Ettore Bugatti made the world’s most expensive and bespoke car of it’s time, the Bugatti Royale. After the great depression Ettore found it impossible to sell more Royale’s in the economic climate and so he conceived, designed and developed a train between 1931-33 that would initially utilise the remaining stock of Royale engines on one of the world’s first high-speed railway systems the ‘Wagon Rapide’ Many other features such as the brakes were developed from his car designs.
Before this, most trains were hauled by heavy steam engines, so the new aerodynamic trains were unlike anything seen at the time and were a huge improvement being light, clean and comfortable. Bugatti railcars were built as single, double or triple units with either two or four 12.7 litre petrol engines centrally mounted in one of the cars. Each car was mounted on two 8 wheel bogies and the linked engines were arranged to drive two or four of the eight axles via drive shafts with hydraulic clutches and reversing gears. They could be arranged in various combinations to suit the needs of the french railways.
The ‘Presidential’ which took it’s inaugural trip on the Paris-Chartres line with the President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun on board, it had 48 luxury seats and the four Royale engines produced 800hp, in 1934 it reached a speed of 122mph/196kph a world record of the time.
Although the trains suffered from restricted visibility for the driver and high fuel consumption, Bugatti produced over 100 rail cars, some of which were in use until 1958 and their production has been credited with saving the company from the financial failure of it’s beautiful but uneconomical cars.
The ‘Presidential’ was restored in 1970 and was initially on display in the French Railway Museum before being moved to the Mulhouse Collection in 1981 where it is shown alongside the Bugatti Royales that led to it’s ‘birth’.