Monthly Archives: July 2023


Cars We Love &Who We Are #42

In late 1938 wealthy Romanian playboy Archimedes “Archie” Antonescu took delivery of a beautiful, powerful and outrageously expensive race-tuned custom Bugatti Royale. With it he intended to startle an unsuspecting motor sport community by driving it in the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally. The spectacular presence of his Bugatti, especially with him at the wheel, would be his ticket to gaining the adulation of the international auto racing community he coveted.

With the Bugatti transported secretly to Tallinn, Estonia, Archie’s chosen starting point for the rally, Archie, on secluded back roads outside of Tallinn took the wheel of the Royale to practice for the race. A harsh dose of reality left his haughty and unfounded self-confidence as a skilled race driver in tatters. His clearly evident lack of competency behind the wheel resulted in a jarring accident. Losing control in a turn, Archie spun out into a roadside ditch and damaged the Bugatti’s front suspension. Driving the performance-tuned Bugatti much less racing it far exceeded his abilities. And, now, he knew it. The search for a top tier professional driver would soon commence. As well, Archie decided his Bugatti’s existence would remain a secret till the Monte Carlo Rally in 1940.

In seeking to maintain his Royale’s existence a secret, Archie had been forced to entrust its repair to Jaak Oja a local but gifted Estonian mechanic and metal worker. This fateful decision would have a profound and life changing impact on the lives of both men, as well as, Jaak’s son Mihkel.

In Search of the  7th Royale

(Part 6 – Death Changes Everything)


Jaak stood in stunned silence as the big Mercedes truck rumbled away from his farm. So big, it brushed the foliage bordering both sides of the narrow dirt road. Enveloped by a cloud of dust kicked up by the big Benz, Jack coughed reflexively. It jarred him back to the present moment. His mind struggled to find its footing. Over his life he had known harsh men, even mean men. He understood that by living long enough, life introduced you to all kinds. But he could not comprehend this man, “The Owner.” This “Antonescu” radiated a soulless evil. Like being trapped in a frigid room, it bled the warmth from your body.

My son? Jaak thought. He shivered in recognizing that his life and his family had found themselves involved in a strange and, he feared, dangerous world where evil ruled. Jaak knew one thing. He would protect his family. He would use all his skill to resurrect this wounded work of art. As he had agreed, when he completed the repair he would call Archie’s lead mechanic. Not his biggest challenge, but he would have to go to town to find a telephone. The mechanic would, then, return to Jaak’s farm, review the work and, if approved, pay Jaak. Then, within a day of approval, the big Mercedes truck would return to the farm to fetch the Bugatti and Jaak would, as quickly as possible purge this experience from his life.

Peering into his barn Jack reflected on the glorious one-off Bugatti and its malevolent owner. He thought of the Borgias and Medicis who sponsored brilliant artists whose work celebrated the best of human creativity. He also knew of the evil that darkened their histories. Deconstructing this incongruity would best be left for another day he thought. Jaak moved across the farm yard to the house. His wife, Ann, would be curious. He would soon involve her in far more than she would have ever wanted to be true. In sharing this reality with her, he had no doubt as to Ann’s response. She would look down. Sigh deeply. Look up. Stare him straight and reassuringly in the eye while projecting the strength and conviction upon which their love had been founded. She would then set about defining her role in ensuring this wretched curse would be lifted from their lives as quickly as possible.


At the warehouse hidden away deep in Archie’s Estonian forest, his mind raced to construct a new reality built around his 7th Royale. He embraced the story of Enzo Ferrari and his climb to fame managing his eponymous Scuderia Ferrari racing team. Archie felt as one with the great Ferrari. Ferrari, often referred to as Il Commendatore, became his guiding light. He treasured the story of Ferrari sitting as a passenger alongside the great racing driver Tazio Nuvolari. Accompanying Nuvolari during a practice run in preparation for the 1931 running of the challenging Italian race, the Circuito delle Tre Provincie (Circuit of the three provinces), Ferrari realized that he would never be the equal of Nuvolari. At that moment Ferrari turned his focus from driving his own car to managing his own team, Scuderia Ferrari. Archie would follow in the footsteps of the great Il Commendatore. He would hire superior drivers and make his mark with his own racing stable, Scuderia Antonescu. Archie faced much to do in building a team, hiring top notch drivers and preparing for the Monte Carlo Rally of 1940. With the 1939 rally fast approaching he would use the racing festivities in Monte Carlo to line up drivers and set about the business of creating Scuderia Antonescu. He would depart Estonia immediately.

