Last week, we published a short history of the Bucciali, that most misunderstood and often maligned magnificent example of French artistry on wheels. This week, Wallace Wyss tells us about the first guy who fell in love with a photograph of the Saoutchik Bucciali. He was not the last to do so, and in a remarkable coincidence, a Dutch artist fell in love with the same car in another old photograph. That story next week [Ed].
A Bucciali Tribute Car
Yes, I know, I know, it’s a copy, a clone, what some now call a “tribute car” and I don’t normally write about clones but this one’s special.
Why? Because it is nothing short of a love affair between a man and a photograph of a car. The photograph was of a French car marque called Bucciali (Yes, I know, it sounds Italian. But it is Corsican French and pronounced b-yew-see-ah-le.) The man was American construction giant William A. Tishman, who found a faded photo of the Bucciali and simply had to have one, even if it meant recreating what could have been a rival to the Bugatti Royale.
The American that fell in love with a car in a picture
Bill Tishman was a scion of a family that owned a worldwide construction group, already owned a Rolls Royce Phantom II, Marmon Speedster and several other classics. But after he saw this Bucciali photograph he wanted a Bucciali, badly.
Confounding his ambition was a little event called WWII. In 1939, the Nazis marched into Paris and all traces of the cars were temporarily lost. So he determined to make his own. He hired three workmen to fabricate the car. In a 1981 feature, Popular Science stated that the car took eight years and it certainly took a lot of money. Estimates are he spent between $600,000 and $650,000 which today would probably be closer to $2 million.
His design was remarkably like the original, at least going by pictures. It’s got the same roofline, the huge high arched fenders that are almost has high as the low hood line and which give the car what you would call an “ underslung look.” Those who visited his workshop say Tishman designed virtually every aspect of the car, from the all-steel body with unique steel inner fender linings, to a refreshment center that dispenses hot and cold water into lead crystal glasses which neatly fitted into place under spigots. The dashboard has acres of wood and an authentic prewar look.
VeloceToday contributor Al Axelrod remembers when it was built. “The project at least began one block from my shop in a small welding shop called ‘Art in Iron’, and I watched its progress. The car patron, Bill Tishman, a very nice, very well off car guy, had us maintain two of his great cars, the most interesting to me, a 1927 (I think) Rolls-Royce dual cowl, (the real deal) with a separate two-place back seat, way, way back there, with the top down, and a very similar wind screen in front for the chauffeur. I was told when the replica project started, Lincoln chassis and many other Lincoln components of the time period were used.”
For some reason he wanted four-wheel drive. One story says that he used a Chevrolet S-10 chassis, while the museum that has it now says he fabricated a chassis (perhaps out of those Lincoln parts). But at least it’s certain that the engine is a Chevrolet 350 V-8 retrofitted with a Rajay turbocharger which in turn uses an electronic water-injection system. It was rated at 304 hp. at 4000 rpm.
However, the various construction secrets might be found in this catalog found for sale on the Internet:
BUCCIALI (Bucciali [Replicar]): 8 page non-color catalog, 12×17. Six drawings show interior features. Includes discussion by owner and designer, Bill Tishman. Nice! Price: $100. Click here
The biggest expense in building the car was fabricating virtually all the parts you see, from the wheels to the door handles to the gas cap. Out of sight are the GM heating and air conditioning systems and the radio/tape deck. There are also novelties like a hood that rises electrically and a trunk lid that does the same.
A final touch was a radiator ornament of Steuben glass, depicting an eagle, which lights up at night. And of course the car has the famous stork insignia that adorned Albert Bucciali’s fighter plane during WWI.
After the car was finished in 1983, he drove the fully roadworthy 6,000-lb. pound car from the West Coast to East Coast, visiting many car shows where his reception varied from horror (from those horrified he dared make a replica) to appreciation of the car’s fine build quality.
In the meantime, news began to filter out about the reconstruction and restoration of the fabled ‘Fleche d’Oro’. After all the time and money spend on a recreation, to find that there was now a car rebuilt from original parts must have been a crushing blow to Tishman. He decided to get rid of it and it went to Houston collector Jerry J. Moore, who had said it was his “favorite car.” Moore, who died in 2008, was a strip mall developer who was a world class Francophile himself, living a faux 18th-century château which he had been disassembled and shipped from the French countryside to Friar Tuck Lane in Houston’s posh Sherwood Forest neighborhood, where it was painstakingly rebuilt, brick by brick and described it as a “miniature residential scale reproduction of the French Mannerist Palace of Fontainebleauoutside Paris.” It all made sense in a way, Moore owning a faux French luxury car to park in the 26-car garage of his faux French mansion…ain’t life grand?
The car, at last report, is in the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska, founded in 1992 by “Speedy” Bill and Joyce Smith. It’s actually called the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed is dedicated to preserving, interpreting and displaying physical items significant in racing and automotive history.
There is another Bucciali replica, constructed by Mr. Bart de Vries in the Netherlands. And that will be Part 3 of our Bodacious Bucciali.
Automobile Quarterly, V11-1
Road & Track, October 1964
Museum of American Speed
Christian Huet’s Bucciali book can be found for sale here:
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss’ latest book, The Baroness and the Mercedes and 49 Other Stores, is available from Enthusiast Books (715) 381-9755.