Cars We Love & Who We Are

Home/Cars We Love & Who We Are

More than the polished parts and hard to find pieces, the special interest vehicles people collect embody the character of each owner. “Cars We Love & Who We Are” profiles individual special interest vehicles and the proud owner committed to its preservation.

Cars We Love & Who We Are #45

“When worlds collide” always comes to mind whenever I see a wheelchair bound individual poised at a crosswalk on a busy street. In my town I have observed this scene with considerable frequency over the years. Gutsy men and women in electric wheelchairs mixing with other pedestrians offer a relatively common sight around my town. (People in motorized wheelchairs are considered pedestrians by law). I finally decided to find out their story. Many stories awaited me, all touching and many inspiring. None more so than that of Charles Ward.

Meet Charles Ward.

Mobility Matters, Navigating Life in a Wheelchair

Charles loves his Lincoln

Created as a dedicated facility for wheelchair bound but self sufficient individuals, Lehman Gardens in Park Ridge, New Jersey has served disabled men and women since the 1980s. Here 36 modest individual apartments sit nicely spaced in a landscaped setting enhanced with flowered walks and curved paths. My first time entering the parking lot I knew nothing about Lehman Gardens not even its name. That would soon change. I met Ed and Mike.

Taking advantage of the beautiful late summer day, Ed a burly congenial man in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt welcomed me with a smile. His openness immediately relieved me of any self consciousness I might harbor in asking questions of a disabled person about mobility. Seated in his electric wheelchair Ed projected the persona of a man of years eminently capable as a craftsman and absolutely not afraid to get his hands dirty. Ed had one leg. His disability certainly did not limit his passion for motorcycles and big block Mopars. Ed knew his stuff. To Ed’s side I met Mike. Quick to laugh, Mike a long time resident with an updated Haight-Ashbury look had been disabled by a stroke at the age of three. I recognized Mike as one of the brave souls who ventured forth in his wheelchair to travel the half mile or so to downtown.

As a side bar for the gearheads out there, top speed for a standard electric wheelchair ranges from 5 mph to 8 mph depending on class. To answer the question I am confident some Drivin’ News readers stand poised to ask, I say, yes. There is an electric wheelchair land speed record. Full credit goes to Jason Liversidge, an Englishmen, avid adventurer, adrenaline junkie, married father of two and a quadriplegic. Though paralyzed from the neck down, Liversidge set the world record of 66.826 mph (107.546 km/h) in 2020 during the Straightliners Speed Weekend, held at England’s Elvington airfield. He set the Guinness record using only the motion of his head to control the record setting electric mobility-vehicle. Now back to Lehman Gardens.

Charles at Lehman Gardens

As Ed and I spoke he made it clear that the best person with whom to speak would be another resident, Charles. As if on cue a gentleman in an electric wheelchair came rolling up on one of Lehman Gardens neatly groomed concrete paths. His left arm hooked around a vertical bar on the wheelchair’s seat back. It appeared to provide stability for a torso that seemed twisted in an uncomfortable curl. Bright and engaging he projected the spirit and energy of a man younger than what I would learn to be his 65 years. Upon Ed’s urging the man introduced himself as Henry Charles Ward. He made clear he preferred to be called Charles. Accompanying his introduction he offered an outstretched hand. The hand, though proffered with rigid fingers and limited mobility, somehow succeeded in conveying sincerity and conviction.

Easy to speak with and disarmingly honest Charles indeed provided a special person with whom to discuss the challenges, lessons and life journey experienced in a wheelchair. Born in Alabama before moving to Newark, NJ, Charles at the age of 23 experienced the misfortune that would demand his remaining years be spent in a wheelchair. I did not explore his misfortune. He wisely noted that little would be gained by looking back when all of life’s remaining good stuff lay ahead.

Indeed, while Charles’ body exists relegated to a wheelchair his spirit soars without bounds.

Early in our conversation Charles expressed a passionate desire to relate the story of Lehman Gardens and in so doing inadvertently reveal much about the man into whom he had grown over his 40 years as a resident of Lehman Gardens.

Charles says, “It all began with a devoted family, their beloved son, a compassionate church, a willing town, a supportive county and a terrible accident. Over 40-years ago a local family, the Lehmans experienced a horrific tragedy. Their son, Tom, suffered a terrible spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic. Though paralyzed from the neck down, Tom craved independence. As a lifelong member of the local Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, Tom approached the church with the idea of creating a facility dedicated to providing a place where wheelchair bound individuals could live independent lives. He advocated for the Church to donate a parcel of land it owned as the site. The church leadership and congregation embraced the idea and donated the property. Then Tom’s plan needed an organization to run the facility. The county housing authority stepped to the plate and agreed to oversee what many believe to be the first facility dedicated to providing a place for young self-sustaining wheelchair bound individuals to live independent lives. Charles with a clear expression of pride says, “The concept caught fire and over the coming years spread worldwide.”

Lehman Gardens, in focusing on independence does not provide care giving staff. Residents need to have a home health aide or family member to provide assistance when needed.

Charles echoed the sentiments of other residents with whom I spoken, such as Ed, when Charles said, “This is the most wonderful blessing that could ever be offered to a wheelchair bound person, whether you’re coming from a nursing home or from your parents home. Young Tom Lehman used to live with his parents, but he wanted to be independent. It’s a blessing from the town of Park Ridge and from the church for the residents to be able to do this.”

Lehman Gardens’ wheelchair bound residents’ in their demonstrated passionate desire for independence leave no doubt as to how much they appreciate their benefactors who aid in overcoming life’s everyday challenges. Charles says, “Our home town here of Park Ridge has helped a lot by providing sidewalks that assist in promoting our mobility.” Charles goes on to recognize the town and the local Rotary Club. He says, “They built a bridge that allowed us to visit the local baseball field.” Local police and friends of Charles created a GoFundMe effort that enabled him to achieve the ultimate mobility, buy a car he could drive. More about that later.

At age 22 Charles faced life as a healthy, vigorous and strong young man. At 23 an accident changed his life profoundly. Few believed Charles would long survive the severe injuries he had sustained. Charles says, “With the grace of God, when you are down, you have no other choice but to get up.”

When Lehman Gardens first got off the ground in the mid-1980s Charles at the age of 23 found himself basically homeless, physically disabled and wheelchair bound. He had become acquainted with Tom Lehman through a local community college. Charles says, “I called Tom up and told him my story.” Charles spoke with Tom. He interviewed with the church. They welcomed him as a resident in the Lehman Gardens’ experiment. Almost forty years later both Lehman Gardens and Charles have grown to benefit those with whom they connect. Charles who today provides the voice of Lehman Gardens tells a powerful story of how Lehman Gardens changed his life. Charles recalls a life altering dream he had. Charles says, “In my dream Tom Lehman tells me that I want you to talk to people and talk about this place but mention my name. I started crying. I said I can’t do that. He said don’t worry. I will provide the words and help you. Sure enough, Tom Lehman died and  the people from the town and people that I know, people from government and Congress, they all came to me and started talking to me. And I don’t know what happened, but the words just start coming out of my mouth. And I’ve been talking ever since. Charles caps his recollection with a smile saying, “As you may have noticed.” Indeed Charles stands as a most eloquent and passionate advocate for Tom Lehman and his concept of independence for the disabled.”

