Bugatti and the importance of Coachbuilding

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Bugatti and the importance of Coachbuilding

The word coach is used to refer to a carriage or car: “It’s equivalent to haute couture in the fashion industry. Coachbuilding is synonymous with uniqueness; custom-tailored cars for individual tastes,” comments Bugatti President Stephan Winkelmann. A long-established tradition, almost forgotten.

At the beginning of the last century, car manufacturers such as Bugatti would develop and produce vehicles with or without a body, depending on the customer’s preference. Customers could choose to buy their car with a body offered ex-works, or to have the chassis and drive system dressed by another body tailor. They would then develop one-off vehicles with their respective customers. Well-known companies such as Gangloff, Corsica Coachworks, Weymann and Weinberger, among others, tailored the exclusive chassis from Bugatti – as did Bugatti itself.

Even into the early 1920s, Bugatti concentrated on the technology, such as engines and running gear; first and foremost, cars were designed to be functional and minimalistic at that time, in order to be all the more successful on the race track. It was not until 1923 that a body department was created in Molsheim, Alsace. Ettore Bugatti had long been of the opinion that a car is only perfect when it is aesthetically flawless. His son Jean therefore increasingly focused on ensuring that the body design was given greater importance in the company.

Jean Bugatti created design icons

Jean Bugatti developed a talent for form and design at an early stage, and was known for his keen sense for proportion and flowing contours. In 1932, at the age of 23, he created an elegant roadster body for the luxury Type 41 Royale car on behalf of a textile manufacturer from that period – Armand Esders. Today the car is known as the “Royale Esders”. As the owner only wanted to travel in daylight, the headlamps were removed, which has the effect of enhancing the roadster’s grandeur. Jean Bugatti also designed the “Coupé Napoléon”. Ettore Bugatti once said: “Perfection is never reached. Yet the Royale must rank close to super sports car perfection.” A total of six Type 41 Royale vehicles were built. Each was equipped with a different body, but all featured a 12.8-litre inline eight-cylinder engine with around 300 hp – the most powerful and quietest-running engine of the time. “Even back then, Bugatti was synonymous with the highest level of quality, maximum performance, and absolute uniqueness. Which remains the case to this day,” comments Bugatti President Stephan Winkelmann.

Jean Bugatti was able to unleash his creativity in the company, and body designs for the Type 46, Type 50, and Type 55 followed. From 1934, with the Type 57, Jean Bugatti developed the idea of a basic model from which he derived various body and engine variants. This concept would catapult coachbuilding into a new era. The Stelvio Cabriolet and Aravis Coupé were built by body manufacturer Gangloff in the neighbouring town of Colmar based on Jean Bugatti’s plans. Bugatti’s employees themselves produced the two-door Ventoux, four-door Galibier saloon, and the Coupé Atalante in Molsheim.

Bugatti designed the Type 57 as a series production car and a racing version – depending on intended purpose and customer preference. Buyers were very enthusiastic: between 1934 and the end of production in 1940, approximately 800 Type 57 vehicles left the factory, though the precise number is not known.

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