Maybach Zeppelin Cabriolet

Accompanied by his three mechanics, Archie set out in his big  12-cylinder Maybach Zeppelin Cabriolet that his other two mechanics had driven to the forest warehouse in Estonia. In the 1930s Maybach built cars that competed head-to-head with top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz models for the affection of emperors, kings and very wealthy individuals. Archie fit the profile. It would be a roughly 4-day journey on the poor roads of the Baltic countries and Poland before crossing into Germany.

After crossing the Polish border into Germany, Archie’s dreams of team ownership and prominence in motorsports elevated his spirits. The big 12-cylinder with its 8-speed manual transmission rekindled his fantasies of racing fame. He ordered the lead mechanic at the wheel to pull over. Archie would take the wheel and show them all “how it was done.” Unfortunately the poor quality gas, being all that was available along the journey, did not agree with the Maybach’s big 8-liter 12-cylinder engine. The Maybach’s extraordinary 200-horsepower and ravenous 8.6 miles per gallon fuel consumption suffered. The engine at times would falter. Archie, though not especially comfortable with the special 8-speed manual transmission pressed on undeterred. With the January temperature reaching an unseasonable 50 F° Archie lowered the cabriolet top. With the wind swirling about driver and passengers alike, the Maybach sped on ever faster. Simultaneously, to the west, a coal black juggernaut belching smoke and pulling a long string of freight cars roared towards the town of Dachau in the east.

With its massive six drive wheels a visual blur, the great steam engine hurtled across the northern fields and pasture lands of Germany. For the German SS in charge, the speeding train’s cargo of interest included gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, panhandlers, Kristalknacht victims, outspoken holy men and members of an expanding population of Germans who opposed the Nazi machine. Visible atop each wooden freight car could be seen an armed Nazi soldier perched high overlooking the closed and sealed doors on each side.


With Archie still at the wheel, the wind had turned cold in the fading sun. When his passengers expressed discomfort, Archie tongue lashed the backseat “frauleins.” For the chastised and chilly mechanics a case of Schnapps in the big open Maybach proved too much a temptation and a fine solution. Archie loved the idea of toasting Scuderia Antonescu. All four did so repeatedly, possibly Archie more so than the others. Archie with fogged awareness saw no reason to moderate his aggressive driving.

In the evening’s fading light the chief mechanic called attention to the speeding train coming from the west. Clearly the train would intersect the path of Archie’s speeding Maybach. Inspired by his admiration for the victorious Bentley Blue Train and a bravado fueled by a bottle of Schnapps, Archie accepted a challenge that had not been offered. He would beat the train to the intersection where it crossed the road. Unfazed by neither the low quality gas nor  questionable driving skills diminished by a heavy dose of Schnapps, Archie raced up the incline to the intersection. Like a speeding avalanche of steel and steam, the dusty black shape to the right grew larger and larger. It would be a close call, but it appeared the Maybach would pass ahead of the onrushing behemoth. Then Archie missed a down shift and the great Maybach shuttered like a fighting bull surrendering its life. Archie attempted to stop to no avail. In locking up the brakes he merely succeeded in teeing up the Maybach for a perfect broadside by the thundering train. Two farmers in a wagon waiting at the crossing for the train to pass recounted seeing the impacted Maybach shed parts with explosive force. Its cruelly contorted body, bent like a horse shoe, clung to the massive locomotive’s cowcatcher as if welded in place. The impact launched all the Nazi guards seated atop the prisoner rail cars with deadly results. The mighty freight train departed the rails creating a domino effect of box cars tossed about like a child’s discarded toys. Rail cars, off the tracks and strewn about with wood and steel still creaking and doors popped open, disgorged themselves of scores of prisoners who fled and melted into the countryside. Only years later would some tell of their miraculous salvation. Both farmers reported four bodies ejected from the open cabriolet. Archimedes Antonescu and the three mechanics had died instantly and with them, so too, the location of the 7th Royale.

Outside of Tallinn in rural Estonia, a weary Jaak Oja, unaware of the day’s events, shuffled across his yard to return home after a long day spent healing the beautiful beast.

By |2023-07-20T13:08:30+00:00July 20th, 2023|2 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #41

Winter of late 1938 found wealthy Romanian Playboy Archimedes ‘Archie” Antonescu transporting his fabulously expensive custom, race-tuned Bugatti Royale to Estonia to prepare for the January start of the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally in Tallinn, Estonia. As fate and Archie’s lack of driving prowess would have it, the needs of his 7th Royale would place the lives of Estonian craftsman Jaak Oja, Jaak’s son and Estonian freedom fighter, Mihkel Oja, and Archie on a collision course that would resonate deep into the coming decades.

