Saturday, September 23, 2017


A hot rod  with a historic connection 
at the Autos of Alamo car show

At the “Autos of Alamo” car show held on the evening of September 18 at the Alamo Square shopping Center, the author found a unique hot rod with a connection to both hot rod history and the history of the Indianapolis 500-mile race.



From a distance this is a nice full-fendered 1932 Ford Model 18 Deluxe coupe “three window” fitted with a Sparton horn, but the outstanding feature of this hot rod is its flathead V-8 engine fitted with original Navarro 89 cylinder heads. Barney Navarro was a ground breaking early Southern California hot rodder who built hop-up parts for at his Navarro Engineering shop at 5142 San Fernando Road in Glendale California.

Rambler ad scanned from the September 1967
 issue of Motor Trend magazine

For five years Barney Navarro raced on the United States Auto Club (USAC) championship racing circuit, principally at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with an unlikely engine – a Rambler straight six engine as used in the Rambler American passenger car. Barney sleeved the engine down from its original 199 cubic inches down to 183 cubic inches and turbocharged it. A Rambler advertisement in Motor Trend magazine in September 1967 claimed that the engine developed over 550 horsepower.

Unfortunately the chassis in which the engine was installed in for its 1967 debut was a bit long in the tooth; the first rear-engine Watson chassis which powered by a Ford DOHC V-8 engine was driven to second place by Rodger Ward in the 1964 Indianapolis ‘500.’

 Les Scott's official Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo



Navarro bought the car in 1966 from racer Norm Hall who had raced it unsuccessfully during the 1965 USAC engine fitted with an Offenhauser engine. The Rambler-powered car was entered in the 1967 Indianapolis ‘500’ for Kokomo Indiana rookie driver Les Scott who passed his rookie test but failed to qualify for the 33-car starting field.

Over the next few years, Barney Navarro continued to attempt to qualify at Indianapolis with Scott as the driver although other notable drivers tried it. In 1968, after Scott failed his refresher test journalist turned racer Ken Titus crashed the Navarro Watson in practice.

In 1969 Mike Moseley who drove for Wilke Racers and AJ Watson took the car for a “test hop” to help sort of the handling but in the end Scott and the #50 Navarro Engineering Special failed to qualify for the ‘500.’ Later during the 1969 USAC racing season Al Loquasto tried to qualify the car at two races, and  Southern California road racer Dino Dioguardi did not qualify for the starting field at the 1969 season-ending “Rex Mays 300.”

Ace midget car pilot Arnie Knepper drove the red white and blue “Navarro American Motors Special” in practice at Indianapolis in 1970 but did not attempt to qualify. Later that season both Les Scott and Denny Zimmerman unsuccessfully tried to qualify the car for the inaugural ‘California 500’ at the Ontario Motor Speedway in September 1970.

Dave Strickland's official Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo


The following year the Navarro Rambler-powered car now fitted with twin turbochargers finally made the starting field for a USAC race and ran in both heats of the “Rafaela Indy 300” held in Argentina, driven by midget racing stalwart Dave Strickland. The #50 car was flagged in 19th place in the first 153-mile heat race, and 15th in the second heat 8 laps behind the winner.  

After adjustments made during a tire test session at Phoenix improved the old chassis’ handling, the team went to Indianapolis with high hopes. Dave Strickland passed his rookie test, but the over-stressed Rambler engine then reputed to develop 700 horsepower had reliability issues and eventually Strickland stepped out of the car after a practice incident. 
The Navarro-owned Rambler-powered Watson chassis reappeared at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1972 as the “Roughneck Drilling Special” driven by hard-luck racer Leon “Jigger” Sirois, who practiced the car but never made a qualifying attempt.

During the 1980’s Barney Navarro sold the 1964 Watson chassis less its unique engine back to its original driver Rodger Ward who had the car restored to Ford DOHC power with its original 1964 livery as the “Kaiser Aluminum Special.” 

Barney Navarro a true hot rod and racing innovator passed away two days after his 88th birthday in August 2007 but his company carries on and sells modern examples of Barney’s original castings.    

Color photographs by the author
Black & White photographs courtesy of the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Chad Nichols dominates the
 2017 Harvest Classic

 
On Saturday night September 16, the mighty midgets of the Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) were in action at the ultra-fast Madera Speedway paved oval as part of the 45th annual Harvest Classic. The first car out for time trials, the #17 Shanoian Special Esslinger-powered Beast chassis piloted by Chad Nichols, spun on the slick surface during his second lap and had to settle for his first lap time of 14.455 seconds.