Charles now serves as a powerful advocate for promoting independence for the disabled across the county and state. When asked as to what society in general may not understand or appreciate about those in his situation, Charles says, “Don’t take anyone for granted. Just because they have a disability doesn’t mean that they don’t have a sound mind. The mind is a powerful thing that can go anywhere or do anything as witness by myself and other residents. When I found myself in a wheelchair, I thought my life was over. Then I realized that the only thing holding me back was my mind. So society has to appreciate that the mind is the most powerful thing.” Which brings us back to Charles and his car.

When asked what having a car means to a disabled person such as himself Charles says, “Oh Lord. When I was in rehabilitation at Kessler, the first thought on my mind was independence. I knew I had to learn to drive. So through Kessler Rehabilitation I worked hard and took my driver’s test to make sure that when I got out of rehab I could get around. Leaving Kessler I had been approved to drive a vehicle outfitted for someone with my disability.”

With a big smile Charles asks if I would like to see his car. I eagerly accepted. As noted earlier Charles had acquired it with the support of the local police, fiends and strangers on GoFundMe. Following Charles as he motors across the parking lot, I am brought to a 1997 Bright Toreador Red Metallic Lincoln MK VIII. Smiling proudly Charles says, “I take pride and joy in my Lincoln.” It had gotten a lot of respect from the Automotive press when new. Certainly far more than the Lincoln Town Car. Edmunds wrote, “Under the skin, the Mark VIII is unbeatable, and we think that buyers who like the styling of the Mark VIII will enjoy this quick, competent luxury coupe for many years to come. Clearly Charles does.

Charles acknowledges that he does not drive as much as he used to because he no longer parties like he used to. When I ask where he used to party, I realize that I knew Charles from years back when I partied on much the same circuit. I now recall a party animal in a wheelchair busting some two wheel moves on the dance floor. We recall those days and smile and laugh.

I ask Charles if he will pose by his Lincoln for a photo. He flashes a big smile and asks if he can have a copy. No problem.

Charles loves his Lincoln and his independence.

By |2023-09-28T10:54:57+00:00September 28th, 2023|0 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #44

The death of wealthy Romanian playboy Archimedes “Archie” Antonescu, had placed Estonian farmer and gifted mechanic Jaak Oja in a precarious situation fraught with danger. Antonescu had prepared a fabulously expensive one-off race-tuned Bugatti Royale with the intention of competing in the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally. Tallinn, Estonia had been selected by Antonescu for his starting point.

Unfortunately damaged in pre-race preparation, Antonescu’s Royale had been secreted away to Jaak’s farm for desperately needed repairs. Jaak had been chosen both for his mechanical skills and his rural location. At his farm repairs could be performed without prematurely revealing the spectacular Royale’s existence to the world automotive press. Now with Antonescu dead, and Estonia immersed in deadly pre-WWII political turmoil that threatened Jaak’s son Mihkel, the suddenly orphaned Royale in Jaak’s barn radiated a powerful gravity that attracted danger that threatened Jaak and his loved ones. Jaak had to warn his son and make the Bugatti disappear.

In Search of the Lost 7th Royale

(Part 8 – Darkness Swallows a Priceless Treasure)



A clearing alive with barking Malamutes and Siberian Huskies opened up before Jaak. From a cabin with a thick ribbon of smoke rising from its stone chimney came a young man who had not long ago been an athletic teenage boy laughing and eating at the Oja family dinner table. Now, more angular in face and form, his time in the woods had begun to chisel his manhood. Arms spread and smile wide Mihkel Oja ran full speed to his father. For Jaak the hug from his son warmed his heart even as he feared it might break his ribs.

They laughed and listened as stories spilled out about home and family and adventures experienced and lessons learned during time spent in the forest. They wiped the dampness from their eyes that both described as sweat. However, looking at Jaak, Mihkel knew only something very serious would force his father to risk betraying his son’s whereabouts.

With Mihkel’s friend Juri out gathering firewood, Jaak let it all out in a flood of emotion, confusion, fear and bewilderment. He updated Mihkel on the worsening political climate that portended frightening violence at the hands of both Nazis and Communists alike. Against that background he spoke of the spectacular Bugatti with the elephant hood ornament. He related his amazement when viewing the damaged masterpiece that had been trucked to the Oja farm and his barn for repair. He described “Antonescu” the sinister Romanian who owned it and damaged it. He almost shivered in sharing Antonescu’s bare faced threat to Mihkel’s well being. He admitted his complete bewilderment at how Antonescu knew about Mihkel. He admitted his fears for his son’s well being had only gotten worse. Finally, he looked at Mihkel with painful confusion on his face and beseeching arms spread wide to express his quandary. What should he do with this fabulously expensive orphaned work of art sitting in his barn. Its Nazi sympathizer owner and the only other people who knew its location other than Jaak, Ann and, now, Mihkel had died taking with them their secret.

Years later history would refer to life in Estonia during this period as “Estonia’s Silent Era.” After leading a coup, government official Konstantin Päts established himself as a heavy-handed dictator.  His regime barred political parties, suspended elections and took control of the newspapers. Estonians no longer had access to news other than that put out by the Ministry of Propaganda. Päts closed Estonia’s borders and imposed a strict lockdown. No one could get out, not even Estonian diplomats. Päts quickly evolved into a Soviet puppet. He allowed Russia to build military bases in Estonia and bring in over 50,000 troops. The ugly face of Soviet dominance revealed itself in many ways, some horrific and brutal. During the winter of early 1939, Red Army troops captured Estonian soldiers on the Estonian side of the lake that separated Russia and Estonia. The Russians dragged all the captured Estonian soldiers onto the frozen lake and shot them all.

Soviet troops marching in Tallinn, Estonia

Considering the state of their world, father and son agreed that survival, however unpleasant, offered the only hope. With the hated communists clearly gaining the upper hand, Mihkel needed to flee Estonia, but for now, his only choice required he remain hidden and wait for an opportunity. His skill at living off the land would be tested and not for the last time. As to the elephant in the barn, both agreed its discovery would doom both Jaak and Ann. The secret of its existence must be preserved. Jaak assured his son he had a plan to do just that.

The falling sun in the early afternoon sky dictated the painful necessity of concluding this heart rending meeting of father and son. The only joy each took from this dangerous rendezvous came from the faith each had in the other’s ability to prevail, regardless the odds. The hug they shared reflected an unspoken awareness that it might have to last forever. Jaak climbed into the buggy. Päts (Jaak’s horse, sarcastically named after the Estonian dictator) looked back as if to capture a final vision of the young boy, now man, who had so lovingly cared for him on the farm. No longer explained away as “sweat,” accepted tears ran down the cheeks of both father and son as Päts turned towards home.


Over the following months that ran from spring through the autumn of 1939 Mihkel probed and probed for an escape route. To no avail. At times he would allow himself to dream of finding his way to America and freedom. Living off the land and training his dogs, Mihkel felt the mounting pressure of political forces that could end his life. More than once he had barely eluded Red Army troops in the Estonian forest. He had seen their encampments, on Estonian soil. It infuriated him. Being powerless only made the pain worse. He hated the Russian Communists. He remembered his grandmother’s story of the Bolshevik led slaughter of Estonians going back to 1905.