In Search of the 7th Royale (Part 5 – Beauty and Beast)

Border crossing

Having crossed from Poland into Estonia with no complications, the big Mercedes truck carrying Archie and his precious secret cargo rumbled north. Veering east well south of Tallinn, the driver vigorously urged the truck forward along rutted country roads. A freshly constructed warehouse located off a long desolate dirt road situated deep in Archie’s recently purchased sprawling forest tract awaited his arrival. Unaccustomed to gratification delayed, Archie, exhibiting the patience of a spoiled backseat bound child, peppered the driver with every possible form of inquiry that boiled down to “are we there yet?”

As the long night associated with the short winter days of the Arctic circle closed in on the big Mercedes transport, it pulled off onto a freshly carved road. With two blasts of the big Benz’s air horn, two large metal doors on the warehouse rattled open allowing the truck to enter. The two other mechanics dedicated to servicing the needs of Archie’s Royale greeted him. His wealth and their Nazi affiliations had provided Archie with complete confidence that the secret of his race-prepped Royale would be kept until the start of the 1939 Monte Carlo rally.
With the Royale now here, they would have the great car ready for Archie to start practicing tomorrow.

City of Tallinn, Estonia

Emblematic of a frail moral fiber that contributed to Archie’s spotty efforts to enhance his driving prowess, he had put off an early morning road test in favor of having dinner in Tallinn with the attractive wife of a manager and friend employed at Archie’s Estonian oil shale facility. Just two days earlier, his friend had been unexpectedly called back to headquarters in Romania. The man responded by immediately departing. Good paying jobs like his were hard to come by in Estonia. Archie planned on dinner with the wife to last late into the evening as he would be discussing her role in assuring a promotion her husband greatly coveted. For Archie, self indulgence always seemed to trump responsibility.

Assuming it even a possibility, Archie’s commitment to developing a mastery of the driving skills necessary to command the powerful Royale frequently lost traction when competing with the summer pleasures available on the French Riviera in 1938 for wealthy friends of the Reich.

Archie, very possibly motivated more by the opportunity to rub shoulders with the stars of motor sport than by what he could learn approached contemporary drivers in the pantheon of greats. These included Rudolf Caracciola, Herman Lang, Tazio Nuvolari and Hans Stuck. He considered asking Donald Healey but Healey being a Brit turned him off. And, though, Rene Dreyfus ranked as one of the best of his time, Archie had no interest with Dreyfus his being a Jew and all. Over the preceding months despite Archie’s overtures none of the greats responded to “the Romanian’s” inquiries. Some lesser drivers accepted the opportunity to dip into Archie’s money trough. If the drivers who accepted Archie as a student had been polled as a group the assessment of his skills could best be summed up as “good enough to get himself killed.”

With the great drivers displaying no interest in Archie’s offer, Archie viewed the lesser driver’s who did accept his offer with little or no respect. He would have no problem ditching a session at the track in favor of joining a wealthy debutante on her father’s yacht. But, now, in the presence of the great Royale, time engaged in sipping champagne with debutantes suddenly seemed ill spent.

Emanating from the warmed and ready athletically stanced Royale, a deep sonorous growl more animal than machine seemed to be offered as a fair warning as Archie approached. However, fortified with boundless self confidence foolishly grounded in his nonchalant approach to driver training, Archie climbed into his completed 7th Royale. Bringing with him would be a skill level considered spotty at best. His first attempts to initiate forward motion to depart the warehouse resulted in stuttering stalls. With frustration bubbling up like a pot close to boil, Archie, accepting the guidance of the chief mechanic, coaxed the magnificent beast to depart the warehouse and enter the desolate country road. Amazingly well mannered at slow and moderate speeds the Royale absorbed ruts and bumps and offered pleasant passage along the forest border road. In retrospect it would seem the beast had intentionally lulled an unsuspecting Archie into unwittingly unleashing a perfect storm of performance potential far beyond Archie’s abilities to control.

Reaching a point of relative comfort Archie recalled comments from his instructors and decided to see what kind of performance his considerable investment had purchased. It quickly became apparent his money had purchased him far more car than he could handle. He remembered one of his German driver instructors intentionally demonstrating a cornering technique called drifting. The instructor’s words came to mind as the great Royale gobbled up huge chunks of road at a pace that exceeded Archie’s ability to process. And, now, a slow bend to the left rushed at him. The Bugatti’s rear started to break loose. It came around and broke free swinging out to the right. It felt very much like what the instructor had intentionally induced, except that the driving instructor had maintained control. Here, the car had produced this slide all on its own and it petrified a helpless Archie. Unlike the instructor who confidently and competently brought the back end of his car under control. Archie felt he might as well have been swept up in a landslide. Out of control and surrounded by danger all around he cut the wheel to the left and the big Bugatti spun. Amazingly he missed a row of trees. However, he could not avoid the deep trench carved by rain in the road side. The massive vehicle came to a brutal and sudden stop. Archie’s head struck the steering wheel then snapped against the door frame. With blood trickling down his cheek, Archie sat frozen, his head resting against the driver side window. An eerie silence filled the forest. His breath created the only sound. He knew this Royale now and forever would exceed his ability to drive.