Chad’s time wound up being fifth fastest, as the six fastest cars all broke into the 14-second bracket. Cody Gerhardt in the Eskesen Racing Beast powered by a Mopar engine set the night’s fastest time with a best lap of 14.352 seconds, to edge out Mark Maliepaard’s best lap of 14.359 seconds in the Maliepaard & Morris’ #51 Beast/Esslinger.

David Goodwill was third fastest qualifier in his Beast/Mopar, trailed by Scott Pierovich in Morris’ #71R midget, while Nichols’ teammate Nick Foster timed in sixth fastest in the #1N Shanoian Beast/Esslinger at 14.601 seconds. Maria Cofer, Floyd Alvis, JR Williams and 2106 BCRA champion Bobby Wilson rounded out the night’s qualifiers.

Chad Nichols jumped into the lead from the pole position in the night’s first 8-lap heat race and led all the way to the checkered flag trailed by Gerhardt, Goodwill, Cofer and JR Williams. Nick Foster grabbed the lead at the start of the second heat race with Mark Maliepaard in hot pursuit before Mark bobbled as he tried for the lead on lap four and spun to a stop at the head of the front straightaway. Maliepaard restarted at the tail of the field but had lost a lap in scoring as Foster cruised to victory over Pierovich, Alvis and Wilson.

The BCRA 30-lap feature was the last event of the evening following the hobby stocks, USAC HPD midgets, winged sprint cars, NCMA sprint cars, Super Modifieds, Legends of Kearney Bowl, California Hard Tops, and two sessions of pulling tractors. Teammates Nichols and Foster shared the front row for the start and Nichols sped into the lead at the drop of the green flag, as behind him Foster battled Malipaard for position and Gerhardt moved up to make it three car battle for third place behind Nichols and Pierovich.

Following a lap eight restart for Bobby Wilson’s second spin of the race, Gerhardt executed an outside pass of Maliepaard to secure third place. The three leading machines then streaked away from the rest of the field as they wove through traffic and built up a 6 car advantage over fourth place Foster by lap 20. As the laps wound down, Gerhardt tried an inside move on Pierovich for second place but could not maintain another momentum to complete the pass.

On lap 24, David Goodwill felt the Mopar engine in his #3G machine tighten up and he shut it down and coasted to a stop on the high side of turn number two. Neither Pierovich nor Gerhardt could challenge over the last five laps, and Chad Nichols took the Harvest Classic win. Fourth place went to Nick Foster, with Maliepaard fifth and BCRA points leader Maria Cofer sixth after she battled braking problems over the last half of the race. Floyd Alvis and JR Williams rounded out the finishers, and Goodwill and Wilson failed to finish.

The BCRA midgets return to Madera Speedway on September 30 in a program with the 75-lap Open Hobby Stock Race, USAC HPD Midgets, BCRA Midgets, Super Modifieds, Legends of the Pacific, and the Legends of Kearney Bowl.

1951 Ford Woodie wagon
 
 

At the 2017 “Autos of Alamo” car show, the author spied this 1951 Ford Country Squire wagon, Ford’s last wood-bodied station wagon built in its Iron Mountain factory using maple and birch from Ford’s own Upper Peninsula forests.  Some purists disdain these cars as the body is mostly steel inlaid with wood.
 
 
Comparing the two sides of this 1951 Ford demonstrates how little wood was actually used in building these cars.  
 
 

Ford had remained the woodie wagon market after Chevrolet had abandoned it following the 1948 model year, as General Motors found that all-steel station wagons were much more cost competitive. Ford dropped the price of the V8 flathead powered 1951 top of the line Country Squire wagon to $2028 but sales for the model year totaled just 22,292 units.
 
In late 1951 Ford Motor Company sold the Iron Mountain factory, and for 1952 the re-designed Ford Country Squire used 'Di-Noc' wood laminate paneling on the sides and tailgate framed by wood, but the real wood was replaced by wood-grained fiberglass mid-way through the 1953 model year.   

All photographs by the author

Monday, September 11, 2017


Alex Schutte dominates Gold Cup midgets

 
 


Twenty midget racers were on hand at the famed Sliver Dollar Speedway in Chico California on Thursday night September 7 for a joint Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA)/United States Auto Club (USAC) Western States midget race. The mighty midgets were part of the second night of racing for the four-night 64th annual “Gold Cup Week” non-winged program together with the USAC/CRA sprint cars.  

