The Bugatti Type 41, better known as the Royale, was a large luxury car with a 4.3 m (169.3 in) wheelbase and 6.4 m (21 ft) overall length. It weighed approximately 3175 kg (7000 lb) and used a 12.7 L (12763 cc/778 in³) straight-8 engine. For comparison, against the modern Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Royale is about 20% longer, and more than 25% heavier.
Ettore Bugatti planned to build twenty-five of these cars, and sell them to royalty. But even European royalty was not buying such things during the Great Depression, and Bugatti was able to sell only three of the six made. Today a Bugatti Royale is both one of the largest and rarest cars in the world.
Bugatti Royale Design
Crafted by Ettore Bugatti, the Type 41 is said to have come about because he took exception to the comments of an English lady who compared his cars unfavourably with those of Rolls-Royce.
The prototype had a near 15-litre capacity engine. The production version, its stroke reduced from 150 mm (5.9 in) to 130 mm (5.1 in) had a displacement of 12.7 litres. The engine was built around a single huge block, and at (approx. 4.5 ft (1.4 m) long x 3.5 ft (1.1 m) high), is one of the largest automobile engines ever made, producing 205 to 223 kW (275 to 300 hp). Its eight cylinders, bored to 125 mm (4.9 in) and with a stroke length of 130 mm (5.1 in), each displaced more than the entire engine of the contemporary Type 40 touring car. It had 3 valves per cylinder (two inlet: one exhaust) driven by a centrally positioned single overhead camshaft. Nine bearings were specified for reliability, but only a single custom carburettor was needed. The engine was based on an aero-engine design that had been designed for the French Air Ministry, but never produced in that configuration.
The chassis was understandably substantial, with a conventional semi-elliptic leaf spring suspension arrangement at the front. At the rear the forward-facing Bugatti quarter-elliptics were supplemented by a second set facing to the rear. Massive brake shoes were mechanically operated via cable controls: the brakes were effective but without servo-assistance required significant muscle power from the driver. The car's cast "Roué Royale" wheels measured 610 mm (24 inches) in diameter.
Reflecting some tradition based fashions of the time, the driver was confronted by a series of knobs of whalebone, while the steering wheel was covered with walnut.
All Royale's were individually bodied. The radiator cap was a posed elephant, a sculpture by Ettore's brother Rembrandt Bugatti.
In 1928 Ettore Bugatti asserted that "this year King Alfonso of Spain will receive his Royale", but the Spanish king was deposed without taking delivery of a Royale, and the first of the cars to find a customer was not delivered until 1932. The Royale with a basic chassis price of $30,000 was launched just as the world economy began to sour into the 1930s Great Depression. Six Royale's were built between 1929 and 1933, with just three sold to external customers. Intended for royalty, none were eventually sold to any royals, and Bugatti even refused to sell one to King Zog of Albania, claiming that "the man's table manners are beyond belief!"
All six production Royale's still exist (the prototype was destroyed in an accident in 1931), and each has a different body, some having been rebodied several times.