By Tom Iirvolino
Hi gang. Being a car nut, especially a Porsche nut, I love to learn more about other car makes and models. Last summer Lisa and I traveled to the Alsace Region and rented a villa and had a number of our “kids” (our AFS sons and daughters) stay with us. Besides visiting the local vineyards and having wonderful meals, there are a number of day trips you can make. The Porsche Museum is one and the other is the Bugatti Museum. Soooooo, I went to both. There are many of us who have been to the Porsche museum so I will tell you about the Bugatti Museum and my good fortune of being in town during a Bugatti festival and car show. First let’s start with the Molsheim site where all the design is done and the cars are made. Then I will talk more about the actual museum.
The Estate in Molsheim
Molsheim is the home of the Bugatti family, the birthplace of the brand and the modern headquarters of the company. Located in France – in the heart of Alsace – Molsheim is where Bugatti’s long history of success began in 1909 when it started making cars that caused an absolute sensation. This was where the brand values of art, form and technology were born; values which endure to this day.
Ettore Arco Isidoro Bugatti was born in Milan on the 15th of September 1881 and the eldest son of Carlo and Teresa Bugatti. At the age of 17 he began an apprenticeship at the bicycle and tricycle factory Prinetti & Stucchi. Just a year later, he built his first motorized vehicle using two De Dion engines. A year after that, he built his first four-wheeled motor car with the financial backing of Count Guinelli. Named the Type 2, it won the top prize at an internationally renowned exhibition in Milan in 1901 and attracted the attention of the car manufacturer Eugène de Dietrich from Alsace. In 1902, Ettore became head of car production at Eugène’s company, De Dietrich. Until 1904, Ettore Bugatti developed new models at De Dietrich and entered several motor races.
Ettore Bugatti was a true gentleman of his day, cultivating personal relationships with many – if not all – of his customers. Today, they continue the Bugatti tradition in the place where it began in Molsheim – just as its founder would have wanted. Hey, when you are spending $1M+ you would hope you get the royal treatment – right?
Ettore was also quite the artist and was constantly creating “art”. For the fifth birthday of his son Roland, Ettore made a miniature version of the Grand Prix Bugatti, which he equipped with an electric engine. This model, named “Bébé”, later became a commercial success too. Bugatti manufactured around 450 copies for the children of its customers. “Hey Dad, can you get me a Bugatti for my 12th Birthday”. Yeah, right!
The Factory in Molsheim
Everything runs like clockwork at the Studio in Molsheim: directly adjacent to the family’s ancestral home, Château St. Jean, this is where the supercars are manufactured. The aluminum-clad building, modelled on the macaron shape of the brand logo, has a steel construction that makes it appear to float. It looks more like an artist’s studio than a car factory. This is where unique cars are made by hand for unique customers, motoring connoisseurs who want maximum individuality and exclusivity. The interior is streamlined and functional. The bright, well-lit production workshop exudes the same perfection, minimalist beauty and love of detail that characterize the brand’s cars. Highly qualified mechanics assemble cars in three assembly areas – one car in each area. This is followed by the “exterior”, “interior” and “final touch” production areas, where the cars’ exterior and interior fittings are installed before a final quality check is carried out. Each time, something unique and absolutely perfect is the result: a Bugatti.
As the images of ox and horse heads that still adorn its exterior suggest, when Remise Nord was built in 1853 it was used for stables. The architectural style with wooden pillars was completely atypical for the Alsace region.
Nowadays, Remise Nord is where the Bugatti customer service team is based. The team does everything in their power to provide Bugatti owners with the best possible service. In addition to the workshop in Molsheim, there is a team of “flying doctors” who are responsible for servicing cars throughout the world and ensuring they retain their value. Hey, Paul Gavel, if my car has a check engine light and I am at Mosport, will you send a “Dr”? LOL!!
The Museum in Molsheim
While this is probably the smallest of all the museums, it is in a lovely town and right near the factory. One of the former monastery buildings in Molsheim now serves as museum to the town’s other claim to fame as the first home of the Bugatti automobile. The French Revolution brought industry to Molsheim alongside religion. Ettore Bugatti built his first cars in this small Alsacian community. The Bugatti Foundation, a museum dedicated to the car maker and his family is located in a priory building of a former Carthusian monastery, the Charterhouse with remaining cloisters and monk’s cells, along with the Art and History Museum of Molsheim. The former Bugatti factory is about a kilometer out of town, closed in 1956 and is now used to manufacture aeroplane brake parts. They have a few Bugattis on display at the Bugatti Foundation, though while documenting the car marque’s history, the foundation is not really an auto museum. If you want to ogle more of the classic vintage cars, you can go to the automobile museum in Mulhouse to the south or see the Bugatti Streamlined which inspired the TGV.
The Town Square of Molsheim is typical of a medieval period French Alsacian village with a town fountain, a boulangerie for morning pastry and a beer garden style restaurant, with the most distinctive feature, the Metzig, or “Great Butcher’s Shop”, a Renaissance era building with double stairway and clock figurines.
Oh, you want to see some pictures? Here goes:
(place pictures here)
So, if you ever happen to travel to the Alsace Region which I highly recommend, you should stop in and hopefully you too will be lucky to arrive on the day they are holding a festival.