11 Mars 2021
illustration image: Unknown authorUnknown author, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
The text on this page is a summary of the article I wrote in French. If you want to see the full article, click on the following link: https://cheminot-transport.com/2021/02/l-autorail-bugatti-ou-le-levrier-sur-rails.html
If I tell you: Molsheim, speed, class, Italian sounding name, most of you will think « Bugatti ». At the mention of this name, some will dream of the Veyron, others much more greedy at the Chiron or the Centodieci, still others, like me, will only see by the Bugatti Royale, the one they consider to be the epitome of perfection. In fact it is not a car that we are talking about in what follows, but the Bugatti railcar from 1933!
During the Great Depression of the 1930s which caused the decline in car sales, Ettore Bugatti had decided to try his luck in the railway. Following a call for tenders launched by the railway networks, Ettore Bugatti and his son, Jean, manufactured in less than a year a railcar. But when your name is Bugatti and you compete at a high level, you don't just build a railcar like the others, you want the best looking and the fastest. The first copy left the Molsheim factories on April 11, 1933.
After being loaded onto a platform at Molsheim station, the future thoroughbred went to Paris Saint Lazare station (pic below) to be admired in its white and red lacquered livery with its aluminum-rimmed portholes.
Then came the time of its initial test run. Without forcing its talent, through the expert hands of Ettore's son, Jean Bugatti, it immediately showed what he was capable of: 84 mph reached in the warm up on April 25, the day after the victory of a Bugatti at the Grand - Monaco price.
After this very successful warm-up lap, this high-level athlete had to be offered a railway track suitable for high speeds so that our champion could fully express its potential. The lucky one was the line from Paris to Brest.
Less than a month after leaving the factory, the Bugatti railcar was already aiming for the world record in its category!
Over the 8 kilometers of the test portion, the average was 103 mph but over a 400-meter portion a peak of 107 mph was recorded.
The world record had just been taken from Germany, which had held it so far with 99 mph.
As for the first test, Jean Bugatti was in charge.
And when he left the cockpit, it was to drive his personal "thoroughbred", the magnificent Bugatti Type 41 Royale Esders
If I draw a parallel between the two, it's because beyond the brand name they have in common, the two vehicles shared the same engine. The Royale, was content with one, the other, the railcar, had four under the hood!
The Royale’s fabulous engine was a 12.7-litre 8-cylinder engine developing 200/220 hp or more than 800 hp total power. To fuel all 4 engines, a gasoline/benzene/alcohol mixture (55/30/15 ratio) was developed by Bugatti.
Let’s go back to the description of the Bugatti Railcar
What is striking at first glance is the aerodynamic profile of both ends, directly inspired by the shape of the upper surface of an airplane wing. Unlike other manufacturers who mainly profiled in the horizontal plane, which caused air compression when crossing, Bugatti had favored the flow of air above the vehicle and not on the sides. To see the report of the test engineers, this solution provided significant added value.
Ten years earlier, Ettore Bugatti had experimented this profiling on this 1923 race car. The Type 32 « tank ».
Now let's get inside the railcar and start at the cockpit with a view taken above the dashboard, so as it appeared to the driver. It is placed on the side to allow reversible driving. Note the similarity to that of cars apart from the brake lever.
The interior layout was flexible according to the choice of railway networks. In the less comfortable layout, there could be 5 frontline passengers (80 seats) for an interior space of 2.83meters wide. Below the layout with 3 seats abreast (part C of the diagram) and 4 seats abreast (part b of the same diagram).
The velvet armchairs, very comfortable, were reversible to always be facing forwards.
Notice the large glass space that provided perfect visibility on all sides.
After successful tests on the braking system and the high-speed stability of the Bugatti, commercial service was initiated. Paris Deauville was the first rail link on which the railcar circulated. With a travel time of 2 hours, this was a commercial speed record. The press talked about it at length, and I even found an article in the « Chicago Tribune » that advertised it.
After the lessons learned from the first prototypes of 1933, the Molsheim plant spent the following year in a phase of industrialization and production of new models more adapted to the needs of the railway networks.
Thus, in the first half of 1934, a Bugatti railcar with a profiled trailer came out of Molsheim.
Longer than the previous one, it could carry more passengers in different seating configurations.
This magnificent «thoroughbred» white and blue was put into service from the 1st of July 1934 on Paris-Vichy of which he made the journey in 3h 50 (almost 1 hour less than the conventional trains). From October 7, it connected Paris to Lyon in 4:45 allowing, as the advertisement said, to make the go in the morning, take care of these affairs in the afternoon and return to Paris in the evening. With the other trains it took 6 hours.
But the most spectacular, to finish this year 1934 in apotheosis, was the new world record sprayed once again by this amazing speedster.
The driver, as you can imagine, was once again Jean Bugatti. Despite a strong lateral wind the 120mph was reached on October 24, 1934. Without the unfavourable elements, Jean Bugatti was convinced that he could have exceeded 125mph, a goal he had in mind that day.
Continuing on its path as an innovative company, Molsheim released a new model in 1935. It was a lighter and more economical version than the previous ones. Equipped with 2 engines instead of 4, slightly shortened (19 meters), less high 10 cm, lighter to maintain identical performance; it was even more economical because consuming half as much. A 21-metre version and a 25-metre version were also manufactured.
Molsheim’s factory developed an even more successful version in 1936: the triple railcar.
Sixty meters long, 6 bogies of 4 axles, a still increased capacity and always a speed much higher than the competition: 93 mph.
At the same time, Jean Bugatti won his long-distance world record: 504 km at 90 mph
Unfortunately, in 1939, Jean Bugatti killed himself at the wheel of a race car he was trying. The same year World War II was declared and the Bugatti factory was confiscated by the German army.
Ettore Bugatti died shortly after the Second World War.
If the World War II had not taken place we might have a Bugatti TGV today! What a pity!