The last of the 88 Bugatti autorails returned to Molsheim (Bas-Rhin), where it was built in 1933, to celebrate the 40th Bugatti festival.
The sleek, streamlined yet simple engine was the height of technology in the 1930s and twice broke the speed record for a petrol fuelled train, reaching 172km/h in 1933 and 196km/h in 1934.
On September 13 it wound its way through Molsheim riding on a truck.
Parti de la Cité du train de Mulhouse, le seul exemplaire restant de l’autorail Bugatti a mis 10 heures pour arriver à Molsheim. https://t.co/TggOfN8F8H— DNA (@dnatweets) September 13, 2023
Today, Bugatti is best known for supercars and hypercars, such as the Bugatti Chiron, which can reach over 400km/h and can accelerate from to 100 km/h in 2.2 seconds.
Indeed, the Bugatti autorail itself started out as a supercar.
In The Car Book: The Definitive Visual History author Corling Kindersley says Ettore Bugatti, the brand’s founder, dreamt of a car for “monarchs, heads of state and the richest magnates of industry.”
But the year was 1926, and there were few takers for a car that cost three times the price of a Rolls Royce.
Only four Bugatti Type 41, or Bugatti Royales were sold. However, Mr Bugatti had 25 extremely powerful and expensive engines on his hands.
To save his Molsheim factory from financial ruin, the Italian-born French engineer decided to use the engines of the supercar in a train.
“It was a totally revolutionary train in the 1930s, powered by four motors from the Bugatti Royale with 200 horsepower each, which was colossal,” said Sylvain Vernerey, Director of the Cité du Train in Mulhouse (Haut-Rhin), where the train is usually housed.
“It broke all the conventions of the day, not just in its shape, which is very aerodynamic, but also in many little touches like the central driving position that allows the train to be driven in both directions without turning it around,” Mr Vernerey told l’Alsace.
The French national rail companies, precursors to the SNCF, purchased 88 of the autorails between them in a drive to upgrade from their antiquated steam engines. The autorails remained in commercial service until 1958.
‘La Joconde of trains’
“The trains were always considered prestigious, and many of them ran on the Paris to Normandy route which wealthy passengers would take to visit their country houses on weekends,” said Mr Vernerey. “At the museum, we consider it la Joconde of trains.”
The last of the Bugatti autorails, which carried then-President Albert Lebrun to Cherbourg in 1933, is called the Le Présidentiel.
It left the Cité du Train in Mulhouse on September 13 loaded onto the back of a truck, making the 100km trip to Molsheim in seven hours. Bugatti aficionados lined the routes in classic cars as it went by.
Le Présidentiel will stay in Molsheim until September 17 when it will return to the museum.