1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


 Lt. Montgomery’s Car
John McCurdy, ‘06

In the years from 1951 to 1954 I was working at the Radford Arsenal in Radford, Virginia and taking work at VPI in my spare time! In my early twenties, newly married and a new father, my desires and wants were many and the means to afford them practically non-existent.

One of my many interests and desires was automobiles, especially sports cars since they had only recently made an appearance in this country. Little MGs and Jaguar’s, and indeed, any other high-performance automobile would bring goose-bumps to my skin. The great classic automobiles of the 1930’s such as the Packard, Cord & Cadillac, of this country and the Rolls and the Mercedes of Europe were of just as great interest.

Alas, I was forced to be content with a 1940 V-8 Ford Deluxe Convertible, with tan real leather seats and a Maroon body, ( a car I would today give a lot of money for). I could generally find enough money in our budget to buy the monthly Hot Rod, Motor Trend and such magazines, but there was no hope of a Jaguar or MG in the foreseeable future. I had to be content with yearning for those possessed by more affluent acquaintances. Paul Oakey from Blacksburg, the son of the areas best known funeral director had a 1953 MG-TD, that he spent hours polishing, even taking the wire wheels into the house to lovingly wash each spoke by hand in the family bathtub…. Crazy Bob Tasch had a Jaguar XK-120 and then bought another, this one a Jaguar XK-150C. He would fly down the winding road to the Arsenal through Prices Fork. Top down Winter and Summer, he would often arrive at work wearing what appeared to be all the clothing he possessed and still half frozen with black eyes. I wanted to be able to be one of those guys!

The local Ford Dealer in Radford had, at the time, sitting on his lot, a 1936 Cord 812 Front-Drive Roadster, the price was an astronomical $1200.00, (they now sell for as much as $100,000.00), I drove it, I went to the car lot and I sat in it, I lusted for it! I would likely have traded my first-born for that car if that chance had been available I ate and I drank and I dreamed of cars and I’m sure I drove others, especially my long-suffering wife, nuts with my incessant discussion of and my passion for automobiles.

Everyone who I worked with was familiar with my love of unusual and old cars and often, when they heard of a special old vehicle hiding in a barn, or as in the case of “Texas” Guinan’s Packard limousine, sitting in a backyard and being used for a chicken Coop, they would tell me of them, I made notes and went to look for them. I guess I was waiting for the day when I thought I would have the money to indulge my passion.

One day Sam Simmerman, a colleague in the Technical Department, informed me that a Lt. John Montgomery of the U.S. Army, from the Pulaski area was unloading an antique car he had purchased in Europe and had shipped home. It had arrived by rail car that week and Lt. Montgomery was going to get it off of the train car and onto a truck for the trip to his home. That Saturday morning at 9:00 AM, Sam and I were at the Rail Station in Pulaski awaiting the event. The automobile was under wraps on a flatcar and was going to be rolled from the car onto the platform and then onto the truck. When the vehicle was at last safely on the firm earth, the young man proceeded to unwrap his prize and allow the throng to get a look at it at last.

It seemed when he pulled the cloth from the hood that the engine cowl must have been 8-10 feet long, then the windshield appeared, no top yet, then another windshield and behind that a small area with only room for two persons. It was not clean, there was a fair amount of surface rust and a dent or two, but it was a HUGE automobile and it spoke volumes of the riches it would have taken to purchase it when it was new.

Young Montgomery told us he had bought the car in France, that he had paid $5000.00 for the car, and another thousand or so to get it to America, that it had once been owned by King Carol of Rumania, and that it was one of only seven ever built. It was, he said, “a Bugatti Royale” a Type 41.

It was, at last, loaded onto a truck and Lt. Montgomery drove away. The first and the last time I ever saw him or the Bugatti. I did, however, not forget the automobile and as time went by I learned more and more about the remarkable Ettore Bugatti and his marvelous creations, of which the “Royale” was merely the most costly and complex.

*Ettore Bugatti was a Frenchman who went to Italy to build his automobiles in the decades of the 20’s and 30’s he was the Ferrari of his day. He built huge cars like the Royale as well as smaller cars that would hold only the driver and a very cramped small passenger. He won every major road race in which he entered a car, except in a very few in which excess enthusiasm of the driver resulted in a accident!

All of the cars he built would fly through the narrow, winding roads of the Alps of as if they were glued to the roads that twist through the mountains of Italy and France. Bugatti cared little for money, just as long as he had all he needed, he refused to cater to his customers comfort, he refused to worry\about real braking power in his automobiles’ saying to one prospective buyer, “monsieur, I make my cars to go fast, not to stop”! Some of his cars were so cranky that they demanded that the oil used in the engine first be heated and then poured into the crankcase before the car would even run. He was able to sell every car he produced, they were simply the best in the World at what they did. And what they did was get one from point A to point B faster than any other automobile ever produced.

When a very wealthy prospective buyer told him, “M’siur Bugatti, everyone knows your cars are fast and win races but for luxury one really must buy a Rolls-Royce”! Bugatti threw him out and began planning the “Royale”! It had a wheelbase of 14 feet , and from the radiator cap to the windscreen it was 7 feet ! It had a straight 8 cylinder engine of 12,760 cc’s, about the size of three Cadillac engines of today in the 1940-50’s! The crankshaft weighed more than 220 pounds and ran in nine individually water-cooled bearings. It would run in high gear from 3 miles per hour to a rock-steady 125 MPH or higher!

It sold, the chassis only, mind you; for over 30,000.00 dollars in 1928! The customer then had to shell out another 20,000 to 35,000 for a custom-built body! In exchange for his money the customer got free service and overhaul for life and for a radiator ornament, a white elephant! *
(Ken Purdy in his book “Kings of the Road”!)

I don’t know where the car I saw is now, however a Bugatti “Royale” holds the record for the most money ever paid for an automobile. Several years ago the last “Royale” that has been sold, brought more than $7,000,000.00 at auction in the United States, The Nethercutt Auto Museum either bought it or sold it.

* Note: That has since been eclipsed, the last “Royale” sold, at auction, for $17,000,000.00 American Dollars in the last few years!