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"Well, tell us how to get the bus to Fredericksburg and mail me the car."
The next morning, back in New York, I called Charlie:
"Our mutual friend is sick."
"Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?"
"Il y a un burned-out bearing, I think."
Charlie just whistled.
Several days later the Bugatti arrived at Charlie's shop on a truck. It was pushed against the side wall along with a Lagonda, a Delahaye, a Hispano-Suiza, a Packard tourer and several Rolls-Royces that awaited the Master's attention. I asked him what he thought a job like mine would run. "Don't count on getting out of here for less than $750" was as far as he would go. I volunteered to help out on weekends, doing uncritical chores like taking off nuts and bolts and cleaning up parts and so on, with some vague idea that I would thereby learn something and possibly also cut costs. Charlie agreed.
My racing friend took a dim view of this plan, pointing out that there were a lot of things about Bugatti engines that you really have to know in order to rebuild one properly, that tolerances, nut tightnesses and things like that are critical in a racing engine, even a detuned touring version of the engine. He urged me to send the engine back to the factory in France. I refused, feeling that if I did I would end up knowing no more about the car than I did to start with, whereas if I helped out around Charlie's shop I would discover what made the thing tick. Secretly, of course, I was actually blowing up a new ego balloon to replace the one that had just popped. This balloon, appropriate to the Second Stage, would be labeled with the following doubtful proposition:
List all possible false starts. What then remains is the right way. The proposition is suspect because with a Bugatti there are an infinite number of possible false starts.
Work began in Charlie's shop, which on a Bugatti is not easy, because the engine must be removed completely from the car before anything significant can be accomplished. To get it out, the hood, side panels, front fenders and radiator have to come off. Only then comes the really unique challenge of the celebrated Bugatti power plant. It is put together with dozens and dozens of little nuts and bolts, like an airplane engine, instead of a lesser number of larger ones. "Must have had someone working full time just making nuts and bolts," muttered Charlie. The nuts and bolts also come in a fantastic variety of sizes, requiring not only a full complement of European metric wrenches but some British and American wrenches and a few pure Bugatti wrenches. Some nuts are almost impossible to get at without hiring a part-time midget or bending a perfectly good wrench into some corkscrew shape. Watching Charlie struggle with one particularly inaccessible nut behind the water pump, I remarked with some pride: "I guess Mr. Bugatti built his cars to stay together, not come apart." Charlie exploded: "Damn guinea ought to have been a Swiss watchmaker!"