June of 1939 witnessed Konstantin Päts fold under the pressure of communist revolutionaries. While Nazis remained in Estonia for the time being, Communists with their lies of a better life had ascended to new heights. Estonia teetered on the brink of being torn apart. August of 1939 saw Germany and Russia sign a non-aggression treaty that among other things divvied up the Baltic states with Estonia going to the Russians. September 1st brought the start of what would become WWII. To Mihkel the impossibility of fleeing Estonia seemed more pronounced than ever as the bitter winter of 1939 arrived and with it the Finnish-Russian “Winter War” of 1939 – 1940. So bitterly cold, the winter of 1939 to 1940 saw the Gulf of Finland freeze over. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Mihkel had an idea.

The Winter War had brought chaos to the Gulf of Finland region. Huge troop movements with lots of unusual activity would not attract the same level of attention expected in peace time. A frustrated and angry Mihkel saw this as his best ticket, frankly his only ticket to freedom. He would punch that ticket behind his team of dogs and speed across the frozen Gulf of Finland to Finland and freedom.

While he normally used a team of six or eight dogs, his “Freedom Team” would include all twelve of the Malamutes and Siberian Huskies he personally trained. He wanted freedom for them as well. And what of Juri? A dear friend who had become even more so over the previous year, Mihkel had always said that he trusted him with his life. In this case Mihkel’s concern for his own life rated second to his concern for Juri’s. Mihkel eliminated any trace of his presence in the camp, took what he needed  and quietly slipped out well before dawn. He left to be burned a note to Juri. It read, “With hate in your eyes, tell anyone who should ask about me that Mihkel, that crook, stole your best dogs and a sled. If they catch him you want your dogs and sled back! And you don’t give a damn what you do to him.” Below the instructions  the note concluded with “Take care my brother.”


Like an idling steam engine, Jaak exhaled into the bitter morning air creating a swirling white cloud. Rattling shut, the big wooden barn door closed behind him. His eyes swept the full expanse of the barn’s interior. Not a trace of the Bugatti remained. Jaak allowed himself an expression of sad satisfaction at the success of his plan. This muted relief mirrored that derived from having quelled the pain of an aching tooth while knowing the tooth remained.

A few months back, in facing the challenge of how to make this beautiful beast disappear, Jaak had allowed himself a few moments to simply gaze at the great Bugatti in an attempt to comprehend its magnificence. The diffuse morning light filtering into the barn softened the Royale’s heroic visage. Its presence in this rough hewn barn seemed irreconcilable with reality, not unlike discovering Michelangelo’s David tucked away in a forgotten broom closet. Jaak’s thought of the David tucked in a closet sparked his imagination. It give birth to a solution. He would hide the Royale in plain sight.


Placed beneath each of the Bugatti’s 36-inch wheels, four wheeled dollies fabricated by Jaak would allow the massive Royale to be re-positioned without being started. Maneuvering its prodigious mass, however, presented an additional challenge. Luckily, one with a ready solution. Prior to the arrival of the Bugatti, the Ploesti owned oil shale company had brought a Lanz Bulldog tractor to Jaak’s shop for repairs. In a fortuitous twist of fate, the political turmoil erupting in the ensuing months resulted in the departing Nazi’s abandoning the tractor.

Now, with Jaak at the controls, he effortlessly eased the Bugatti into close proximity with the rear inside wall of the barn. For Jaak, all that remained to do required gathering the readily available weathered barn siding strewn about the farm and constructing a new wall to match the old one. Completed, the new wall plunged the beautiful Bugatti into decades of dark isolation. Isolation, yes, abandonment, no. Once every month for many decades to come the Bugatti would have a visitor. He would lift the great hood and remove the dual sets of spark plugs. Oil would be squirted into each cylinder and the engine would be given a few turns. Jaak could not allow the beautiful beast to die.


Frozen Gulf of Finland

Mihkel having smeared petroleum jelly on the exposed skin of his face turned his attention to his beloved dogs. Each dog’s paws received a proper application of the same petroleum jelly and a fitted reindeer hide boot. There could be no turning back. His dogs capable of covering 100-miles in a day could do 20-miles an hour. He estimated the distance across the gulf to be 50 miles, 50-miles of dark uncertainty and danger.

With Siberian Husky Maksim in the lead, Mihkel eased the dog sled down the gently sloping shore line of what in summer would be the water’s edge of the Gulf of Finland. On this winter night the unrelenting bitter cold temperatures had turned the gulf into an expansive ice road reaching from Estonia to Finland. A road Mihkel prayed would take him safely to freedom. In a firm but low voice he commanded his team to go. Eerily, with the well trained sled dogs silent and focused on the task, the only sound came from the soft rasp of the sled blades skimming the ice.





This 8th installment of “The Lost Royale” completes the first of three-parts comprising a book detailing the fate of the Oja family and the lost 7th Royale to which the family is inextricably linked.

With this the 101st issue of Drivin’ News, I will take the opportunity to pause and recharge. Drivin’ News will return after a brief hiatus with stories collected over my time away. My intention is for Part II of “The Lost Royale” to return before year’s end.


By |2023-08-17T13:46:41+00:00August 17th, 2023|Comments Off on Cars We Love & Who We Are #44

Cars We Love & Who We Are #43

Early 1939 saw Nazi sympathizer and fabulously wealthy Romanian playboy Archimedes “Archie” Antonescu’s life and dreams of motor sport fame come to a violent end. Behind the wheel of his Maybach and driving under the influence, he died at a railroad crossing in a horrendous collision with a speeding train. His death brought to an abrupt end his plans to compete with a fabulously expensive race-tuned custom Bugatti Royale created by Jean Bugatti himself. Kept as a secret, this 7th Royale had been shipped to Estonia where “Archie” intended to start the Monte Carlo Rally of 1939 and startle the racing community with his spectacular Bugatti.

With Archie and his three team mechanics now dead, knowledge of the 7th Royale’s existence and its exact whereabouts resided solely with Jaak Oja a rural and gifted Estonian mechanic in whose barn Archie’s beautiful beast resided.

With a European war on the horizon and Estonia square in the crosshairs of competing Russian Communist and German Nazi expansionist intentions, Jaak Oja faced an uncertain and frightening future. Jaak’s head spun. He feared for his Independence loving activist son presently pursued by both communists and Nazis in Estonia and for his fate should Archie’s exquisite Albatross in his barn and around his neck be discovered.

In Search of the 7th Royale

(Part 7 – Chaos Reigns, Lives Shatter)

Until he was free of this magnificent burden, Jaak would dedicate his every waking hour to repairing the Bugatti. The dream of seeing the big Mercedes truck departing his farm with the successfully repaired Royale firmly tucked inside filled his sleep, when he could sleep. All that could ever supplant his preoccupation with successfully ridding his life and farm of this beautiful curse loomed as fears for his son Mihkel’s safety and well being.

Inflamed by outside forces, local political passions fast approached the boiling point. Mihkel’s outspoken commitment to Estonian independence had him marked as an enemy by both Nazi and communist zealots. Jaak thanked God for his son’s self imposed retreat into the protective isolation of the dense Estonian woodlands. Jaak knew Mihkel did it to protect Jaak and Ann, his mother. Though saddened at the need, his isolation did offer Jaak and Ann a modicum of comfort though they missed him so.

Nazi soldiers killing civilians

Winter had come to the farm and the big wood burning stove worked hard in the stone and wood barn. Jaak held a strong belief in the saying “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Even with a rush job he was not big on hurrying. He believed hurrying took longer. Day one, Jaak started by first placing a chair about a dozen feet away from the Royale’s undamaged side. He then took his chair and did the same on the damaged side. In both instances, he sat down and just looked. He carefully studied its condition and character in both its undamaged and damaged state. He did so to inform the process of deconstructing the forces that created the damage. With that perspective he could go about doing his best to replicate the strength, integrity and geometry of the undamaged suspension members.

