|Bucciali TAV 8-32 Saoutchik 'Fleche d'Or' Berline|
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Determination and a surplus of talent enabled Albert 'Buc' Bucciali to achieve almost anything he set his mind to. Born in France in 1889 as the second son to the blind composer, Joseph Bucciali, Albert learned to play and construct pianos from a very early age. After witnessing a local race in 1902 with his older brother Angelo, he is immediately caught by all things mechanical. Four years later, he announces that he will one day take part in the race with a car built by himself. Nevertheless he studied philosophy at the Boulogne University. After graduating he buys his first car, which he personalizes with a red flag sporting the first three letters of his last name. By 1911, his ambitions have grown from cars to aeroplanes and he decides to build one of his own. He had received no formal training and his mechanical experience is limited to building and repairing pianos and organs. Albert compensated this obvious lack of experience by reading as many books as possible on the subject and by studying existing planes in detail at local air shows. After all necessary parts had been gathered; he started the construction of the 'Buc' aeroplane. A few months later he takes to the air for the first time and in his own plane.
Although Albert manages to fly fairly well in his Buc, he decides that he could benefit from some proper training and enrolls in a flight school. Here he hones aerobatics skills and he soon amazes his teachers and fellow students by performing a looping. This manouvre had been executed by only very few people before him and he immediately becomes in demand at air shows all around the country. He manages to make quite a fortune before War sweeps over Europe. Both Albert and his brother Angelo had been turned down by the army years before because of their slim posture, but his desire to serve the country and join his pilot friends in the airforce was very big. Eventually the recruiter accepted, but more to get rid of him than to actually use him, as Albert was sent to a flight school for beginners. Impressing all around him, he patiently went through all the courses before he was finally sent to the front in June of 1916. In his fighter plane, Albert once again surprises friend and foe with unconventional, but very effective manouvres during 'dog-fights'. For the longest time he is part of 26th squadron of the French Airforce, which has a stork with swept-back wings as its insignia. Thanks to his bravery and skill, he is usually given the most difficult of missions. To help the Russians, Bucciali is sent to the Eastern front with a number of other ace-flyers and here he meets Czech mechanic Joseph Ksandr. Despite being shot several times, Albert survives the War and finally returns home in 1919.
While officially still enrolled in the air force, Albert now diverted his attention to his other passion; automobiles. Having had little time to spend his air-show and military wages, he had amassed quite a fortune, which would be a great help in setting up his new business. A 'factory' is set up in Courbevoie and several mechanics are hired, including Joseph Ksandr. After modifying a few road and racing cars from other manufacturers, work is started on the first 'Buc' automobile. Albert, joined by his brother Angelo as riding mechanic, became an avid racer and the Buc name was soon after well established in the local racing scene. By 1922, the first Buc, powered by a supercharged two-stroke V4 engine, is assembled and the new manufacturer makes its debut at the Paris show. There is quite a buzz around the stand and the first orders are taken by Angelo, who is now in charge of sales and marketing. Production of the cars progresses slowly as Albert is continuously modifying and improving designs, but fortunately the first customers show an unusual degree of patience. A more conventional four cylinder is fitted to the production road cars. To underline their cars' excellence, Buc competed in the Tour de France rally several times with considerable success. The finest car produced in this era was the Buc B6-C24 racing car, which featured in an in-house designed six cylinder engine. After only a handful of Buc cars were produced and sold, the two brothers sat down in 1926 and discuss the future of their business. They could either continue to struggle on constructing conventional car or turn their business around into an engineering firm, which could execute the innovative ideas brewing in Albert's head. They chose for the second, more ambitious option.
