Automotive X-files or how a computer database may boost the Bugatti history research



I’m not very interested in paranormal things. However, I think I don’t need such interest in order to say that it would be good to create an “Automotive X-Files unit”. Actually, last time I wrote that there is a need for an “Indiana Jones of motoring” or an “Automotive Lara Croft”, although I’m not crazy enough to believe that such person would ever see any of the deadly traps faced by those popular culture archaeologists.

What I really believe is that the greatest puzzles of the automotive history deserve being disputed and solved. And while we don’t need any paranormal investigations in the motoring world, we need people who will approach every mystery from the car and motorbike history without fear that the case is too complicated.

In Poland, where I live, “Archiwum X” is a common metaphorical name for police units which handle “unsolvable” cases. What is typical for those units, is that they use new scientific discoveries and the information technology to analyze affairs from the past. This leads us straight to the usage of computer databases in the Bugatti history research.

It’s hard to say how many Bugatti databases are there. However, from what is written in books and on forums, most databases use chassis numbers as the main key. On the BugattiBuilder forum ( X-Filer asks “What do we need a chassis number database for?” and Herman responds “Because that is all we have. Although the real experts have lists with frame numbers, but are hesitant to release these lists, as they fear this might:

-help con-artists perform their art
-shake the Bugatti community too much
-will cause tremendous financial losses”.

Nevertheless, the question posed by X-Filer may inspire an another, more general question:

“What should be used as the key identifier in the Bugatti database?”

First two candidates have already been mentioned. The quote above indicates that the frame number seems to be the best option. But it’s easy to see its biggest shortcomings:

  • • these numbers are known only to owners and to the most renowned Bugatti historians
    which results from another problem i.e.
  • • to get to know the frame number, an access to the physical car is needed. At first it seems that it is not a problem for a true expert but … let’s ask if frame numbers of Aérolithe (Aérolithes?) or of La Voiture Noire are known. Sounds like a rhetorical question.

So, is the chassis number the best option? Well, not exactly. It would be nice to find something else, because:

  • • chassis numbers were reassigned, especially between factory owned vehicles like prototypes or race cars
    This issue is solved by adding another digits to a chassis number 57456-1 and 57456-2 ( but…
  • • there are two kinds of operations that a good Bugatti register should keep trace of. These are chassis number reassignments and car transformations, as, for example, the Aérolithe (or Aérolithes) is (are) believed to have been converted into Aéro Coupé (or Aéro Coupés, i.e. both 57374 and 57453).

Someone may feel tempted to try engine numbers, but it would be naive to believe that all the cars kept their original engines.

So, is the conclusion that every choice has it pitfalls, but the database designers must stick to one of those numbers? No, I don’t think so. In my opinion, the base should include chassis numbers, engine numbers and frame numbers when they are available but the common name of the car should be used as the main identifier. Such base could handle three things that cause confusion i.e.:

  • • reassigned chassis numbers
  • • car transformations i.e. cases when one car was rebuilt into another
  • • multiple names for one vehicle- for example, the car mentioned in factory documents as “Belg. Coupé” is either “La Voiture Noire” or “Coach spécial Type 64”.

In the proposed database “a vehicle” is a recognized example of the Bugatti car-building art. Such example may be treated as a separate entity even if its evolution into an another vehicle is proven. Therefore the most popular name of such example is selected as the “common name”.

If a vehicle has no book name like “La Voiture Noire” or “Coupe Kellner”, a combination of a chassis number and a body name is the best candidate for the common name (for example, the 57819 would be noted twice as “57819 Voll and Ruhrbeck” and “57819 Atlantic-style De Dobbeleer” and its both transformations would be reflected in the Transformations table). For some cars, like most Type 35s, a chassis number may be used as a common name.

SPECIAL THANKS to Herman Brouwer, who pointed out that without the clarification above, a “common name” could be understood just as a synonym of “book name”.

To sum up, I think that tables could look like that:

(The “NULL” value is used when the actual value doesn’t exist or is unknown)

Table: Vehicles

ID Common_Name Production_
7991 Aérolithe_57331 1935 NULL
7993 Lord Rotschild’s
31 Sep 1936 276
7994 La Voiture Noire 03 Oct 1936 NULL
7995 Hidden Treasure NULL NULL

Where “ID” is a number generated from a sequence. The “ID” serves as so called “foreign key” in other tables.

Table: Frame Numbers

Vehicle_ID Frame_Number
7991 NULL

Table: Chassis Numbers

(I think, that there is also a need for a table with chassis models i.e. 35, 41, 57, 57S and so on. However, I would like to present just the tables that would be the most useful for documenting each car’s timeline)

ID Chassis_Number Engine_
Last_Seen Currently_
7991 57453 19 C.V 11 may 2011 TRUE

Table: Chassis Number Assignments

ID Vehicle_ID Chassis_
7992 7994 7991 03 Oct 1936 NULL NULL
7993 7995 7991 NULL NULL NULL

Table: License plates

ID License_
Vehicle_ID Assignment_
7897 5800 NV 3 7991 7994 03 Oct 1936 NULL NULL

Table: Aliases

A car name is considered “an alias”, if there is strong conviction that the car is known under another name.

ID Expression Document_ID Vehicle_ID
5 Belg. Coupé 5682 NULL

Table: Engines

ID Engine_number Engine_model Production_date Notes
7992 226S 34 NULL NULL

Table: Engine models

(Like others, this table is also simplified, I show it just to mention that it should be a separate entity)

ID Engine_
Displacement Fuel Type Removal_
34 57 3257 Gasoline N/A NULL NULL

Table: Engines by vehicles

ID Engine_id Vehicle_id
7987 7992 7991

Table: Transformations

ID Base_
12 7991 7993 NULL NULL The transformation
described in
“The Bugatti Type 57 S:
Evolution Prototypes
Racing Cars
Production” book
written by
dr Bernard Simon
Julius Kruta

Table: Transformations by documents

(to be used if a transformation is confirmed by one or more factory documents)

ID Transformation_id Document_id

Table: People

ID Surname Name Birth_date Death_date Notes
301 Pracht Henri NULL NULL NULL

May be used both for clients and employees. Of course there should also be “Employee Positions” table, but to shorten the article, I omit it.

Table: Documents

ID Title Author_ID Date Contents Current_Location
5682 301 29 Sep 1939 2

Table: Places

ID Title
1 The Molsheim Factory
2 Cite d’Automobile- Collection Schlumpf

I think that such database would be a good tool for recreating the Bugatti car timelines. It could also provide information for some hypothesis-verifying software.


Andrzej Szczodrak