Having developed a great respect for and a sense of the machine and indeed the man who created it, Jaak set about elevating the damaged corner to remove the load on the damaged suspension. Over a few days he sketched both the undamaged and damaged front suspensions in their present state. Next step called for the precise dismantling and labeling of all the parts associated with the damaged front suspension. His observations revealed that all the broken parts had been fabricated from steel and could be welded with the acetylene-based technology he had available.

Jack considered himself lucky when the completed disassembly revealed that the vast majority of damage resulted from breaks and cracks and not from twists and bends. Breaks and cracks did not change the tensile strength of the steel. Reheating and straightening a bent or twisted steel component could change the character of the metal most often weakening it.

Weeks passed as Jaak displayed a mastery solely witnessed by the great Bugatti. Each crack ked or broken part benefited from being placed in a jig custom made by Jaak to perfectly align the broken pieces. Where bends occurred he worked his best magic to return it as close to original as possible. The thought that once damaged parts would be replaced before the car would see a race track gave him comfort. Over a period of many weeks Jaak returned the 7th Royale to its original functionality, if not it peak performance capabilities. Finally he could do no more to make it better. Jaak work had reached its conclusion.

At last Jack permitted himself to step back and gaze upon the resurrected Royale. Now, viewed for the first time in all its glory, what he saw stole his breath. No longer hunched over crippled and lame like a bowed and beaten once glorious warrior king, the Royale possessed the stance of a great cat that could only be expressed as majestically athletic.

Though Jaak, for the sake of secrecy, could not take the great Bugatti out of the barn for a test drive, nor would he dare, he felt totally confident in the quality of his repair. At last the long awaited time had come when he could reach out to the lead mechanic, Gunther. It would be a long reach as Jaak’s secluded location had no telephone service. Roughly 15 km from Jaak’s farm, the nearest phone line ran to a railroad station in the village of Raasiku. Located at a switching yard on the rail line connecting Tallinn and the Antonescu owned oil shale facility near the village of Tapa, the yard managed shipments into and out of the oil shale site as well as military supplies for the army base at Tapa. Jaak had knowledge of the site from work he performed from time to time for the motor pool at the oil shale facility.

Soviet killing of Estonian citizens

Eager to move the Bugatti approval process along, Jaak cast long shadows in the early light of day preparing for a long wagon ride. Normally when he had business at the oil shale site the company would send a truck to pick him up. However, this time he very much wanted to maintain a low profile. With the morning stillness broken only by a pleasing sound track courtesy of shifting harnesses, creaking wooden wheels and random horse hooves, Jaak readied his two-wheeled buggy. Well fed, watered and ready, Päts one of the Oja farm’s sturdy and rugged Estonian native horses stood ready to accept the burden. Though not the largest of breeds, the Estonian Native Horses’ reputation for tireless service and their ability as a powerful puller made them a common sight on Estonian farms. Jaak had named his horse after the Estonian President, Konstantin Päts. Jaak had his reasons. He felt that the long time Estonian leader acted like everyone worked for him. Jaak took some satisfaction in saying that Päts worked for him. However, unlike the Estonian leader, Päts the horse displayed an appealing and easy temperament that earned a fondness from all who knew him. Having cinched the last harness strap with a reassuring tug, Jaak and Päts commenced a journey that should have Jaak making his phone call well before noon.

With his senses awash in the forest’s comforting sights, sounds, and smells as Päts trotted along the rural path, Jaak enjoyed a peace that had evaded him in recent times. Then, when reality snapped him back to thoughts of Antonescu, the Bugatti, and his son Mihkel, he clenched with a powerful desire to reach his destination, to make the call, to move this nightmare to closure. Päts held a steady pace and did not speak.

A shrieking steam whistle alerted Jaak to the close proximity of his destination. He urged Päts with a little verbal “chk chk” and flicked the reins. Päts rewarded him with the pleasing sound of hoof falls moving at a quicker pace.

Entering the building Jaak recognized the station master from previous trips. An exchange of brief pleasantries quickly transitioned into Jaak’s successful request for access to a phone line. He calmed himself and readied for his call. He straightened his shirt and tugged at his jacket as if the other party could see him. Directed to a quiet corner of the open office area Jaak rang up the operator and placed his call. At last. At last. A women responded brightly with clear and precise German. Jaak gasped. He did not speak German. His mind raced. Exasperated he simply asked for “Gunther, lead mechanic.” Suddenly her voice dropped. Now speaking softly, sadly she seemed to intersperse her words with deep sighs. Jaak felt panic. She appeared to be taking great pains to share something very import, in German. German which Jaak did not understand. Jack quickly scanned the room. He could barely think. He called to his friend the station master. Yes, the station master spoke some German. Jaak handed him the phone like a hot potato. He stared at the station master with wild eyes trying to divine answers from body language and facial expressions. The station master with a somber countenance slowly hung up the phone. The pronounced click punctuated the phone conversations conclusion.

In the even tone of someone who has no idea of the emotional load his words would carry, the station master explained that Gunther had died in a tragic and horrific auto accident along with two of his fellow mechanics and a senior official of the oil company, a Mr. Archimedes Antonescu.

Jack froze. Momentarily incapable of processing the implications of this dreadful turn of events. As his awareness slowly returned, the station master seemed to be talking to him. For a brief time Jaak saw the station masters’ mouth moving but heard no words. Finally regaining his mental footing, Jaak thanked the station master for his help. Thinking quicker now, Jaak fabricated a story of how he had done work with this Gunther fellow and the shock and sadness he felt in hearing of Gunther’s untimely death. As Jaak, deep in thought, moved slowly to leave, the station master filled in details about the fabulously wealthy playboy who had been at the wheel. The station master wondered out loud as to what had brought those four men to that lonely crossing. Jack in a barely audible voice grunted in acknowledgement and politely excused himself.

Departing the station Jaak knew one thing. He would have to warn Mihkel of the orphaned masterpiece radiating danger from inside the family barn. Up to now Jaak would not have even considered visiting his son in hiding for fear of bringing unwanted attention to his location. The day’s events changed everything. Jaak felt confident he had no one following him. He would navigate the back roads in search of Juri’s sled dog camp and Mihkel. Jack’s life spent in these woodlands served him well. Like an Estonian Sacajawea he guided a willing and eager Päts along unmarked roads and paths. With the sun still bright, the sound of barking dogs in the distance ahead quickened Päts pace and Jaak’s heart beat.

By |2023-08-03T15:15:40+00:00August 3rd, 2023|4 Comments

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

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

Cars We Love & Who We Are #38

1938 finds wealthy Romania playboy and auto racing enthusiast Archimedes “Archie” Antonescu poised with a plan as bold as his huge ego to stun the European auto racing community at the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally.

In Search of the 7th Royale (Part 2 –The Build)

Jean Bugatti with the 2nd Royale

For Europe in 1938 from the standpoint of the gathering storm clouds darkening the skies of global politics, Adolf Hitler clearly towered as “the straw that stirred the drink.” Yet, while “The Fuhrer” by word and deed made clear his bellicose expansionist intentions, a world, still weary and aching from the horror of WWI projected a blind-eye’s willingness to whistle past the coming graveyard.