Following the three preliminary hot lap sessions, the #3 machine of Sparky Howard and the #35W car of Nate Wait were both withdrawn from further competition due to terminal mechanical problems. Shane Golobic topped the field in single car time trials with a best lap of 14.256 seconds in the Wood #17W, followed closely by Courtney Crone at 14.275 seconds in the Jerome Rodela owned #25 Toyota-powered machine.
 
Chad Boat in the Tucker/Boat #84 was a just tick behind at 14.318 seconds, followed in fourth by Ronnie Gardner the only one competitor signed up for “double duty” with both a sprint car and midget ride in the Ted Finkenbinder #3F at 14.379 seconds with BCRA points leader Maria Cofer fifth fastest at 14.435 seconds.

In the first 8-lap heat race, Alex Schutte who started on the front row by virtue of his sixth-fastest qualifying time out-dragged pole sitter Randi Pankratz into turn one and never looked back as he streaked to victory over Golobic, Pankratz and Robert Dalby. Post-race inspection found that Golobic’s #17W car had lost its muffler during the race and the car was disqualified, which moved Pankratz and Dalby up to second and third place respectively with Gardner and Cody Hodgson rounding out the top five finishers.  

In the second heat race, front row starter Michael Faccinto jumped in the lead ahead of pole sitter Frankie Guerrini and led all eight circuits to finish ahead of Crone, Cofer, the #63 of Guerrini, Cory Elliott’s #11E and Floyd Alvis who celebrated his 83rd birthday on September 1.

Oklahoma’s Michele Decker in Shannon McQueen’s Spike/Esslinger #7D continued the night’s trend of front row domination as she led wire-to-wire in the third heat race from her pole starting position. Behind Michele at the finish were Boat, Mason Daniels, David Prickett, McQueen and JR Williams still on the comeback after his traffic accident following the Stockton dirt track race.

The re-draw for the eighteen-car starting field for the 30-lap BCRA/USAC “Light up the World Beverages” feature race put Alex Schutte on the coveted pole position in his family’s #28 midget with Michael Faccinto alongside, while the second all-female row was comprised of Decker and Pankratz. The third row was all Toyota power with Crone and Boat while the fourth row was shared by young guns Dalby and Cofer. By virtue of his heat race disqualification, Shane Golobic was slotted sixteenth on the grid alongside Shannon McQueen in her trademark pink blue and black Boss chassis #7.

As the field charged into the first turn at the drop of the green flag, chaos erupted back in the field which eliminated the top two drivers in the BCRA points chase. Maria Cofer lost control due to a deflating right rear tire and spun in front of Floyd Alvis; both cars suffered heavy damage and were moved to the infield by the track safety crew, finished for the night. The first ragged restart attempt was called back, but the second attempt was clean as Alex Schutte shot into the lead over Faccinto. On lap two, Decker got around Faccinto to claim second place.

The red flag flew on lap five after a serious crash in between turns one and two that involved fourth-place driver Chad Boat whose car half-spun to a halt and was struck by the machines of Pankratz and Dalby. Boat’s chassis suffered a broken left front shock absorber mount so Chad was done for the night.
 
The cars of Dalby and Pankratz went to the work area and with the concerted volunteer efforts of the members of several crews both cars were able to restart at the tail of the field. When racing resumed within a few laps Dalby’s machine pulled into the infield with a battery problem while Faccinto’s machine retired with an apparent engine failure

On lap eleven the running order remained Schutte, Decker, Crone and Pickett as those front four cars had separated themselves from the pack. By lap 16, Golobic had gained ten positions to run sixth, and two laps later Shane caught a pair of breaks as Courtney Crone brought out the caution flag with power steering problems for the second straight event. Courtney’s retirement moved the #17W to fifth and bunched up the field for the single-file restart.  

On lap 19, Gololbic’s blue #17W machine moved past Mason Daniels’ #33M to claim fourth, then two laps later, Shane made a daring outside pass around Prickett through turns one and two to claim third place. On lap 28, as Schutte continued to lead, Golobic made another turn two outside pass, this time on Decker to claim second, and then Prickett passed the #7D which dropped Decker to fourth place.

