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The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance Blog

1966 Best of Show Winner

April 29, 2020

1931 Bugatti Type 41 Coupé de Ville shown by William Harrah

Ettore Bugatti’s masterwork, the Type 41, better known as the Bugatti Royale, offers majesty unmatched by other automobiles. The Royale is 6 meters long with a wheelbase of 4.3 meters and 24-inch wheels. It is powered by an eight-cylinder 12.7-litre engine. The chassis alone originally sold for about $20,000 to $25,000, and the coachwork generally cost another $15,000 to $20,000.

Just six Bugatti Royales were created, between 1927 and 1933, and all six have been gathered together just once—at the 1985 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

That was the second trip to Pebble Beach for this 1931 Bugatti Type 41. William Harrah of Reno, Nevada, restored the car and showed it at the 1966 Concours, easily winning Best of Show. 

This Bugatti, officially chassis 41111, was commissioned by Parisian clothier Armand Esders. The initial body, a massive roadster for just two people, was designed by Ettore Bugatti’s son Jean and crafted by Henri Binder. A few short years into its life, that body was removed and replaced by a formal coupé de ville, also crafted by Binder. Bulletproof glass and armor plating were added then too. The rebodied car was said to be for King Carol of Rumania, but he never took delivery.

During the war, the car was crated and hidden in the sewers of Paris. Thereafter, the car went through several owners, both in England and the United States. William Harrah and Harrah’s Automobile Collection had the car for more than two decades, then sold it to General William Lyon. More recently, it was purchased by Volkswagen AG, which now owns the rights to the marque Bugatti.

What is it like to drive a Bugatti Royale?

Witness this description from a pamphlet about the Royale: “After settling oneself behind the large steering wheel, the view down the long sleek hood is almost one of dismay; but after getting underway and finding that the steering is most precise and comfortable, the great car begins to ‘shorten itself’ and one begins to feel more at ease. One really never loses the impression that this is a huge automobile, and this, topped with the knowledge of its great worth, demands respect.”