A world populace tired of war and tragedy seemed intent on pursuing a futile effort to appease and flatter its way out of what many realists viewed as a ghastly inevitability. Despite ruthless Nazi power grabs and brutal savagery inflicted on its own citizens Western media outlets frequently authored fawning articles about Herr Hitler.

November 1938 saw Britain’s Home and Gardens in writing about Herr Hitler and his home state, “It is a mistake to suppose that week-end guests are all, or even mainly, State Officials. Hitler delights in the society of brilliant foreigners, especially painters, singers and musicians. As host he is a droll raconteur.”

In August of 1939, mere days before the start of WWII, the New York Times Magazine in profiling the Nazi leader portrayed Hitler as a country gentleman describing him as, “A man who ate vegetarian, played catch with his dogs and took post-meal strolls outside his mountain estate. The estate featured trappings that the Times reported, “Created an atmosphere of quiet cheerfulness.”

Some famous people outside of Germany sympathized with the Nazi regime. Not the least of which was England’s King Edward VIII who in 1936 abdicated the British crown to marry Wallis Simpson and who then lived a life of liesure touring the realm of high society.

For affluent friends of the Third Reich, the later 1930s offered heady times indeed. Archie with his seemingly boundless wealth from the vast Ploesti oil fields of Romania enjoyed, as well, the benefits of his symbiotic ties with the Nazi powers that be. For Archie, living at the crossroads of great wealth and political connection inoculated him from any discomfort much less the devastation inflicted by the Great Depression that plagued the world around him.

Ettore Bugatti

For Ettore Bugatti, “Le Patron,” his creations captured thirty-eight Grand Prix victories and over 3,000 wins in races of lesser stature. Among the ranks of the 20th century’s first generation of great visionaries, Bugatti sat on the highest throne in the pantheon of automotive gods. As inspired designer, intuitive mechanical genius and master of form and function he stood alone. His gift for translating his genius into fine automotive art made his eponymous brand synonymous with speed, beauty and exclusivity.

Bugatti’s life and business centered in Molsheim, France where his grounds exuded a presence far beyond that of “business.” Adjoining his factory stood a magnificent chateau. A glorious residence, yes, but even more, an estate over which Bugatti resided much as a lord of the manor. Here in the 1920s and early 1930s as Bugatti’s geographic center of power, Molsheim served as the stage upon which “Le Patron” entertained royalty, elite customers, and world class drivers as well as friends and family.

Being wined and dined as a valued customer at the Bugatti chateau by “Le Patron” himself frequently featured in Archie Antonescu’s dreams.

Following labor unrest in 1936 at Molsheim that had soured Bugatti on his business, he handed over the day-to-day operation to his son Jean Bugatti and basically retired to Paris.

Archie’s call in early 1938 reached a bored and restless Bugatti as “Le Patron” gazed out the window of his Paris apartment located on the fashionable Rue Boissiere. As with the many days before, this gray winter day offered “Le Patron” little promise. Archie’s timing could not have been better. Awash in memories of the good times gone and bitter at how the Great Depression had choked the vitality from the company that embodied his life, Bugatti responded with interest to the wild dreams of the wealthy Romanian playboy. The caller’s frequent use of the phrase “money is no object” heightened Bugatti’s interest. If what he heard would prove to be true, which it would, it presented Bugatti with the opportunity to resurrect one of his grandest dreams in an even grander manner. Simultaneously, the creative fire in his soul had been ignited at the thought of glory reclaimed. The call populated with a wealthy prospect’s dreams and a master’s vision concluded with an agreement for the two to meet. The call ended leaving minds racing, hearts pumping and plans taking shape.

La Fenier, a quiet and rustic restaurant nestled in the wooded countryside outside of Paris, with its simple menu, capable kitchen and adequate wine list had been Archie’s choice for the meeting place. Above all it suited Archie’s desire for secrecy.

The understated black Citroen Traction Avante parked outside had been Archie’s choice for anonymity’s sake rather than arriving in the outrageously and sublimely beautiful silver V-12 Delahaye 145 Franay Cabriolet in which he preferred to be seen, and noticed. Like a hive bursting with too many bees, Archie vibrated with anticipation at meeting the great Bugatti while feigning nonchalance. His gaze locked on the gravel parking lot.

1936 Bugatti Type 57 Stelvio

With the sound of stones crunching beneath tires, Archie’s gut clenched as a strikingly handsome black Bugatti Type 57 Stelvio 4-seat cabriolet pulled in to literally grace the parking area. The beautiful Stelvio defied Archie’s expressed wish to attract no attention. Then Archie realized that the pride expressed by Bugatti’s choice of vehicle displayed exactly the willful genius Archie wanted to enlist in creating the car of his dreams.

After exchanging initial pleasantries, and with a shared fluency in Italian, Archie and Bugatti dove into the purpose of their meeting. To eliminate any concern on the part of Bugatti, Archie addressed a common stumbling point when discussing compensating a master for the production of an original bespoke creation. To produce Archie’s Royale, money would be no object. In a time when the average worker’s annual salary, if he had a job, stood at roughly $1,400, and the average cost of a new car was $640 a Bugatti Royale would coast approximately $45,000. The un-bodied chassis and drive train cost $30,000 with another $15,000 for the custom body. Archie guaranteed Bugatti an initial working budget of $100,000, more if necessary, to get exactly the car he wanted. The promise of this dream project infused Bugatti with a vigor absent for years. Eager, engaged and alert the Bugatti of old focused his full attention on absorbing the details of the dream that would be his responsibility to make a reality. It quickly became evident to “Le Patron” that the process would involve a significant level of vexation. This client made it clear that in developing a unique design he would demand incorporating some new and, in some cases, very un-Bugatti like executions.

The iron willed Bugatti bristled in recognizing that this opportunity came at the price of sharing critical decision making responsibilities with “the Romanian.” Bugatti possessed a well-documented reputation for a stubborn resistance to change. His recalcitrance even extended to opposing the updating of flawed Bugatti design elements with new ideas that would benefit his vehicles. However, in a profound expression of self-awareness tinged with the flavor of personal gain, Bugatti recognized the need to accept a co-authoring of sorts. He could not turn his back on creating the ultimate Royale and reinvigorating the Ettore Bugatti of old. Inside, he also knew that while there might be two bosses there would still only be one “Le Patron.”

Archie unaware of Bugatti’s internal turmoil, felt totally secure in outlining his ideas. In the decade since the Royale appeared, many advancements at Bugatti and across the automotive industry had significantly elevated the sophistication and capabilities of performance cars. Archie wanted it all.

Archie declared that extensive use of aluminum in the body, chassis and engine block would be a must as a means to pare the Royale’s elephantine weight. Not a new idea, Europe throughout the 1920s and 1930s made extensive and artistic use of aluminum in limited production and race cars with cost being the limiting factor. Bugatti himself had used aluminum in some of his earliest cars. With Archie’s wealth and commitment, cost would not be a problem.

Festivities at the Monte Carlo Rally

For the chassis frame, rather than steel, Alpax a light alloy material with which Bugatti had experimented would be used. Light alloy wheels and brake drums motivated by Bendix hydraulic brakes would upgrade Bugatti’s traditional cable brakes.