At the drop of the checkered flag, Alex Schutte picked up the wire-to-wire Gold Cup win trailed by Shane Golobic, David Prickett and Michele Decker as Mason Daniels rounded out the top five finishers. Sixth through tenth finishers were Frankie Guerrini, Shannon McQueen in seventh up from fifteenth,  USAC Western States points leader Ronnie Gardner eighth with USAC Western States runner-up Cory Elliott ninth and Randi Pankratz who recovered from her lap five accident and finished tenth. The non-finishers in order were Cody Hodgson, Courtney Crone, Robert Dalby, Michael Faccinto, Chad Boat, JR Williams, Maria Cofer and Floyd Alvis.   

The BCRA midgets return to action on Saturday September 16th at Madera Speedway as part of the 45th Annual Harvest Classic presented by Midland Tractor and John Deere.  In addition to the mighty midgets, the Western Winged Super Sprint Series, USAC HPD Midgets, Super Hobby Stock Series, NCMA Sprints, CSS/360 Super Modifieds, Legends of Kearney Bowl, and the California Hard Tops will all be in action, with a special added feature multi supercharged engine pulling tractors.

           

 

 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dream cars at the Petersen Museum

The author recently had the opportunity to visit the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and we will feature a number of features from that visit in the coming weeks. Today we look at the ‘Dream Cars’ exhibit which displayed three dream cars built in the decade of the nineteen fifties.

Mercury D-528



First up is the Mercury D-528, built in 1955 as a test vehicle for advanced concepts that included air conditioning, “safety seating” and suspension. It was radical for its time as its original design used a cantilevered roof with no front "A" pillars and four headlights. The car rode on coil spring suspension cloaked in a fiberglass body built in house at Ford Motor Company. The unusual name came from it being the 528th Ford experimental design. Apparently the pillar less top was a problem as eventually the car was rebuilt with thin “A” pillars.   
 




Auto manufacturer foresaw air conditioning as becoming a popular option in the future, but in 1955 because the required evaporators were so large they had to be located in the trunk. This affected the design – in order to provide adequate luggage room, the characteristic hinged rear humps were added on the rear fenders, with the gas tank access on one side and the spare tire in the other. The hooded reversed retractable back window became a design cue used in 1963 Mercury production cars

In the early sixties the D-528 was sold to Paramount Pictures and sent to Hollywood where it was remodeled by George Barris, who painted the car red and removed the name "D-528" from the front fenders and replaced it with "Beldone" – a name selected by its new owners. The “Beldone” fitted with a number of remote-controlled features was used in the 1964 Jerry Lewis movie, The Patsy, (a loose sequel of his 1960 film The Bellhop) and appeared later in several other movies and television shows.  

The Zeder Storm

Fred Zeder Jr. the son of famed Chrysler engineer wanted to develop an American powered dual-purpose sports car with a “swappable” body which could be partially for racing. Zeder partnered with Eugene Cassaroll, owner of Auto Shippers Incorporated which delivered Chrysler products around the country and Indianapolis car owner and the pair formed the Sports Car Development Corporation.

While on vacation in Europe, Zeder visited the custom Italian body builder Bertone and struck an agreement to build the body for Zeder’s creation. Although the body took six months longer than agreed, the finished car was shipped to New York via the ocean liner SS Andrea Doria and when Zeder drove it on the streets on New York City it reportedly caused a sensation.
 
 

The car, called the Zeder Storm Z-250, was taken to Chrysler's design headquarters in Hamtramck in April of 1954 in the car of his uncle, who was Chrysler’s Chief Engineer. The Chrysler Corporation kept the car powered by a 260 horsepower Dodge ‘Red Ram’ Hemi V-8 with other MoPar components that included the brakes, radiators, clutch, fuel tank, rear axle, and steering system for two years, but ultimately decided the car was too expensive to manufacture and returned it to Fred Zeder who drove it for many years.
 
 
 

The Storm Z-250 concept of American power and Italian bodywork was later still pursued by Cassaroll who later financed the 315-cubic inch Chrysler V-8 powered Dual Ghia with bodywork fabricated by the Italian coach builder Ghia. The Dual Ghia passenger car debuted in 1954, but although it a number of Hollywood actors Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden Desi Arnaz and Ronald Reagan each owned, the Dual Ghia ceased production in 1958 with just over 100 cars built which proved Chrysler’s decision on viability of the Zeder Z-250 Storm as correct.