Designing and producing a front wheel drive was one of Albert's biggest goals and he had been contemplating it as in early 1918 when he was still in Russia fighting the Germans. With Angelo now fully involved, the name of the business was changed into 'Bucciali Freres' and the new front wheel drive chassis dubbed the Bucciali TAV, for Traction Avant. The beautiful front drivetrain not only features front wheel drive, but also fully independent suspension. It was mated to a familiar four cylinder engine, which was for the occasion installed backwards in the chassis. The rear suspension is independent as well, by trailing arms. A two-door coupe body was constructed by local coachbuilder Paul Audineau. Albert's wife, whose fortune had become instrumental in funding this new operation, decided to have the car painted purple with a polished aluminium bonnet. There were still some vital parts missing from the Bucciali TAV 1 when it was displayed at the 1926 Paris Motorshow, but the brightly polished drivetrain caught the eye of the public and press alike. After the show Albert returned to his drawing boards to completely revise his initial front wheel drive design. The second version consisted of two double spheres, which were patented by Bucciali in 1927. This TAV 2 was fitted to a new show-chassis and the first fully operational chassis. Work is also started on a transverse gearbox, codenamed TAV 3. In 1928 both TAV 2s were on display on the stand together and again the brothers grab a lot of attention. Sadly they still receive no orders from customers or other manufacturers interested in the front wheel drive patent.
Encouraged by the interest shown, work on the TAV 3 continued in the Bucciali workshop. With no engine powerful enough available in France, the Bucciali brothers order a straight eight Continental engine from the United States for the new car. The TAV 2 show car, the completed example and the TAV 3 rolling chassis were on display in Paris for the 1929 Motorshow, as well as a Mercedes-Benz engine to be used for a future project. Being prototypes, none of the cars were for sale, but the interest from the industry for Albert's ingenious designs grew rapidly. After the show the TAV 3 was sent to Labourdette for a proper coachwork and with the completed car the Bucciali Brothers embark on a tour of the United States. The party arrived in New York in the middle of the winter and on the snowy roads the front-wheel drive's advantages were immediately apparent. A large number of manufacturers were visited to demonstrate the technology, and eventually Peerless signed an agreement to manufacture new cars using the Bucciali patent. The brothers were also given the exclusive rights to distribute the front-wheel drive Peerless models in Europe. Upon his return to Europe Albert immediately continued working on the continuous upgrading of the two running cars and also on ambitious new projects like a V16 engine. He created the engine by fitting two Continental blocks in a 35 and later 45 degree angle on a single crankshaft.
The 1930 Paris Motorshow proved to be very successful as the brothers sign a deal with a new financial backer and sold their first front-wheel drive Bucciali to a private customer; Georges Roure. Impressed with a mock-up of the sixteen cylinder engine, he originally ordered his car with a similar engine, but after the brothers inform him that they can not produce it within a year, he changes his order to a Continental eight cylinder. The new backer was needed after Albert's wife refused to further spend any of her personal fortunes. The new partner is Emile Guillet, who already had a coachbuilding firm. The radiator on the TAV 2 chassis with the mock-up sixteen cylinder engine was fitted with an ornament that sported a stork similar to that of Albert's old squadron. This would become Bucciali's trademark logo. The following winter, the brothers again toured the United States and received a large amount of ink in all major magazines, but again no orders. Back in Courbevoie work was started on Roure's new car, which featured yet another development of the patented drivetrain. It was officially referred to as the TAV 8-32; the eight variant for 1932. To complicate things Roure changed his mind and requested a Voisin V12 engine to be fitted instead of the American eight cylinder.
After a successful 1930, the looming economic crisis and internal frictions brought nothing but trouble in 1931. The first major disappointment was the announcement of Peerless to abandon car production and instead focus on brewing beer through their newly acquired Carling brand, which was quite a gamble as at the time the probation was still enforced in the United States. To give the impression of actual production by the Bucciali brothers both the TAV 2 and the TAV 3 were fitted with new coachworks for the upcoming motorshow. The former was sent to Saoutchik and received a strikingly beautiful Cabriolet and the latter was entrusted to Guillet's workshop for a new limousine body. Albert was bitterly disappointed in Guillet's work and he had the car removed from the stand to have the body replaced by an earlier design. Needless to say this brought additional stress to the relationship between the brothers and their financier. Another worry is the fact that the completed TAV 8-32 chassis is also at Guillet's to be fitted with a cabriolet coachwork following a full size design drawn by Albert. Roure and Albert collect the completed car in November and set out for a 1000 km trip to Nice for the last concours d'elegance of the season. To prove the versatility of the engine, Albert uses only the fourth gear for the duration of the trip. The eighth incarnation of the front-wheel drive designs proves to be the best yet and both men are very impressed with the performance of the new Bucciali. Although the car is awarded the Grand Prix d'Honneur in the concours, neither Albert nor the owner is very impressed with the coachwork fitted by Guillet's workshop. The only nicely executed work were the embossed storks fitted on both sides of the bonnet.