Significant improvements to the massive Royale power plant intended to provide for greater efficiency and performance would be based on advancements introduced in Bugatti’s magnificent Type 57 in 1936. Archie’s Royale would be supercharged with twin overhead camshafts and dry sump lubrication. Transferring this massive power to motion would be a 4-speed manual transmission. Based on Bugatti’s experience with the Type 53, Archie’s Royale would have 4-wheel drive and an independent front suspension to better face the possible deep snow and the certainty of rough roads. It would even have a two-way radio that had just been introduced by Motorola in America. Intended for police use, it would facilitate communication with his support team.

Archie envisioned his Royale bursting on the scene to rave reviews from a stunned motoring press. It would capture the imagination of the racing world gathered for the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally. It would be hailed as the seamless integration of all that represented the best of Bugatti.

Bentley Blue Train

But what of his Royale’s body? The skin had to be equal to the magnificent entrails. In Archie’s mind it had to capture the masculine power of the famed Bentley Blue Train with an elegance worthy of display at the Louvre. Only one person merited Archie’s trust. The visual presence of the 7th Royale had to come from the mind of Jean Bugatti, Ettore’s son and the inspired design genius behind the exquisite Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic.

Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic

Here the two bosses had a difference of opinion and Bugatti exercised his personal perspective as the preeminent “Le Patron.” Archie stated his desire to employ body builder J. Gurney Nutting of London, England because of its history with the Bentley Blue Train. Bugatti had other ideas. For two very good reasons he adamantly advocated for Carrossier Gangloff of Colmar, France. First, by the mid-1930s Gangloff had established itself as Bugatti’s most important outside coachbuilder with enormous success in uniquely expressing Jean Bugatti’s iconic Type 57 concept with over 180 individual Type 57 bodies created. Bugatti knew this would be the Carrossier to bring his son Jean’s design for the Romanian to glorious life. Secondly, the close proximity of Molsheim and Colmar in Alsace offered a great advantage. Bugatti understood that the extent of his Romanian customer’s wish list made time a precious commodity. The difference between shipping a chassis and a body between Molsheim and London versus driving the short distance between Alsatian neighbors Bugatti and Gangloff could well determine the difference between making and missing critical deadlines. Like a force of nature on this decision Bugatti could not be denied. Gangloff would body the 7th Royale.

Their conversation which began with the sun high in the sky concluded as the colors of the coming sunset painted the Parisian sky with an orangey rose hue. With hands outstretch, Archie with a vigor that seemed to gush from his every pore and “Le Patron” with a firm confidence that seemed anchored in the earth upon which he stood, shook hands to seal the deal.

Returning home though the wooded countryside, the warm dappled light of the fading sun danced across the hood. Archie, with a few hill climbs and local road races under his belt fancying himself a skillful driver, attempted to flog the somewhat anemic Citroen down the twisting country road. Sporting a smug smile of delighted self-importance Archie basked in the experience of dealing directly with the great Bugatti in person. He reveled in the success of the meeting. The exhilaration of seeing his dream come to life fired his imagination. His thoughts now turned to the 1939 rally itself.

The Monte Carlo Rally rules significantly rewarded drivers setting out from the most distant starting points. His choices had narrowed to three cities Athens, Greece; Stavanger, Norway; and Tallinn, Estonia. Six of the last seven winners had started from one of those three sites.

Tallinn had significant oil shale deposits of considerable interest to the Nazi war machine and the Antonescu family. Archie could rely on having significant resources available to him in Estonia. It made his decision easy. His Royale would start the Monte Carlo Rally in Tallinn.


By |2023-05-25T12:38:32+00:00May 25th, 2023|4 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #37

For an outrageous pre-war Olympian car whose sheer beauty, power, rarity and mass screamed limitless excess, this would surely be the last place one would think to look. But, then, nobody would have the slightest reason to look because, like Beethoven’s 10th Symphony, DaVinci’s 2nd Mona Lisa or Moses 11th tablet, this Bugatti never existed. At least no such belief resided in the minds of the living. However, while it is said that the dead can tell no tales, no one has said the dead can leave no clues.

In Search of the 7th Royale  (Part 1)

Jaak Oja’s farm

Once a month for decades the old man would enter the weathered barn and pass a lifeless Lanz Bulldog tractor and a dusty array of long dormant metal working tools. Reaching the dimly lit back wall behind the stacked hay bales he would lift a rack of horse tack to the side and pry back a loose wall panel. Entering a hidden back room illuminated solely by his handheld kerosene lamp he would move to the front of an imposing vehicle that lurked in the dark shadows and filled the room. As he had done hundreds of times before, he would lift the great hood to gain access to a massive locomotive engine. Removing the dual sets of spark plugs, he would squirt oil into each of the eight cavernous cylinders. Moving to the front of the engine, his gnarled hands would place a great wrench behind the fan to gain purchase. He would give the engine a few turns and, as he had done for decades before, keep its cylinder walls protected. Sadly, he understood that the time fast approached when he could no longer protect this great secret beast. Beneath a crystal clear summer sky he shuffled back to the quiet of the neat but rustic farm house that had been the only home he had ever known since his birth in 1901. Farmer and machinist Jaak Oja knew his 56-acre farm outside of Tallinn, Estonia, like he, faced an uncertain future as did his beautiful beast. He had to do something.

1930s Romanian playboy Archimedes (Archie) Antonescu luxuriated in the vast family wealth accrued from its association with the famous Ploesti oil fields of Romania. Related to Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu, Archie’s well documented Nazi sympathies evidenced themselves in various Ploesti oil arrangements and associations. Archie had bragged that he had one time shared a pleasant dinner with “the Fuhrer” at his family’s vacation home near Berchtesgaden in the German Alps. Backed by incredible wealth he dedicated his life to leisure and personal gratification. In Archie’s mind nothing was too good for Archie and he had the money to pursue those ends. While fit and a capable athlete he was a far more capable carouser. Archie’s romances enjoyed constant tabloid coverage. His passion for motorsports was exceeded only by his desire for notoriety. The two blended seamlessly with his fascination for the annual Monte Carlo Rally to the French Riviera.

As a young boy before WWI the adventure of racing to faraway Monte Carlo captured Archie’s imagination. In the ensuing years, however, the meteoric advancement of automobile reliability and performance, rendered the original distance from Paris or Berlin to Monte Carlo as less than inspiring. Race organizers responded by increasing the distance. In the 1930s race entrants could select their starting point with a premium being placed on the total distance driven. Scouring maps of Europe for rally route starting points offering the longest distances to Monte Carlo revealed the best to be Athens, Greece, Stavanger, Norway and Tallinn, Estonia. Famous drivers who raced in the Monte Carlo Rally of the 1930s included Donald Healey, Luigi Chinetti and Rudolf Caracciola. Healey won in 1931 and picked Tallinn as his starting point in 1933.

1938 Monte Carlo Rallye Control Point

Archie loved being part of the Monte Carlo Rally excitement. The parties, the famous people and the wonderful cars all marinating in a stew of race fueled adventure. In the festive frenzy of the 1938 rally Archie realized he no longer wanted to simply be a cheering fan, he wanted the status of the one being cheered. By mid-winter of 1938 he had devised a plan that would ensure his notoriety with a heart stopping blend of performance and comfort.

In 1938 the Monte Carlo Rally witnessed more than race winner trophies. Prizes included the Grand Prix de Comfort and the Closed Car Prize. With the winning of trophies for both speed and beauty in mind Archie planned to dominate the rally with a car both spectacularly fast and breathtakingly beautiful. Backed by his unlimited credit line, his first call went to Molshiem, France and the office of pre-eminent automobile designer and manufacturer Ettore Bugatti.

