Monthly Archives: June 2023


Cars We Love & Who We Are #40

With 1939 fast approaching, Romanian playboy Archimedes “Archie” Antonescu had set in motion an extravagant plan. He intended to startle the automotive world by entering a dazzlingly brilliant one-off race prepared Bugatti Royale in the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally. As with many of his fellow competitors, he had chosen to start the rally in Tallinn, Estonian. Tallinn’s great distance from Monte Carlo offered a significant advantage in earning points towards a victory. At the same time Mihkel Oja, the teenage son of an Estonian farmer, found himself embroiled in the political chaos sweeping his native homeland. As a pro-independence activist, Mihkel Oja faced deportation to a labor camp or worse at the hands of either the German Nazi or Soviet Communist forces competing to take control of his country. The lives of both men would be inextricably linked by Archie’s Royale.

In Search of the 7th Royale (Part 4 – The unveiling)

Bugatti Aerolithe replica

Bugatti Type 57 Aerolithe replica

Archie with eyes locked on the draped shape atop the raised platform waited in frozen anticipation. Jean Bugatti basking in the prideful gaze of his father grasped the edge of the black silk drape. With its flattering sheen the drape hugged the vehicle it hid like a sensuous gown clinging to a statuesque woman. With a gentle tug the drape fell away. Archie gasped. Before him stood a glorious vehicle worthy of all of his grandest dreams. He loudly lauded his creation. He boasted to all in ear shot including both Ettore and Jean Bugatti that his ideas have given them everything they needed to build this beautiful car. “The Romanian’s” disrespect cut both father and son like a knife. Blinded by his own arrogance Archie only saw his ticket to the glory and adulation he craved gleaming before him. For anyone else this 7th and reimagined Royale left no doubt as to the genius of Jean Bugatti.

Jean Bugatti’s 7th Royale’s flowing lines integrated the close coupled masculine strength of the Bentley Blue Train with the athletic grace of Bugatti’s Type 57 SC Atlantic. As well, it incorporated the raked windshield angle found in an earlier Jean Bugatti design, the Type 50 Coupé Superprofilée. Viewed with no frame of reference, the 7th Royale’s proportional perfection would scale to any size. That it accomplished such perfect visual balance on a wheelbase of 170 inches, if for no other reason, would merit its rightful place in the grand hall honoring great automotive designs.

Delahaye 135

Jean’s reimagined Royale towered as a glorious sum far grander than any of the contributing iconic design themes that he drew upon including the Bentley Speed Six, Delahaye 135, Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn-Kurier and all of Bugatti’s prior works. The 7th Royale honored its Bugatti brand roots as well with the choice Crème de menthe green, the color of the iconic Bugatti Type 57 Aerolithe. Trimmed in black it made a proud statement of heritage. No less a statement of lineage evidenced itself with the re-imagined Royale’s riveted magnesium spine-like center exterior rib. An original Aerolithe feature, the spine resulted from the use of exceptionally light weight and strong but un-weldable magnesium panels. Magnesium while 75% lighter than steel unfortunately can ignite at welding temperatures. On his 7th Royale Jean made extensive use of magnesium in addition to aluminum resulting in a reduction in the final weight by over a ton.

Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn-Kurier

No less beautiful an integration of leading edge technology, the reimagined Royale’s performance specifications set a bar that would not be achieved in production vehicles for decades. Power came by way of a supercharged 12.7-liter, dual-plug, 3-valve per cylinder, dual-overhead cam, inline 8-cylinder engine putting out in excess of 350 horsepower and over 900 pound-feet of torque.

Equally revolutionary, a strong, lightweight chassis complemented the reimagined Royale’s awesome power plant. Boasting hydraulic brakes, aluminum brake drums and an independent front suspension, it delivered handling that would equal that of much smaller and lighter competition vehicles. Race prepped by Bugatti, the reimagined Royale even featured integrated brackets mounted to the chassis to simplify jacking the car for tire changes.

Awash in self-congratulatory bliss, Archie both signed off on the completed project and ordered the expeditious shipment of this ticket to auto racing stardom to Estonia. A truck awaited in the Molsheim courtyard.

Bentley Speed Six Blue Train

Driven by one of the three Estonian language fluent mechanics who would service the Royale when it arrived in Estonia, the truck backed up to the dedicated building at Molsheim that housed the Romanian’s Royale. With a capacity of eight and a half tons, the Mercedes-Benz heavy duty hauler would accommodate most everything needed for the Tallinn start. Parts, tires, tools and of course the 7th Royale all sat ready for loading.

