Audi in 1986. Jeff Vogel, another VSCCA member and Italian car enthusiast, got to know Addams in his later years, when living near Addams on Sagg Road in Bridgehampton. “I met him at a charity event in 1982 and soon he was visiting to see and drive my various cars. Even in his seventies Addams was a very enthusiastic driver and I remember him with a big lit stogie clenched in his mouth wheeling my Maserati 300S around the old Bridgehampton road course. For all his passion he wasn’t mechanically inclined and would set out in the Aston with out a spanner or screw driver and in those days before cell phone, he’d wander into the nearest home and call me for a tow or road call.” Addams’ mechanic Jim McGee was in his 80s by then and his work at the shop piled up waiting Jim’s ministrations. “I was able to get the Aston going for him,” emailed Vogel, “but Jim had the Amilcar engine in a million pieces and the Bugatti was sitting with a worn out engine. It was a sad point in Addams’ life as driving the cars, not owning them, brought him so much pleasure.”
In the meantime Tee had bought Addams a Model A pickup and they went on vacations in a big Dodge Van, called the “Heap”… his term for most American cars. Around 1986, the T35 was sold to an Italian collector, the Amilcar sat in McGee’s garage, and the Aston Martin went to collector Richard Stafferton.
On September 29th, 1988, Addams had driven his Audi from Long Island to his apartment in New York City, and was found dead of a heart attack behind the wheel of his car. “Thoughtfully as ever, he was parked in front of his apartment at the time, a true gentleman to the end,” recalled Vogel. “He is dearly missed.” Devastated, his wife Tee nonetheless acknowledged his passion for cars right to the end. “He’s always been a car buff, so it was a nice way to go,” she told the New York Times.
The author expresses his thanks to the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, Michael Argetsinger and the International Motor Racing Research Center, the Simeone Foundation and Tony Carroll of the VSCCA for their help with this article.