by Andy Rheault (1982)
While the Jean Comte crew were working away on the body proper, I busied myself trying to learn what a correct T-40 Bugatti really looked like, what sort of instruments were needed, and a million other essential details. Letters went out to various information sources in England and America, and bit by bit some information came back. A brand new Rene Thomas steering wheel turned up in a local Chinese general store; the Jean Comte machine shop was making up carefully copied parts from unsalvageable originals; and when I heard there was a group of vintage enthusiasts in Singapore, I hied myself down there for a look. It was great fun, and I met some wonderful people who were enormously helpful. I even found two Bugattis in my prowling, but they were the property of a terribly keen Chinese race driver and, at that time, were not for sale This man’s house was crammed from floor to ceiling with the most amazing collection of parts I had ever seen, and before leaving I acquired some badly needed Hartford shock absorbers as well as a pair of suitable headlamps. They weren’t the desired Marchals which I later found in Europe, but they were better than empty sockets.
Auto paint supply houses were also on my visitation list since the variety in Saigon was pretty limited. I had decided against “Bugatti Blue” mostly because I didn’t know what it meant. Years later, of course, I learned that no one else really knows what it means either –a color almost as elusive as “British Racing Green.” I found an interesting dark grey with an olive cast, however, which was, in fact, a Mark VII Jaguar color. It has now been on the car for a good many years and is one of those things one either likes a lot, or not at all. I still do, and in my perversity have dubbed it “Bugatti Grey.” While in Singapore I also searched for a solution to the rotted-wheel-rim problem. Local garagist, motorist, and racing driver Freddie Pope put me on to the right people at Dunlop in England, but we never got the rims shipped before I found myself ready to return to the United States. Thus, I was unable to realize an earlier dream to try my hand at duplicating or bettering Albert Rochon’s time on the road between Saigon and Dalat.
The Bugatti arrived in Washington, D.C., in July, 1958, and Dave Mize, who was also there at the time, and I went down to claim her. It was marvelous: no fuss, red tape, or any of the imbroglio now associated with importing a car into this country. We just went into the warehouse, signed a few documents, opened up the crate ourselves, jacked the axles off their supports, filled up the tanks, started her up, and drove her home.
The bodywork done in Saigon had really been quite good; there was much to be done on the rest of the car, however, and this took me an awfully long time in the way I went about it. Part of my problem was my own inexperience and part of it was the fact that I lived half of the next twelve years overseas on one job or another and the Bugatti tended to get put aside. To be sure, there were occasional spurts of activity, such as the time we rebuilt the front end. In the mid-sixties, Eri Richardson, Tom Kodama, and I used to meet–sometimes weekly–in my garage for a Bugatti evening. Patiently, Rich tried to teach me more than I could ever remember about Bugattis, and was incredibly generous with spare parts of all kinds from his vast stock of factory original bits and pieces. Other gear came in from Bart Loyens, the Amsterdam stockist, including a correct…
Tomorrow the last part of this marvelous story by a real Bugatti man!