As well, a liberal application of Archie’s wealth and Third Reich connections would pave a smooth paperwork path to Estonia assuring that the big Mercedes truck would experience trouble-free border crossings. Archie obsession on the importance of secrecy evidenced itself in full bloom. He did not want some curious border guard exploring the contents or worse taking pictures resulting in a premature reveal of Archie’s glorious Bugatti. The truck had been outfitted with Ploesti Oil organization side markings and papers signed by authorities ensuring unchallenged passage at every border crossing along the planned route. As added insurance, Archie would accompany the truck with a bag full of various currencies and Nazi letters of passage to smooth any issues raised by local authorities. It reflected the values emphasized in an upbringing that emphasized the power of wealth rather than charm and grace. Archie had been groomed by arrogant parents to simply wield wealth as a master key for unlocking access to whatever, and not infrequently, whoever he wanted. The Depression provided a world that had transformed Archie’s access to wealth into an addictive drug that crippled any desire to exhibit social grace or even simple common decency.

Mercedes-Benz Type L

Armistice Day saw the big Mercedes-Benz truck depart the Bugatti complex on its long journey North. Anyone caring to notice might have thought it unusual that no one waved goodbye. Then again considering what the Bugatti’s had come to think of “the Romanian”, maybe not.

Slowly trudging north in the hard working but painfully slow Mercedes truck gave Archie plenty of time to fantasize about racing south in his stunning Royale on some of these very same roads, rough as they may be, to a victor’s glory in Monte Carlo. The months to the January 25th Monte Carlo Rally start could not past fast enough. Suddenly impatient, Archie scolded the driver for going so slow.


While “the Romanian’s” plans for glory filled his dreams, young Mihkel Oja’s future plans had no shape at all. He yearned to be a part of the Estonia people’s defense of their freedom but he did not want to bring the communist sympathizers wrath down upon his parents and their farm.

Hiding out in the secluded woodlands east of Tallinn, Mihkel helped his good friend Juri breed sled dogs. In the coming winter they would put the dog sleds to work delivering supplies to isolated outposts dotting the dense Estonian forest. Allowing himself a respite from his anger at and fears of the threats to his country, Mihkel had become quite fond of the Siberian Husky and Malamute sled dogs he helped raise and train. He marveled at their strength and stamina even in the most brutal of Estonia’s bitter weather conditions. As for now, Mihkel immersed himself in learning the skills necessary to assemble and command sled dog teams in the brutal Estonian winters. Depending on the load, dog teams could range from six to eight dogs, more if needed. Mihkel had learned how to organize a good sled team. Leader dogs needed to be strong willed, fast and reliable to set the pace for the others to follow. After the leaders came the swing dogs with the responsibility to steer the team around turns and curves. Lastly the wheel dogs, located closest to the sled, possessed the superior strength to pull a sled out from deep snow. Mihkel had selected twelve dogs to train comprised of a mix of Malamutes and Siberian Huskies both male and female. He gave them names that suited their roles. Leaders included Maksim, Arri, Leenart and Aleksandra. His four nimble swing dogs had names of Anna, Laine, Sofia and Leks. Kalju, Markko, Mikk and Keert formed his cadre of powerful wheel dogs. With winter snows coming, training his team had given him both something for which to look forward and a distraction from the chaos that loomed on the horizon. To ensure that with the first decent snow fall he would be ready, Mihkel had been training his team using a wheeled cart. One day Juri offered him a test run. A local fishery had an order for a facility being built deep in the forest probably for the oil shale company. Unfortunately the fishery truck had broken down. Mihkel could deliver it. Mihkel jumped at the chance. He craved a little excitement and loved the idea of working the dogs. On a good surface his team could do 30 kilometers per hour. On rough roads maybe 9 or 10km/h.

With a cold breeze swirling beneath azure skies Mihkel and his team of eight made good time. In great spirits as he approached the freshly constructed building, Mihkel, restless from his isolation, hoped to meet some fresh faces and hear some news and share some camaraderie. Two men in mechanics garb welcomed the delivery. Mihkel introduced himself. They did the same, sounding like native Estonians. Mihkel hungered for news from the outside. Despite the mechanics’ unspoken personal Nazi allegiances, the two men gave the boy free reign to share his thoughts. It did not take long to scratch his surface to reveal his proud support for Estonian independence and his notoriety with those he called Estonia’s enemies of freedom. The mechanics took note but did not challenge the boy. They might be in the need of more fish. Mihkel noted the passing of time and bid his new “friends” farewell. His dogs eager to run swept their lightened load through the forest and back to Juri’s.

By |2023-06-22T13:47:17+00:00June 22nd, 2023|Comments Off on Cars We Love & Who We Are #40

Cars We Love & Who We Are #39

Spring of 1938 finds Archimedes “Archie” Antonescu a wealthy Romanian playboy deep into his grand plan. He intends to startle the automotive racing world by entering a dazzlingly brilliant custom Bugatti in the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally. At the same time, over two thousand driving miles and a world away, an Estonian farmer lives his rural life unaware of an onrushing future placing him on a collision course with the Romanian Playboy’s dream of racing glory.