Plymouth Explorer
 
 

Beginning in 1950 and continuing through the nineteen fifties, the Chrysler Corporation paired with Turin body builder Ghia to create two dozen drivable dream cars with hand built custom bodies.  The 1954 Plymouth Explorer coupe rides on a 114 inch wheelbase 1953 Plymouth Cranbrook chassis powered by a “Powerflow Six” a 110-horsepower 230-cubic inch 6-cylinder engine coupled to a HyDrive semi-automatic transmission; the driver only used the clutch to put the car in gear.
 
 
 

The attractive two-seat Explorer is finished in a brilliant metallic green paint with the bucket seat interior was covered with white leather with fitted luggage behind the seats. The “spear” on the sides of the car is not chrome; rather it is painted white to match the interior.  The last of the Italian bodied specials was the Chrysler “Norseman” was a four-seat fastback coupe built by Ghia. The concept car was lost (ironically) during the sinking of the ocean liner SS Andrea Doria in July 1956.

Due to cost, concept cars have lost favor among automotive manufacturers, but concept cars are still alive in the minds of dreamers, such as this radical futuristic race car model displayed in the Auto Center College of Design workshop inside the Petersen Automotive Museum. Could we see something like this car on race tracks in the near future?    

 
 



All photos by the author

Monday, August 28, 2017


Faccinto brings his broom
 
to the Stockton dirt track
 
 
 
On Saturday August 26 a field of eleven Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) midgets took part in the Stockton Dirt Track’s Salute to Leroy Van Conett in a program together that also included the Elk Grove Ford Sprint Car Challenge Tour (SCCT) winged 360 cubic inch sprint cars. One BCRA competitor Cory Elliott from Bakersfield took up the challenge of racing with both BCRA and SCCT entries on the same night on the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds 4/10-mile clay oval.

Michael Faccinto led the field in time trials with a best lap of 16.519 seconds in his CP-Carillo Rods sponsored midget trailed by Alex Schutte in the family #8 midget with a best of 16.625 seconds with Elliott third at 16.655 seconds. Mason Daniels in his family’s #33M and Australian Danny Carroll in Sean Dodenhoff’s #9C rounded out the top five qualifiers.

Nate Wait and BCRA points leader Maria Cofer paced the field for the start of the first eight-lap heat race, and Maria led the field for the first few circuits as Faccinto carved his way through the field from his sixth starting position to grab the lead on the fourth lap. The final finishing order for the first heat race was Faccinto, Cofer, Elliott, Carroll, and Wait while JR Williams, who was battling an upset stomach, dropped out early. 

At the start of the second heat race Mason Daniels leapt into the lead while Alex Schutte who started from the tail made contact with another car at the start and immediately retired with a bent shock absorber. A few laps into the race, Scott Pierovich in his first dirt track appearance in a couple of seasons, lost the left front wheel as his midget entered turn three but Scott safely made it into the infield.
 
When the race resumed after the caution, Daniels appeared on his way to victory when the torque tube bolts sheared off the rear end and he coasted to a stop and Brett Felkins of nearby Lodi inherited the win over the ageless Floyd Alvis.

While the crews of Pierovich and Schutte were able to affect repairs to their respective machines, unfortunately the #33M midget of Daniels was too damaged for his crew to make repairs and he scratched from the night’s 25-lap feature event.
 
With the re-draw for starting positions, the team cars of Felkins and Wait were side-by-side on the front row, with Pierovich and Carroll in row two. With Daniels a scratch, the machines of Schutte and Elliott shared row three, Cofer and Faccinto comprised row four and Williams and Alvis shared row five.

Felkins led the first lap of the feature before Pierovich surged by, but on lap four the race had its first caution period when Felkins spun to a stop in turn four. Faccinto was already scored in second place trailed by Schutte, Carroll and Elliott. When racing resumed Faccinto snuck past Pierovich on the back stretch of the 4/10 mile oval and established his lead before the field was frozen by a second spin by Felkins on lap seven which ended his night early.

The ‘top five’ running order under the caution flag was Faccinto, Pierovich, Schutte, Cofer and Carroll but when the green flag reappeared Carroll maneuvered past Cofer to capture fourth position. As the laps wound down, Faccinto steadily built up a commanding lead of nearly half a lap over the field. On lap 21, Faccinto put Alvis a lap down as the engine in Floyd’s #1 midget had gone off song.   