Limping back like a pirate with a bad leg, the hobbled Royale with its front left suspension badly damaged came to a painful rest. Nobody said anything. Nobody dared. Silently the chief mechanic moved to inspect the damage. The front suspension member sagged like a badly broken shoulder. The mechanic believed the damage could be repaired. The repair, however, would be impossible with the capabilities available in the warehouse.

Furious, frustrated and snared in a trap of “nobody to blame but himself,” Archie instructed two of the mechanics to come up with a plan of action. The third mechanic would drive, a still dazed, Archie to a doctor.

To have his Royale discovered in its damaged state and him clearly the cause could not be allowed. Repair must be affected but it could not be brought to town. Secrecy had to be maintained, now, more than ever.

As the local doctor attended to Archie, the mechanic inquired of  the doctor as to any skilled local metal workers who could weld and repair an “old Volvo” that had been damaged. With no second thoughts the good doctor responded with but one name, Jaak Oja. The doctor sang the praises of Jaak as he stitched up Archie. Clearly respected by all, Jaak, who lived on an isolated farm east of Tallinn had a proven reputation for machine repair and the equipment to do it. He was the first person the big oil shale company called when they had a problem.

Even as the doctor bandaged the stitches, Archie had a plan formulating. He had to think quickly. He needed to get the Royale out of sight and fixed. He understood that his dream of driving could never be. He lacked the ability to drive his Royale much less race it. He would need to find a premium driver who would race for what would now be Archie’s team. This would all take time. Clearly, Archie would not enter the 1939 rally. His Bugatti would have to wait till the 1940 Monte Carlo Rally to wow the automotive world. However, for the matters at hand he would seek out this Oja fellow.

Jaak opened the door to has farmhouse to greet a man in mechanic’s coveralls. The man made very clear what he wanted, skilled metal work, welding excellence and secrecy. For this Jaak would be very handsomely compensated. When asked, Jaak confirmed that he had done work for the oil shale facility. The man in coveralls asked to inspect where the work would be carried out. A visit to the spacious barn on Jaak’s farm convinced the man of Jaak’s suitability and he extended a hand. Jaak agreed and they shook on it. Jaak understood that the vehicle would be delivered the next day.

As the big Mercedes truck departed the warehouse one of the mechanics mentioned the fish delivery and the young freedom fighter with the same last name as Jaak. Archie listened but said nothing.

As Jaak finished his breakfast and Ann poured him a final cup of coffee, he watched a large truck with Ploesti oil logos pull up and back towards his barn.

As men scurried around, large metal ramps extended down from the truck, a well dressed man with bandages on his head walked towards Jaak. With a gruff if not threatening demeanor the man with the dour expression simply introduced himself as “the owner.”

He wanted to meet Jaak face to face before showing him the project. The two walked around to the back of the truck. Foreshadowed by the resonating growl of a mythic beast, a beautiful but wounded colossus eased down the ramps, flawless save for a jury-rigged front wheel that dragged slightly. Jaak stared in quiet disbelief. His eyes marveled as an automotive  work of art slowly captured his consciousness before coming to rest in his barn.

With the nature of the repair to be completed reviewed in detail, the owner agreed on a price that Jaak considered quite fair. Jack added that if he had to keep the project on his property for more than a month after completion, a storage fee would be charged. The owner shrugged off the fee as meaningless considering his plan to relocate the Royale once the repair took place.

With the Royale parked in the deep dark recesses of the barn, Jaak closed and locked the wide wooden doors. He made an effort to calm the man’s concerns about secrecy by noting that few people if any traveled these roads. He assured the owner that secrecy would not be a problem.

Seemingly odd to Jaak, the owner asked if he had any children. Thinking that the query merely indicated that the owner sought to lighten the mood with small talk, Jaak responded that, yes, he had a teenage son. The owner firmly instructed Jaak that the young man could not know of the car. Jaak assured him that the son did not live at home and would never see the car. Jaak noted a strange almost cruel smile creep onto the owner’s face.

Reflexively as if incapable of suppressing the darkness resident in his heart, Archie curled a lip and fixed a harsh stare on Jaak. With words direct, cold and brutal he warned Jaak that should he or his wife betray the owner’s secret, Jaak’s freedom loving son would pay the price. Maintaining his stare, Archie with a slow deliberate motion raised his right hand and softly uttered “Heil Hitler,” then silently turned to the waiting truck and left.

By |2023-07-06T13:15:41+00:00July 6th, 2023|2 Comments