In Search of the 7th Royale (Part 3 – The path to Estonia)

1st Bugatti Royale owned by Ettore Bugatti

June of 1938 found Estonia, like the rest of Europe, embroiled in turmoil. Furthermore given the historically tenuous state of Estonian independence and its painful location at the crossroads of Nazi and Soviet communist expansionist dreams, stability and hope existed in increasingly short supply. As well, at the same time, Estonian farmer and metal worker Jaak Oja faced a deeply personal and agonizing ferment that plagued his family and its future.

Ferment arose not as a product of the Oja farm but from the world around it. The farm itself presented a paradigm of self-sufficiency. In addition to livestock, fields of vegetables and an orchard, the farm’s quadrant of buildings included a forge and a blacksmith shop. Jaak had a reputation not only as a good farmer but an excellent metal worker. While the land itself offered solace and the joy of family, the politics infecting all Estonian life engulfed Jaak’s farm in the tumult of nations and people in conflict.

As incongruous as it would seem, subjugation formed a major theme in the history of the freedom loving industrious people of the small Baltic nation of Estonia. The beginning of the 20th century witnessed the Russian Revolution of 1905. Led by the mercilessly cruel Bolsheviks the chaos washed across Estonian soil leaving the bitter memory of indiscriminate brutality and senseless death in its wake. Jaak remembered his mother, Elise Oja, recalling the horror of Russian Bolsheviks flooding into her town. There they randomly rounded up 90 or so Estonian men and trucked them to an opening in the nearby forest. At the side of a great ditch the Russians shot them all creating a mass grave. Elise would, could, never forget.

During WWI in early 1918 a Russia weakened by the Revolution retreated from Estonia. Taking advantage of the Russian departure, Estonia on February 24, 1918 declared its independence. One day later on February 25, 1918 Germany declared the independent government of Estonia illegal and occupied the nation. This repeated, yet once again, Estonia’s role as a pawn in the global power games of bigger nations.

With the end of WWI and Germany’s defeat, an independent Estonia reemerged. During this relatively brief period of hard fought for independence, the country would suffer under the constant threat of Russian-led communist insurrection. Then with the rise of Nazi imperialism in the 1930s the intensity of the Russian Communist and German Nazi tug of war over who would ultimately wrest control of Estonia from the Estonians infused many of the Estonian peoples with dread. Such worries haunted Jaak and his wife Ann. However, for their democracy loving son, Mihkel, fury trumped worry.

Cutaway of 1st Royale, chassis #41100

As a spirited, well read and patriotic Estonian teenager Mihkel abided by neither the politics nor the brutality of the German Nazis and the Russian Communists. He expressed his beliefs openly and actively by vigorously advocating for Estonian independence. In turn, neither local Nazi nor communist sympathizers would have felt the least bit saddened by Mihkel’s demise. With the simmering European cauldron of conflict coming to a heated boil and spilling into Estonia, Mihkel’s advocacy and visibility marked him as a target for the powerful enemies of Estonian freedom. Both Jaak and Ann sadly understood that their son would not survive the evil fast approaching. Elise Oja’s painful stories of the invading Bolshevik atrocities in 1905 lurked among the dark fears in their hearts and minds. In accepting a painful truth, Jaak and Ann recognized the stark choice Mihkel faced. Better for Mihkel to continue his life elsewhere than to lose it in his homeland. Mihkel understood he had no choice but to leave.

The new moon of June 17, 1938 concealed 18-year old Mihkel as he slipped into the night leaving in his wake the parents he loved so dearly. He did not look back. He could not bear to. The gritty scuffing of his work boots made the only sound. He paused at the wooden gate. He took a deep breath. With his next steps he would leave his home and old life behind and flee to exactly what final destination he did not, yet, know, though America filled his dreams.

His first stop would be a visit with an old friend, Juri, who had moved away from town. They both loved to hunt and fish. They excelled at living off the land. Now, living a good distance from the Oja farm, Juri raised sled dogs and ran dog teams that brought supplies to isolated encampments in winter.

Mihkel, in his heart feared he would never see his beloved Oja family farm again. He was wrong.

On the evening of that same June 17th but a world away, Jean Bugatti returned the mighty beast to the grounds of the Bugatti factory complex. He had driven hard and fast across the back roads of the nearby town of Duppigheim on surfaces both rough and smooth. He frequently tested vehicles there. He had demanded much of his creation on this its first test drive. Now, like a victorious Roman general astride a magnificently imposing war horse he brought the massive bespoke re-imagined Royale to a confident halt. Though cloaked in a cobbled up unexceptional body (all the better to promote the secrecy so important to “The Romanian”), this chassis and engine would be the heart and performance soul of the client’s Royale.

