Bugatti celebrates the 70th anniversary of the legendary Pebble Beach Concours
Image above courtesy of Bugatti and Dean Batchelor
On Sunday 15th August, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance will mark its 70th anniversary. The event was first held in 1950 in Monterey, California, when the cars were driven on a parade lap of the Pebble Beach Road Race course. One of the star cars of that initial event was a 1938 Bugatti Type 57 Coupe de Ville, entered by John Edgar. The iconic luxury car brand has since gone on to win a record nine ‘Best of Shows’ awards.
“The Bugatti brand holds a very special place in the history of Pebble Beach,” explains Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Chairman, Sandra Button. “Our stories are intrinsically linked, and each year Bugatti models grace the fairway, they never fail to captivate and beguile visitors and of course, our judges. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the Bugatti gathering in 1985 was pivotal in making Pebble Beach the international success it is today.”
The event Button refers to is the breath-taking display of all six Bugatti Type 41 Royales at Pebble Beach in 1985 – the only time these iconic cars ever appeared together, before or since. Produced between 1926 and 1933, the Royale was seen as being one of the greatest luxury automobiles of its time – a car for aristocrats and royals was how company founder Ettore Bugatti envisaged the 6.4-metre, 12.8-litre in-line eight-cylinder powered Type 41. Unfortunately, its timing coincided with a significant global economic downturn, and as a result, just six production models were built.
The highly ambitious idea of assembling all six Bugatti Royales in one place was first proposed by Chris Bock, then a member of the Concours field crew and today the chief judge of the event. It proved a highly complicated logistical task that even involved the granting of diplomatic immunity to two of the cars by the US Government, a status usually reserved for individuals, occasionally bestowed on objects of art, but never an automobile before.
“Four of the Bugatti Royales were in the US already, and the remaining two were in France,” recalls Bock. “They had been part of the Schlumpf brothers’ car collection in Mulhouse, which had been taken over by the French Government and placed under the care of the French National Automobile Museum Association. But the museum was worried that if the cars left French soil, the Schlumpf brothers might attempt a legal move to seize the cars back.”
However, even with diplomatic immunity granted, there were still significant hurdles to overcome. The typical cargo flight from France re-fuelled in Canada, which the US grant of diplomatic immunity would not have covered, so special flights had to be arranged with Air France from Paris direct to Los Angeles.
“The concours is a complicated show to put on, because it’s essentially on a golf course sitting in a residential neighbourhood,” continues Bock. “We had put a lot of care into arranging storage for the Royales in the garages of private homes adjacent to the lodge. Then a guy arrived with the sixth Royale, which belonged to Briggs Cunningham. He’d towed it on an open trailer with a Ford F250 pick-up truck. He said: ‘Oh, it’ll be fine, we’ll just throw a tarp over it,’ while everyone else was running around hyperventilating!”
Enthusiasts travelled from all over the world to see the six Royales at Pebble Beach. “There was just a throng of people around those cars,” Bock recalls. “It was mobbed, and it stayed that way all day long. It was just a huge turning point for the event. It put Pebble Beach on the map with the international automotive press and car collectors all around the globe, plus it spawned the Pebble Beach Automotive Week.”
Bugatti models provided many more spell-binding moments at Pebble Beach over the years, including Ralph Lauren winning ‘Best of Show’ with his Type 57SC Atlantic in 1990. In 2003, Ralph Lauren’s car was reunited with the similar Type 57SC from the Mullin Collection. In 2019, all four Bugatti Type 59 Grand Prix cars were brought together for the first time since 1934. The 70th running of the Concours will feature a special exhibition of Best of Show Winners, including several Bugattis, many of which are in contention to collect awards.
Summing up the luxury French marque’s appeal, Bock says: “Bugatti automobiles are such a perfect blend of engineering, style and rarity. Every mechanical component is created with a designer’s eye as well as an engineer’s eye. They really are works of art.” We couldn’t agree more!