Renowned for his dominant and victorious race cars, beautiful designs, and their associated breathtaking prices in the 1920s and 1930s, Bugatti like many premium automobile manufacturers suffered a serious reversal of fortunes at the hands of the Great Depression. This call from one of Europe’s wealthiest men in 1938 could not have been a more welcome turn of events for “Le Patron.” That the caller’s request made it clear money would be no object indeed gave substance to the phrase “Manna from Heaven,” though, clearly, notorious Archie had no angel’s wings.

Archie knew what he wanted and above all he wanted brilliance, exclusivity and secrecy. He envisioned surprising everyone at the 1938 Monte Carlo Rally by entering the most beautiful and powerful car in the world. He would have Mr. Bugatti create a Bugatti Royale to Archie’s personal specifications. From 1926 to 1933, Bugatti, the master, had built six Bugatti Royales, beautiful leviathans that many still consider the greatest motor car the world had ever seen.

Size comparison. Bugatti Royale #5 built in 1931 and Bugatti Atlantic

Bugatti’s prototype Royale with a length of over twenty-feet rested its 7,000 pound weight on 36-inch tires as tall as a kitchen counter. Powered by an elephantine 12.7-liter 8-cylinder locomotive engine, the Royale boasted an unheard-of 300 horsepower. Inconceivably powerful for its day, Bugatti’s Royale, starting in high gear, could easily and smoothly accelerate from a standstill to over 100 mph.

Since Bugatti only provided the chassis, engine and grill for the Royale, Archie needed the right company to design and build the body. In Archie’s mind no doubt existed. It had to be J. Gurney Nutting & Co. Limited of England that in 1931 had been appointed as the Motor Body Builders to His Royal Highness England’s Prince of Wales. A pre-WWII bespoke coach builder considered “At the top of the tree” as the British say of something recognized as the best, Gurney Nutting enjoyed a well deserved reputation for excellence. They built a fan-base of rich and royal Olympian car owners by creating visually compelling designs noted for their masculine beauty and naturally balanced proportions.

Bugatti did his best to facilitate a working relationship of the highest order in connecting Archie with the good people at Gurney Nutting. Needless to say the folks at Gurney Nutting could not have been happier or more accommodating.

For Archie, Gurney Nutting in addition to its professional brilliance and execution checked four very important boxes. One, a decade earlier they had partners with, then, famous but now defunct famed coach builder Weymann who created the bodies for Bugatti’s Royales. Second, Many of the same Weymann craftsman who had produced the Royale bodies remained in Gurney Nutting’s employ. Third, and to Archie of supreme importance, they assured him that they could keep a secret. Fourth and of paramount importance, Gurney Nutting had designed and built the iconic Bentley Blue Train which Archie had embraced to be the inspiration for his Royale.

Bentley Blue Train

Built on the storytelling pillars of courage, obstacles overcome and victory, the Bentley Blue Train legend celebrated a true story of man and automobile at their best. Responding to a challenge, famed “Bentley Boy,” Wolf Barnato, at the wheel of his Bentley Speed Six, raced the famed Blue Train Passenger Express that ran between the French cities of Cannes and Calais. Despite heavy rains and dense fog encountered over rough roads for the 786 miles from Cannes on the French Cote d’Azur to Calais, Barnato and the Bentley won and became legendary.

The Bentley Blue Train heroics gave shape to Archie’s dreams for his Monte Carlo Rally winning machine. However, compared to the Bentley Blue Train, Archie’s Royale would boast 66% more horsepower, be 4 ½ feet longer and cosset its occupants in sumptuous luxury.

Archie knew what he wanted and he would build it, now, no matter the cost.


This fictional story describes the greatest automobile of the 20th century abandoned in anonymity to a quiet corner of a Europe about to enter World War II and the effort to secret it out from behind the Iron Curtain 50 years later.

As a Drivin’ News reader would you be interested in this story being provided in periodic installments?

By |2023-05-11T00:44:24+00:00May 11th, 2023|14 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are # 36

Alone with my thoughts I cruised along quiet slender two-lanes. They meandered through the forests and cleared farmlands of the piedmont that connects the downslope of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the coastal plain. While nearly an hour of driving remained, having left the main highway behind, few cars would interrupt my peaceful reverie. Though launched on my journey by the tales shared by acquaintances, no words could have prepared me for what awaited.

Stories about vintage vehicles strewn about forests and festooned with vines and violated by trees tend to deliver far less than promised or hoped for. Not so this time, by a long shot.

Meet the man trapped by a forest of trucks.

Trapped by a forest of trucks

Speaking with me on the phone the day before, Glenn Duncan, President and majority owner of the well respected P.L. Duncan Trucking,  had responded to my request to photograph old trucks on his property by welcoming me in a most accommodating country manner. Now I found myself approaching ground zero for the “trucks in the forest” legend.

The soothing voice of my WAZE dashboard Sacajawea said I had arrived as she directed me to take a right onto a rutted dirt road leading to a sprawling farm. Where I am from, to be judged “huge” a field required the space to accommodate a regulation football game. The parcel surrounding this dirt road qualified as “country huge”. That meant it could accommodate a professional football stadium and much of the parking. Shortly I realized that this was one of Glenn’s fields, just not the one I sought.

Proceeding further along the main road brought into view an expansive woodland area to my left. A large clearing carved from the forest and populated with a number of huge sheds had at its center a sturdy brick building that had once been a country store. Encircled by a neatly arrayed necklace of rugged semi-tractors from bygone decades, the old store served as Glenn’s office and home to a decidedly personal automobilia collection.

Walking across the dusty parking lot, ranks of rusted truck hulks in various states of decline faced out proudly standing shoulder to shoulder. Like a ghostly honor guard at attention for a military wedding, cab-overs, bullnoses, conventionals and sleepers with brands across a spectrum including Macks, Whites, Corbitts, Studebakers, Kenworths, Peterbilts and Fords held a silent vigil.

Of sturdy design and substance, the repurposed old brick store with its large display windows gave the feeling of a portal into the past as I approached its weathered front door.

Entering via the wooden doors to old stores seems accompanied by a comfortingly familiar soundtrack of creaking wood, squeaking hinges and, from somewhere, musical notes born of bells on a strap that lifts the spirits in a way that instills a brief heartening sense of “good old days.”

Welcoming me while cradling in her arms one of the happiest babies I have ever witnessed, Grandma Kim the part-time bookkeeper, informed me that Glenn would be back in an hour or two. Without diverting her attention from 8-month old grandson Levi, Grandma Kim said, “Glenn says you are welcome to explore to your hearts content.” I figured I had already seen pretty much all to see during my entrance. I could not have been more wrong. Much like the stone lions that serve as silent sentries at the entrance to the New York City Library, the row of historic over-the-road semi-tractors simply served as greeters to the extraordinary content that awaited a visitor with curiosity, good hiking boots and long pants.

