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Car of the Month - September 2022
The Bugatti motor car of F. Henry Royce



In 1916, Frederick Henry Royce sent A.G. Elliott, a member of his staff, to London with the order to find him a Bugatti. AG Elliott acquired such an automobile and that was used by F. Henry Royce well into the year 1918. Thus he responded to an order by authorities that had limited his 'petrol allowance' due to wartime restrictions to merely one gallon (ca. 4 Litres) per week. Such a small gasoline ration was insufficient to run as his 'Personal Transport' the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which actually as 'Experimental Car' F. Henry Royce tested and used, too, for private tours. Hence the Bugatti was bought and F. Henry Royce took to the steering wheel of the voiturette for almost two years.

Looking back at the infant stage of the Bugatti marque provides evidence that Ettore Bugatti started production of his automobiles with a tiny  car. At Bugatti's manufacturing premises at Molsheim in Alsace from 1910 onward the Bugatti Type 13 was made. That was a small car intended for 2-seater-coachwork.

Technical Data: water-cooled 4-cylinder in-line-engine, 1,327 cc (or 1,368 cc from December 1913 onward), overhead camshaft, 2 valves per cylinder; 4 speeds and reverse, chain-drive; track front and rear 1.150 mm, wheelbase 2,000 mm (or 2,400 mm >Type 15< or 2,550 mm >Type17< – both these types identical as regards technical layout to Type 15 though considered for 3- or 4-seater coachwork).

Bugatti Engine

Such a voiturette combined the advantages of low weight with a quite powerful 4-cylinder engine and appealing driving performance was achieved at low fuel consumption (35 miles to the gallon). Henry Royce had carefully studied the development at Bugatti. The Type 13 from 1912 onward had been offered by their English agent as "10-12 h.p. Bugatti"; their slogan was "The Rolls-Royce of the light car world".

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Within the fairly short period from November 1912 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, it is hard to fathom more than a manageable number of such automobiles were imported into the United Kingdom. With the beginning of hostilities, supplies of spare parts and any support were cut entirely because from 1871 to 1918 Molsheim was located in the German Empire; Alsace and Lothringen have been areas in the Deutsches Kaiserreich. Consequently, Bugatti in the United Kingdom were 'products from the country of the enemy'. After more than a century having passed merely fragments of information can be puzzled together. There remains wide room for speculation. However, as a "reasonable assumption" it should be permitted to conclude that A.G. Elliott acquired a Bugatti Type 15, built in 1913, for his boss F. Henry Royce. This would have been a variant identical to the Type 13 as regards its technical design though with a wheelbase of 2,400 mm (long wheelbase), which lent itself to the construction of a body in the form of a 2-seater plus dickey. If it had been a Bugatti produced from December 1913 onward (late 1913), it benefited from the increased displacement to 1,368 cc (instead of the previous 1,327 cc).

The Bugatti remained in service with F. Henry Royce from 1916 thru 1918. The chief engineer of Rolls-Royce did study meticulously the design features implemented by Bugatti. Royce didn’t consider the Bugatti merely his personal transport but as a test department car subject to inspections and improvements. But one example from the factory’s records is a memorandum with a sketch from Royce's own hand as regards substitute the Zenith carburettor by on from supplier Claudel. The later decision to fit Claudel-Hobson carburettors on aero-engines from Rolls-Royce was in direct conjunction with such painstaking inspection and tests of his Bugatti's carburettor.

Bugatti Vergaser

Towards the end of the Kaiser-War the bureaucrats increased the petrol allowance for F. Henry Royce. Promptly he put his Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost back into service. With their previous strict petrol rationing the authorities had enforced this Experimental Car to become 'moth-balled' for about two years. In hindsight that has been a ridiculously stupid decision. - For this prototype’s engine for the first time had been fitted with aluminium pistons. The intention was to test such and find out whether in continuous operation the promising advantages of lighter weight, better heat dissipation and consequently higher engine power remained assured - and results from such engineering-research could be transferred to the aero-engines that were vitally important to the war effort.

Rolly-Royce Silver Ghost

The Bugatti used by F. Henry Royce from 1916 thru 1918 was sold to the Earl of Rocksavage (who later inherited the title Marquess of Cholmondeley) in London. Obviously the nobleman was so much delighted that he purchased a new Bugatti car immediately after the end of hostilities when production at Bugatti resumed.  He opted on a Bugatti Type 22 (which was a version developed from the 'original model' Type 13 >and 15 or 17<). At about the same time F. Henry Royce returned his Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, #49GB, to the Experimental Department at the works at Derby and took over an new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost as ‘Experimental Car’ and ‘Personal Transport’. His period of employing a Bugatti as personal transport had come to an end.

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