Roland Garros/Black Bess Bugatti Part 1: Roland Garros

by pete on January 9, 2013

By Gijsbert-Paul Berk

In collaboration with the French Tennis Federation and the Louwman Museum at The Hague, the organizers of the 38th edition of the Rétromobile show in Paris – from 6 to 10 February 2013 – will pay tribute to the French World War I hero Roland Garros.

Among the many fascinating exhibits the visitors to Rétromobile 2013 will be able to admire are the Morane-Saunier type H plane – part of the Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis collection – which was the first plane ever to cross the Mediterranean 100 years ago. In addition, the famous 5-litre ‘Roland Garros’ Bugatti or ‘Black Bess’, now in the Louwman Museum Collection will be part of the show. (See color photos of ‘Black Bess’.)

This particular Bugatti has a wonderful history that spanned the English Channel and created legends in both France and England. We begin with Roland Garros, its first owner.

The Roland Garros Bugatti
The Rolland Garros Bugatti was first delivered on September 18,1913 as chassis number 474, to the French aviator Roland Garros who was a personal friend of Ettore Bugatti. It was the fourth of a series of seven chassis that Bugatti produced of this four-cylinder five-liter model (encoded by Bugatti historians as the Type 18). However, after the aviator purchased the car, the name “Roland Garros” would thereafter always associated with the model.

Roland Garros was already famous when he was introduced to Ettore Bugatti. Not, as many today think, because he was a French tennis champion; while he did play tennis in school, his fame came as a record-setting aviator. Rolland Garros, as we shall see, was quite an extraordinary person.

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