Back during the time between the two world wars, there was a company that dominated the top echelons of the automotive world much like Mercedes-Benz and BMW do now.
The cars built by Bugatti became known as Bugs. They were cars, sure, but they also were works of art. For before he was anything else, old Ettore was an artist, a designer of great talent. But he also was an engineer who loved mechanical things, and who loved excellence with equal passion.
Bugatti built racing cars and road cars. By the time he died in 1947 and the company ran aground in the early 1950s, about 8,000 Bugattis had been built. At right is the door handle on one of Bugatti's road cars.
Not a lot of them remain. Because of their relative rarity, their beauty, their engineering purity and their uncompromising beauty, the survivors are greatly prized. They also are very valuable.
So when you see one, you've seen something special. And when you see more than 40 of them gathered in one setting, you know you've seen something truly amazing.
That was the case at an exhibition called The Art of Bugatti at the Mullen Automotive Museum in Oxnard. At right, a set of unrestored cars from France's Schulmpf Collection. An at left, an eight-cylinder road-car engine that is jewelery-like in its attention to detail.
But cars aren't all you see in this special setting. Art was a family passion, so you also find, in addition to Ettore's cars, more than 20 pieces of sculpture from brother Rembrandt Bugatti and more than 40 pieces of furniture from Carlo Bugatti, father of them both.
In addition to the cars, the exhibit included a boat, an airplane and an engine from the Bugatti locomotive. Each piece is exquisite. But if you're a motorhead like I am, the cars are the thing. The lump on the right is an engine from the Bugatti locomotive. It is huge.
I visited the Mullen museum on Saturday with my pal Stuart Wilkinson while our wives were off scouting art galleries. Our timing was fortuitous.
Stu and I got in on the last weekend of this show. It was simply spectacular. Especially the Grand Prix cars, the Type 35 and the Type 51. Elemental and pure, they are beautifully realized,
designed and handmade by artists and craftsmen. But they are no more beautiful than the road cars, especially the fabulous Atlantic coupe. At right, the Type 35's cockpit. This is a Grand Prix car. At left, the Atlantic.
And then there was the car that might have been my favorite. This was the 1925 Type 22 Brescia that spent 75 years at the bottom of Lago di Maggiore, in Italy's Lake District at the base of the Alps - this as the result of a tax dispute.
Long nothing more than a chimera of local memory, in 2009 it was raised and sold as a charitable fundraising venture. Peter Mullen, the gazillionaire who owns the museum, bought it, spending about as much as most of us would spend on a home. He displays it just as it emerged from the lake.
There isn't much left, really. But what's there is easily identifiable and very evocative, a time capsule of sorts that nobody ever really expected to rediscover.
All these cars are, in their own ways, time capsules, I think. Most have had celebrity owners, many have had incredible racing success, and each is worth a huge sum of money.
Today, Bugattis once again are being built, but with no real connection to Ettore and his artistic/engineering ethic, as the company is owned by Volkswagen AG. If you want a real Bugatti, I think, you have to think in terms of the cars in this show.
This was the most wonderful automotive exhibition I've seen in a long while. My thanks to my pal Stu for setting up this visit. I'm just really happy I happened to have a camera along.