Among car enthusiasts, the Bugatti has always enjoyed a special cachet because of its elegance and power. As an old advertisement stated under an image of a goggle-clad driver with a billowing red scarf and his girlfriend clinging on for dear life: “C’è una Bugatti. Non si passa!” So in November 1987, expectations were high when Christie’s had a 1931 Bugatti type 41 Royale sports coupé on auction in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Of this model, which had a monster thirteen-liter engine and was aimed at a royal clientele, twenty-five had originally been planned, but, owing to the slump of the Depression, only three sold, and none to royalty: the King of Spain had wanted one, but managed to get himself deposed, and Ettore Bugatti had flatly refused to sell to King Zog of Albania, as he considered the man’s table manners “beyond belief.” The Bugatti at...


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