I walked across a broad hot flat expanse paved with white stone dust that kicked up at the slightest urging of any passing vehicle. I approached an open airplane hangar-like structure on the edge of the forest. Inside hidden in the shadows of a bright high noon sun sat an eclectic array of 1930s pick-up trucks to 1960s conventional Peterbilts. A light blanket of dust blanketed everything in view. To navigate among the entombed occupants for a closer look would be nearly impossible as the vehicles had been stored in a manner not unlike an overstuffed Manhattan parking garage. This impenetrability would be a challenge faced repeatedly during my exploration of this elephant burial ground for hard working vehicles with past productive lives spanning much of the 20th century. However, much of what awaited would be found bleaching naked in the sun.

Entering an expanse richly populated with thorny bushes and clusters of weathered mid-2oth century truck carcasses, the ever present barbed shrubs clung to me like clawed groupies at a rock star convention. I persevered.

Approaching the surrounding forest served as an introduction to the immensity of what I had chosen to document. Intermingled with trees, and at times embedded in them, rows of medium and heavy duty trucks and semi-tractors populated the woods like ghosts in an abandoned graveyard. A phalanx of mid-fifties cab-over Fords led to a stand of trees that provided a resting place (final?) for a collection of late 1940s dump trucks, pickup trucks and semi-tractors. Big rigs cocooned in webs of vines could be seen in every direction. Vintage trucks of all makes and models languished ensnared in and bound by forest growth that would accelerate the inevitable dust to dust eventuality. Other trucks of all stripes baked in the sun. Burly tandem tractors sitting like great beached ships devoid of life, yet defiant, faced off against the ravages of time.

Another mammoth shed appeared chockablock with tow trucks, fire engines, stake bodies and more. Frustrated by how they had all been packed nose in from both sides rendering them un-viewable and, thus, impossible to photograph, I moved on.

I walked resigned to shredding my pants on the omnipresent barbed plant life. Big B Series Macks revealed themselves to be as common as pigeons in the park. L Series Macks enjoyed a large presence as well.  A wealth of 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s pickup trucks in all states of condition could fully populate a Cars, Coffee and Conifers all their own. I hiked and photographed for hours consistently agog at this woodland museum’s historic contents. As I returned to the office in hopes of seeing Glenn, my experience in the woods can only be described as overwhelming. Oh yes, one other interesting fact, I only had the time to explore half of Glenn’s graveyard forest. OMG!

Unprepared for my walk in the sun (Raise your hand if you remember that Dane Clark movie) the clear bright 80-degree day had left me parched and fatigued as I dragged my weary butt back to the office and Grandma Kim. “Like a bottle of water?” she asked mercifully. She went on to say that Glenn had not yet returned and she could not be sure when he would. However I could wait in the air conditioned office if I wished. Yes, very much thank you.

Glenn with the 1956 Ford F100 he drove in high school

Finally just as I got up to leave, a bright yellow Kenworth pulling a gleaming stainless steel tanker rumbled into the lot creating a swirling storm of stone dust. I was about to meet Glenn. In his early 60s, hard working, tall, in good shape with a mop of snow white hair spilling out all sides of his blue baseball cap, Glenn welcomed me with an easy neighborly manner. After first attending to his immediate business needs, Glenn said he would find fifteen minutes to spare. It somehow turned into two information rich hours.

Glenn’s grandfather had constructed the first building on this site as a general store and filling station in 1926. Standing totally restored in the corner one now finds the original towering hand crank glass top gas pump from that station.

In a short time our conversation fell into an easy rhythm. Glenn shared a bit of the local history. How his grandfather had started out as a dairy farmer. How his dad remembered that the first day he started milking, September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. The family dairy remained in operation until 1988. Transporting the milk from the dairy business evolved into the trucking business he runs today. With niceties concluded we got down to business. What about the forest of trucks Glenn?

Glenn sighed, dug deep and began saying, “The whole thing is my daddy’s doing. I and my two brothers inherited it. We never added to it.” For Drivin’ News readers Glenn’s experience closely echoes that of the “Cadillac Sisters” from an earlier Drivin’ News post “When the collection outlives the collector.” Considering the age and condition of so many of the trucks, I found it surprising that Glenn’s father started collecting trucks around 1990. Glenn says, “Some of the first trucks are ones we ran in the old says.” Glenn continues on describing when his dad really dialed up his collecting activity.

Glenn says, “When my dad got in his 60s, about 1990, he originally had a few nice old cars but then he got into the trucks which was more of what he really wanted to do. He was driven by his memory of what was running when he was young.”

With a kind of quiet resignation Glenn describes the perfect storm that fed his father’s passion for accumulating old trucks. Glenn says, “He was obsessed with getting them in here. So he would just go off if he had any free time and look. He would scour Hemmings Motor News or something like that. He would just go out and whatever he found, we would haul it back. It couldn’t be easier, we were in the trucking business. He would find a load going somewhere. Heck, we got some vintage trucks here brought back from Arizona and California.” The problem, so clearly evident today; his father didn’t have enough sheds to store them all inside. Glenn with a wistful smile says, “A lot of them aren’t inside. Fortunately most of the better ones are.”

Furthermore, the thought of keeping them running simply makes Glenn roll his eyes. He says, “We used to have a guy here that would help work on them, but my dad bought so many, no one person could keep this many vehicles running.”

When asked if he has every taken inventory of the collection Glenn says, “When my dad died in 2017, I just wanted to have an idea because we had to settle the estate. I walked this whole place and counted them.” Glenn’s count came to 245. In his desire to get the paperwork in order he says, “We had to get all the titles together. And we have all of them.”  I had to go to DMV three different times because they were just so overwhelmed with all the paperwork.”

When asked what the future holds for his truck forest, Glenn adds the kicker saying that in addition to the trucks, there are the vintage cars he has stored in locked barns elsewhere. Indeed, Glenn takes me down the road to a locked warehouse containing a 1965 Hertz Shelby Mustang, light duty trucks and cars from the 1940s and ‘50s mixed in with more modern vehicles.

Clearly this 800-pound gorilla demands attention. Once again when asked his intentions for disposal of the collection Glenn, exhaling deeply, says, “We’re going to have to get rid of it all at some point. It’s just such a big undertaking that organizing the disposal of the collection and trying to run the company at the same time is really hard to do.” Glenn realistically acknowledges that he does not envision him ever having the energy to do what should be done.” Adding to the conundrum, Glenn confesses he does not have any idea as to the collections value.

Glenn says, “People come by pretty regularly, you know, But it’s so hard. Daddy never said what he paid for anything. So you don’t have a figure in your head as to what you want. And the people interested don’t know either.” Glenn recalls his mother telling him that the first truck the father bought to start the collection, a cab-over Peterbilt, cost as much as their house. Glenn cautions saying, “This was decades ago when houses were much cheaper.” So what to do?

This did not strike me as a collection suiting the style of auction houses like Gooding, RM Sothebys, Bonhams, Mecum or the like. However, one company came to mind that normally operates in the Midwest and displays a high level of comfort in staging rural events with large and varied collections. I suggested to Glenn that Yvette VanDerBrink’s VanDerBrink Auctions might fill the bill.

Interestingly Glenn said he had spoken to Yvette. While not her normal stomping grounds, she had actually come out to see Glenn’s collection during a trip back east to visit family. Glenn says, “She took a good look. My situation is definitely her thing. That’s what she does.” Glenn said he felt she had a real good feel for the challenges the collection presented. Then Covid came to town and they have not spoken since. And so it stands today.

Glenn and his father’s collection deserve to have their day. It just needs the right auction house to save both from being lost in the woods.

By |2023-04-13T12:07:00+00:00April 13th, 2023|4 Comments