With the drop of the checkered flag, Michael Faccinto completed his second “clean sweep” of a BCRA racing program in less than a month, as he set quick time, won his heat race and the feature just as he had at Fernley Speedway at the end of July.   Faccinto was followed across the stripe by Pierovich, Schutte, Cofer, Carroll, Elliott, Nate Wait and Floyd Alvis. Brett Felkins and JR Williams both failed to finish and as previously mentioned Mason Daniels did not start the feature.

In a postscript to the night’s BCRA racing action, JR Williams was involved in a serious accident on his trip home when another driver crossed the highway centerline and struck JR’s truck just behind the driver’s door. JR’s truck and trailer were both demolished, but thankfully JR was unhurt although tragically one of the occupants in the other car lost his life in the accident.

The always smiling resilient JR plans to back in action on Thursday September 7 for the next BCRA race held as part of the  second preliminary night of racing of ‘Gold Cup week’ at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico California. The program co-sanctioned with the United States Auto Club (USAC) Western States ‘Light Up the World’ midgets will also feature the AMSOIL USAC/CRA sprint cars on their fourth race of the six-race California sprint week.        

 

  

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Bugatti Royale at the Petersen

The name Bugatti captivates the imagination of car enthusiasts, whether their interest is focused on the modern sports cars, the famous pre-war racing cars, or the magnificent coach-built road-going masterpieces.

The largest car built by Ettore Bugatti was the Type 41, the Royale, the car of kings.  Originally Bugatti intended to build twenty-five of these monstrous machines but in fact only seven were built, and only three were sold in period, none to royalty.
 
The 169-inch (over 14 feet) wheelbase chassis was sold without the body at a cost of $30,000 (over $400,000 today) during the Great Depression.   The straight-eight Bugatti Royale engine, an aircraft inspired design, with the block and head as a single casting displaces 778 cubic inches.  The massive powerplant which developed perhaps 285  horsepower at a leisurely 1700 revolutions per minute (RPM) was connected to a 3-speed manual transmission

Consider that this one engine displaces more cubic inches than the engines of eight Miller 91 race cars. The engine with just three main bearing a single overhead camshaft and a single carburetor develops 300 horsepower at a sedate 2000 revolutions per minute. The cast-aluminum wheels are 24 inches in diameter integrally cast with the brakes drums. Understandably the cable-actuated brakes without any power assistance were extremely difficult to use to slow the 7000-pound machine.  

This was the first Royale sold in 1931, and was initially fitted with a roadster body with a rumble seat and no headlights designed by Ettore’s eldest son Jean Bugatti. Initially this Royale was known as the ‘Royale Esders Roadster’ after its buyer French textile manufacturer Armand Esders. After its ownership by a French politician who had it re-bodied as it appears today; a coupe for the passengers with the chauffer in an open cockpit.


 

Each Bugatti Royale is named; the example on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum through October is known as the ‘Coupe de ville Binder,’ named after the Parisian coachwork company that crafted its second and current body, Henri Binder.
 
 
The Royale’s radiator cap is a posed elephant from a sculpture by Ettore’s younger brother Rembrandt Bugatti who committed suicide in 1916 in Paris
Click the photograph to enlarge  

After World War 2 during which time it was hidden reportedly in a Paris sewer, the Binder Bugatti made its way to United States where it was owned at various times by Floridian Dudley Wilson, Atlanta banker Mills Lane, and casino owner William Harrah. Homebuilder and United States Air Force Reserve General William Lyon listed the car at auction in 1996 with an unmet reserve of $15 million. The current owner of Royale Coupe de ville Binder is Volkswagen AG, the owner of the modern Bugatti brand which uses the car as a promotional vehicle.
 
Reproduction of an Auto Rail Poster
courtesy of the Bugatti Trust
 

The author recalls reading an article as a child about the Bugatti Royales that noted that due to poor sales, several Royale engines were used to power locomotives. The truth is that the line of Bugatti Auto Rail trains saved the Bugatti company from certain financial ruin. Ettore designed an aerodynamic luxurious rail car with innovative automotive type suspension and braking systems.  
 
 
 

Powered by four of the mighty Bugatti Royale engines the Auto Rail prototype attained 106 miles per hour in testing in the spring of 1933. More than 80 of the railcars were built, with a dozen powered by just two Royale engines. Unbelievably these trains were still in service as late as 1956; the remaining example is in the Cité du Train in Mulhouse France, but the Petersen has one of the rail engines on display.        
 
All photos by the author except as noted