A virtual magazine for a true passion!

Editor: Jaap Horst

Volume 18, Issue 1

Bugatti AutoRail Mysteries and questions

Jaap Horst

At the last Retromobile, with some very fine Bugattis on display as shown in another article in this issue of the Bugatti Revue, I did a bit of searching after original information about Bugattis. This is not the info found in books, where to go to are the book selling stands and antiques stands. Many of these have portfolio's of the different car marques, I usually ask for the one marked "Bugatti", and have a look through it. This is how I found the print of the Bugatti Type 67 drawing years ago also at Retromobile.

This year, there was a pair of very interesting portfolio's with pictures of airplanes, shot by an unknown professional photographer, mainly from the inbetween war years. Though there were many interesting photographs there (nothing related to Bugatti, Breguet or de Monge), the most striking one being of the Caudron workshop where racing Caudron's were being prepared, a price of 20 euro per photo (thus 8000 for the two portfolio's) was too much for me, as well as for the Bugatti enthusiast standing besides me. Another Portfolio had many photo's from the 50's or 60's, of many Dutch Bugattis, taken obviously on different occasions. Unluckily, Dutch Bugatti registrar Kees Jansen had already left, cause he might have identified every one of the Bugattis on the photo's, and he might have seen any unknown ones, if there had been.

This, however, was not really interesting enough, so I went to another stand, and asked for the Bugatti portfolio. The seller invited me inside the stand, and while I was looking through all the assorted Bugattis, mostly known cars, he asked me what I was looking for. I do not know, I answered him in what might have been my best French, or just English. Shortly after, I found these 3 photographs of the Bugatti AutoRail engine, that was what I was looking for!

The three are factory photographs, numbered 942.301, 942.302 and 942.304, of what apparently is the AutoRail engine. However, there are details to this engine which are different from all known Bugatti AutoRail engines, which is where the mystery begins.

In communications with especially Dick Ploeg, we discussed about what the engine may in fact be. That it is not a regular AutoRail engine shows the photo on the right, which is from the Autorail ZZy 24408 at the Mulhouse Railway museum. The engine has a Daimler Fluid Flywheel (or hydraulic coupling for those who are not familiar with the Daimler), then a gearbox which is only used to select reverse, with the drive shaft coming out to the side (lengthwise in the AutoRail).

The found photographs show nothing of this, there seems to be a regular clutch, as well as a gearbox, with drive (not visible on any of the 3 photo's) to the rear. The gearbox seems to be too big to be merely a reverse.

Strange are the two levers, which immediately make this engine useless in the regular AutoRail set-up, where the driver is in a turret almost above the train, and too far from the engines to touch anyof the levers. The forward lever does not just change the gears, it is also, through a cam and follower, directly connected to the carburettors. All this is best visible on photo 942.301, where we can also see a driveshaft, probably for some auxiliary equipment, running from the gearbox to the front of the engine, and, behind that, an auxiliary shaft running from the clutch to the rear....

This rises the biggest question: What could this engine be intended for? If not for the AutoRail, what other possibilities are there? Maybe it was Bugattis intention to sell the engines to other manufacturers, as a power plant for boats or other uses? There is a very steady myth that one of the Micheline railcars (with rubber tires) had a Bugatti engine (they did have bogies with 4 axles, so some connection with Bugatti is there), as these are more truck-like, the levers being directly on the engine could be handled by the driver.

If the engine is for the AutoRail, David Morys of the Trust sent info which may be useful: Richard Day wrote an article in Trust newsletter 31 (which is available on the Trust website) in which he mentions the following:
“Because of the enormous amount of power available and the massive torque developed at low revs, no gear box was fitted except in later versions of the monocaisse (single car) and tricaisse (three-car) units.”

But then, still the levers are not close to the driver!

There are also details on the engine itself which are different from what is usually found, there are 3 columns for apparently carter ventilation, though the forward one on the left side may be for something else? The carburettors are different compared with what is usual, and the carter is smooth without inspection covers. There are also many details which do fit with what is usually found, like the general appearance, inlet manifold and exhaust. Compare with the engine photo's below, which were provided by Dick Ploeg, the two on the left being from the Le Mans museum, the other one in B&W being an original engine on a test bed at the factory. This last shows the grooved side plate, which is also seen on the newly found photo's, and which differs it from the other engines where two plain plates are used, instead of one large grooved one.

So, the question is if anybody knows more about this engine, is it an early type or a later one, what it may have been used for etcetera. Please send reactions to: J.J.Horst@BugattiPage.com.

Another question about the autorail, asked on this occasion by Dick Ploeg who also sent the photographs (the later ones from 1977), is if anybody knows the whereabouts of AutoRail XB4014. A Surallongee Legere which was for a long time at Lodeve, France.

There are rumours that the AutoRail was crushed and remains under a local highway, others say that a local railway club had adopted this autorail, and saved it somehow.

What we do know, is that at some point in time the railway connection to Lodeve was broken up, and the AutoRail could impossibly have left there by rail.

So; does anybody know if this AutoRail, the only other one besides the one in Mulhouse, somehow survived and where it is at the moment, or if it was really scrapped?

Please send reactions to: J.J.Horst@BugattiPage.com

I started this article with describing possible ways to find original information, one of those is the Internet, especially Ebay where documents or photographs are often offered. A few of those are shown above and below; factory photographs which are punched with the famous logo in small holes, and stamped on the rear with H. Carabin from Strassbourg, the usual Bugatti photographer.

Above a driven bogie, see the drive shaft and couplings. Note that it is numbered "1". Below a miniature model of a one-car Surallongee, and a "presidentiel" before it is 100% ready. For example, the windows are not yet fitted.

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