We headed uptown
through Central Park. The engine made quite a racket. The springs were
unyielding. We stopped for a red light just short of the S turns at the north
end of the park. Two hopped-up motorcyclists on gooked-up motorcycles pulled
alongside, gave us the eye and emitted a challenging "vroom, vroom."
The light changed and the Bugatti took off, accelerating with breathtaking
speed. It took the sharp curves effortlessly, with but a slight movement of the
steering wheel, as though the whole car were hung on rails. The motorcyclists
fell behind and dropped from view. We returned to my friend's apartment and I
took a second look at the car. This time I got the point.
The car looked
exactly like what it had just done. Its design gave the impression of something
light and poised, impatient and self-confident, capable, ready to spring alive
at the slightest touch and take you whistling down the road at top speed,
negotiating the tightest curve with ease, on and on to the end of the world if
need be—and you'd better hop in right now or it might just up and depart
without you. This pure expression of function and purpose had resulted in a
uniquely beautiful automobile. There wasn't a single false note to the design.
Every feature served and was subservient to the basics: acceleration, speed,
road holding and endurance. Moreover, the design represented what would be
called in mathematicians' terms the elegant solution to a problem, as opposed
to solving it by brute force. Ettore Bugatti achieved his racing objectives
with elegance and finesse, and that is just the way his cars look.
This, I think, is
what lies at the core of the Bugatti mystique. There is a look about a Bugatti
that says, "I am the Eternal Machine." Closer scrutiny will reveal the
barest trace of a smile that says, "I am the Infernal Machine, too."
But a novice like myself would not notice that. I was simply hooked. I had to
have one of those cars. I had been bitten by the Bug bug but had no way of
realizing the virulence of this disease. It has no known cure. It runs a long
course, periodically racking the host in feverish convulsions until, hopefully,
some immunity sets in. Even then the patient is never quite the same again.
The Bugatti hangup
is a transcendental experience in the true sense, with the pilgrim progressing
through levels of understanding as though through a series of veils, moving
ever onward toward the True Reality, the Ultimate, the One—in this case a true
perception of the Eternal Machine. Only a few make it through the full course
of this disease. In this respect the Bug hangup is different from more popular
indulgences such as glue sniffing and LSD popping, which produce
hallucinations. But however gaudy and exciting these hallucinations may be,
they have no objective reality. This is merely a form of self-induced
schizophrenia. Bugatti owners, on the other hand, are not the least bit
schizzed. A Bug is, after all, a real thing—just as real as Ahab's whale.
At the time I got
hooked I realized I lacked several important qualifications for owning a
Bugatti. It seemed to me that to maintain such a machine it was necessary to be
either rich or a good mechanic, and preferably both. Since the latter course
was the only one reasonably open to me, I set out to acquire some knowledge
about automobile engines. I read a book. Then, for $150, I bought a disheveled
1927 Rolls-Royce touring car and hauled it out to a small garage in New Jersey.
I took it apart—and over a year of weekend work went by before I got the Rolls
back together. Surprisingly enough it actually ran. I drove the car around the
block and back to the garage. Then I returned proudly to the city. The next day
it turned cold and the Rolls' block cracked.
The week after
that I sold it to a fellow from Wilkes-Barre for $75. It was a beautiful, sunny
day and as the Rolls disappeared I sat down on the curb and almost cried. Had I
known at the time the true meaning of all the weekends I had invested I might
very well have shot myself. For one could spend a whole lifetime working on
Rolls-Royces and hardly learn anything relating to Bugattis, as I found out
myself prepared, I set out in search of a Bugatti. And five years after being
bitten by the Bug bug I had a shot at one—a sleek, white, supercharged,
four-door bomb, a late 1939 tourer and one of the last Bugattis made. I phoned
a crotchety old Alsatian mechanic I had become acquainted with; I was at least
smart enough to know I would need a consultant.
like you to take a look at a Bugatti I want to buy."
"But I want to