To the further dismay of Emile Guillet, Roure offers to a substantial amount extra to have the first bodywork replaced by a Saoutchik creation. The French-Russian coachbuilder's work fitted on the TAV 2 had greatly impressed Roure. The design eventually picked was named 'Fleche d'Or' or Golden Arrow. In April of 1932 the work is completed and Roure was officially the first customer to take delivery of a Bucciali TAV. Not much it would become apparent that he also would be the only one to ever do so. The depression was close to its peak, and Guillet was running of money quickly and the brothers were not able to find any other manufacturer interested in adopting their technology. It was quite understandable that in a time of crisis no company would invest this much to completely turn their production around when the old-fashioned rear-wheel drive system was still working fine. It must have been little consolation that their one customer was indeed a very happy one and a quick glance at the stunning rolling sculpture he received quickly explained his delight. With no driveshaft running to the rear wheels, the coachwork could be fitted much closer onto the chassis, resulting in a dramatically lower overall height compared to contemporary machines. This was further enhanced by using 24 inch wheels. The storks of the original bodywork were carried over and served as the finishing touch on this grand design. With no further customers, Bucciali Brothers was forced to close down at the end of 1932.
Albert Bucciali continued to work on new innovations and once again attempted to serve his country by designing a series of military vehicles. Once again there was initial interest, but eventually nothing comes of it. To his dismay he later found out that his plans were passed on to Panhard & Levassor, who used them to build an eight wheeled military vehicle. His designs had also been adopted by many others including Willys in their Jeep. For many years he tries to fight these breaches of his patents in court, but despite several experts' reports confirming Albert's beliefs, each of his attempts is dismissed. In the 1950s he is employed by Cotal and designs a series of automatic gearboxes and torque converters. Having never received the recognition he deserved, Albert Bucciali passed away in 1981. Sadly not a single (complete) Buc or Bucciali has survived, although many parts of the TAV projects are still around. There are of course the millions upon millions of passenger cars out on the road today that use the front-wheel drive configuration pioneered by Albert Bucciali in 1926. Another fitting tribute is the excellent book written by Christian Huet on the subject, containing a detailed history of Albert Bucciali's life and many creations, illustrated by a plethora of period pictures and drawings. Huet was fortunate to meet with Albert many times and the book is as close to a personal account as it gets. Hopefully one day the French government in particular and the automotive industry in general will recognize the brilliance of this self-taught inventor and engineer.
Shortly after taking delivery of his new Bucciali, Roure sold it on to Count de Rivaud. This Paris banker was so impressed with the Saoutchik design that when he bought a new Bugatti Type 46, he had the old body fitted; it did not work quite as well on the Bugatti chassis as it had done on the front-wheel drive Bucciali. In the 1970s many of the parts of the TAV 8-32 were gathered once more in the United States, including the very rare Voisin engine, the bodywork and the drivetrain. From the original drawings the chassis, front bulkhead and rear axle are recreated and the 'Fleche d'Or' was reconstructed to its former glory. One of the biggest difficulties was getting the engine to run again; there was no timing info available. The elaborate project was finally completed in 1997 and the car is immediately offered by Christie's in their Pebble Beach auction. It was hard to put a value on a car that is both so very important, but also contains many non-original parts and the auctioneer was unable to find a new owner. In 1998 the car was bought by a Swiss collector who saw the car on display at the Christie's stand at the Retromobile show. The car returned stateside recently and was displayed in the 2006 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, but it was not entered for judging. It is seen above on the finely manicured 18th fairway where it was right at home between the art-deco Voisins and the eventual 'best of show' winning Daimler Double Six. It was quite a momentous occasion as one of only two other cars known to be fitted with the Voisin V12 engine, the striking Voisin C20 was also present.
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