The Bugatti Type 41, better known as the Royale, is a large luxury car built from 1927 to 1933 with a 4.3 m wheelbase and 6.4 m overall length. It weighs 3,175 kg and uses a 12.763 litre straight-eight engine. For comparison, against the modern Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Royale is about 20% longer, more than 25% heavier; this makes the Royale one of the largest cars in the world. Ettore Bugatti planned to build twenty-five of these cars and sell them to royalty as the most luxurious car but European royalty were not buying such things during the Great Depression, Bugatti was able to sell only three of the seven made. Crafted by Ettore Bugatti, the Type 41 is said to have come about because he took exception to the comments of an English lady who compared his cars unfavourably with those of Rolls-Royce; the engine build. The engine was built around a single huge block, at approx. 1.4 m long x 1.1 m high, is one of the largest automobile engines made, producing 205–224 kW. Its eight cylinders, bored to 125 mm and with a stroke length of 130 mm, each displaced more than the entire engine of the contemporary Type 40 touring car.
It had 3 valves per cylinder driven by a centrally positioned single overhead camshaft. Three bearings and only a single custom carburettor was needed; the engine was based on an aero-engine design, designed for the French Air Ministry, but never produced in that configuration. The engine block and cylinder head were cast in one unit. Grinding of the engine valves was a regular maintenance requirement, removing the engine valves for grinding required removing and disassembling the large cast iron engine; the chassis was understandably substantial, with a conventional semi-elliptic leaf spring suspension arrangement at the front. At the rear the forward-facing Bugatti quarter-elliptics were supplemented by a second set facing to the rear. Strangely, for the modern day observer, the aluminium clutch box was attached to the chassis, not to the engine, the gear box aluminium, was attached to the rear axle, so was part of the unsprung mass of the suspension; the clutch and gearbox were placed at odd locations to reduce noise and increase comfort, a difficult problem in those days.
The transmission was mounted at the rear to offset the weight of the engine. Massive brake shoes were mechanically operated via cable controls: the brakes were effective but without servo-assistance required significant muscle power from the driver; the car's light alloy "Roue Royale" wheels measured 610 millimetres in diameter and were cast in one piece with the brake drums. Reflecting some tradition-based fashions of the time, the driver was confronted by a series of knobs of whalebone, while the steering wheel was covered with walnut. A road test performed in 1926 by W. F. Bradley at the request of Ettore Bugatti for the Autocar magazine proved how exquisite chassis construction allowed good and balanced handling at speed, similar to smaller Bugatti sports cars, despite the car's weight and size. All Royales were individually bodied; the radiator cap was a sculpture by Ettore's brother Rembrandt Bugatti. In 1928, Ettore Bugatti asserted that "this year King Alfonso of Spain will receive his Royale", but the Spanish king was deposed without taking delivery of a Royale, the first of the cars to find a customer was not delivered until 1932.
The Royale with a basic chassis price of $30,000, was launched just as the world economy began to deteriorate into the 1930s Great Depression. Six Royales were built with just three sold to external customers. Intended for royalty, none was sold to any royals, Bugatti refused to sell one to King Zog of Albania, claiming that "the man's table manners are beyond belief!"Six of seven production Royales still exist, as the prototype was destroyed in an accident in 1931, each has a different body, some having been rebodied several times. The first car is chassis number 41100 Known as the Coupe Napoleon The Coupé Napoleon was used by Ettore Bugatti, in his life became his personal car, it remained in the family's possession, housed at their Ermenonville chateau until financial difficulties forced its sale in 1963. It subsequently passed into the hands of the obsessive Bugatti collector Fritz Schlumpf, it had a Packard body. It was rebodied by Paris coach builder Weymann as a two-door fixed head coupe.
The Weymann body was replaced after the car was crashed by Ettore Bugatti who in 1930 or 1931 fell asleep at the wheel travelling home from Paris to Alsace necessitating a major rebuild. At various stages it was fitted with other bodies. Bricked up with 41141 and 41150 during World War II at the home of the Bugatti family in Ermenonville, to avoid being commandeered by the Nazis. Sold by L'Ebe Bugatti in the early 1960s to the brothers Schlumpf Resides in the Musée National de l'Automobile de Mulhouse, alongside 41131 that the Schlumpf brothers had acquired from John Shakespeare; the second car built, but the first to find a customer, is chassis no.41111 Known as the Coupé de ville Binder Sold in April 1932 to French clothing manufacturer Armand Esders. Ettore's eldest son, fashioned for the car a dramatic two-seater open body with flamboyant, full-bodied wings and a dickey seat, but no headlamps. In this form it became known as the Royale Esders Roadster. Purchased by the French politician Raymond Patenôtre, the car was rebodied in the Coupé de ville style by the coach builder Henri Binder.
From this point onwards, known as the Coupé de ville Binder Nev