Upon entering the Bugatti grounds Jean bellowed in exultation to the French workers awaiting his return, “Vraiment une voiture fantastique! (A truly fantastic car!)

Bugatti Type 57 SC

The athleticism of Jean Bugatti’s creation left him stunned. As the exhilaration of his experience behind the wheel resolved into comprehension, he had no doubt. This sublime expression of masculine beauty and athletic perfection would more than satisfy the goddess of speed. Nothing before, including his magnificent Type 57 SC, had ever brought to life such a glorious and seamless expression of his engineering and creative genius. At speed, it stole his breath.

Jean Bugatti, serenaded by the deep sonorous purr of the massive supercharged 12-liter straight eight, eased the Royale into the secure structure dedicated to the production of this vehicle alone. Easily a ton lighter than all earlier Royales while boasting an independent front suspension, the chassis, so nimble for such a large vehicle, inspired confidence. With 4-wheel drive benefiting from the use of CV joints in front, its ability to tame roads afflicted with ruts, mud and every irregularity conceivable astounded even its designer. Yes, some tuning, tweaks and testing remained to bring it to perfection, but Jean confidently believed that all the heavy lifting had been done. However, Ettore Bugatti, while no less impressed, felt far less sanguine.

Ettore by returning from retirement to actively oversee daily operations on “the Romanian’s” Royale had freed Jean to focus on the delights of engineering and design without the drudgery of monitoring deadlines. As a result of Jean’s immersion in the pursuit of perfection in both chassis and body design he distanced himself from the demands of the impending deadline. Ettore for the most part bore that burden and it seemed to be getting heavier every day. Worse, acting as if the Monte Carlo Rally deadline might slip Ettore’s mind, “The Romanian” added to the stress by calling with a disquieting frequency.

To meet the demands to prepare the car, transport it to Tallinn and be ready for the January 25th start date for the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally, Ettore felt delivery should take place by November 1st of 1938, All Saint’s Day, and certainly no later than November 11th French Armistice Day. Luckily Jean had made heroic strides with the mechanicals, and the body design. Ah yes, the body design. Ettore simple described Jean’s re-imagined Royale design as a car enthusiast’s visual wonderland. A masculine expression of effortless motion and power whether at speed or at rest, its lines, both graceful and purposeful, captured the eye and the imagination. Already approved by “the Romanian,” Jean’s creation of this masterpiece seemed effortless as if the design gods channeled their soul through his hand.

Ettore’s earlier choice of Gangloff coachworks for its convenience, superior workmanship and almost telepathic insight into what Bugatti wanted even if he could not exactly express it, at this pivotal moment, would pay handsome dividends. With Bugatti’s Type 57 Gangloff had demonstrated in their coach building an uncanny ability to capture and execute the soul of an iconic design. They would be called upon to do so for Jean’s re-imagined Royale. They also understood the importance and financial reward for maintaining secrecy. Under Ettore’s strained eyes all seemed to be proceeding as hoped. However, not so the case with “the Romanian” Archie.

Konstantin Pats

As the late fall delivery date of his Royale approached, Archie’s experiences over the recent summer months delivered a powerful and disturbing reality that rattled his world. With his Bugatti build exceeding his wildest dreams he had the opportunity to test drive the naked chassis with the cobbled body. It quickly became evident that the car’s potential far exceeded his driving skills. The car frightened him. Reeling from a potential knockout blow to his dreams, Archie focused all his resources on a summer of driving lessons from the most renowned drivers he could hire, including Jean himself. Now with delivery set for the first week of November, Archie having been schooled by the best would connect with his Royale in Tallinn. Putting his wealth to work he bought a sprawling tract of  Estonian woodlands. There the isolated roads would allow him to secretly apply his new skills and practice taming his beautiful Bugatti “Pur Sang” thoroughbred.

With winter approaching, Mihkel warmed his hands by the fireplace. Juri’s rustic hunting cabin near the small town of Maardu east of Tallinn had become Mihkel’s refuge as he sought a plan for escaping his homeland. It would not be easy. Estonian President and heavy-handed dictator Konstantin Päts had closed the borders, muzzled the press, squelched dissenting opinion and basically put the country in lockdown.

Mihkel’s efforts to escape from the dangerous political cross currents of his Estonian homeland presented few choices, none of them especially promising. As 1939 approached with Estonians being killed by communists, the future looked bleak for Mihkel. It was about to get worse.

By |2023-06-08T12:00:49+00:00June 8th, 2023|2 Comments