This particular 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia Roadster used to belong to Golden Age of Grand Prix driver René Dreyfus, who lost it in a drunken poker game to Swiss playboy Adalbert Bodéor it may have come into the possession of Marco (Max) Schmuklerski, a Zurich-born architect of Polish descent. in Paris in 1934; Bodé soon left for home with his new machine, but with no cash in pocket, he was unable to pay its import duties when he was stopped at the Swiss border. Bodé walked away, leaving Swiss officials to dispose of his prize however they saw fit. In those days, a ten-year-old Bugatti wasn’t of significant value, so officials chose to roll it into the lake; its eventual resting spot was 173 feet below the surface of the water.
Built in Brescia, Italy, the touring car was initially registered in Nancy, France. A small brass plate found on the car bears the name ‘George Nielly, 48 Rue Nollet, Paris’ who was probably the owner in 1930.
The car has four cylinders, a 1.5 litre engine and was able to achieve a speed of close to 100 miles an hour, a remarkable feat at the time.
Schmuklerski, who studied architecture at the very prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, may have acquired the car at that time. From whom is not known. He brought the Roadster back to Switzerland and put the vehicle into storage but neglected to pay the import duties. When officials learned of the unpaid tax they seized the vehicle.
The cost of the import duties was more than the car was worth so the officials decided to destroy it. The locals say that Bodé attempted cross the border into Switzerland with the car but was unable to pay the import duties.
Bodé advised the officials to do as they pleased with the car as it had minimal value at the time and walked away.
No matter how it came about, the Swiss officials simply rolled the vehicle into the lake where it sank to the bottom.
The Bugatti was not seen again until 1967 when diver Ugo Pillon located the wreck. It became a popular dive spot for over forty years until 2009 when a local dive club rescued the car from the bottom of the lake.
A young local man, Damano Tamagni was attacked and killed in a random act of violence. In response to this tragedy, the club helped set up a nonprofit foundation in Tamagni’s name in order to fight youth violence. The intent was to sell the vintage Bugatti to raise funds.
The task took nine months to complete with thirty volunteers, and the car was finally recovered. There are still patches of the original blue paint, and the tires were still inflated when it was brought to the surface
The car, still a rusted heap, is kept in a dimly lit room reminiscent of the conditions found at the bottom of the lake and is displayed more as a work of art than just an antique car.
“This is a car that’s had many different lives,” says museum curator Andrew Reilly. “Here’s a twin-plug competition car, re-bodied to carry its current torpedo body. It has been known to have belonged to René Dreyfus, then lost in a card game in Paris.
It was pushed into the lake, it became a part of local lore, it became a tourist attraction. Depending on what part of its lifespan you focus on, you come away with a different appreciation.
If the focus is on the young man who lost his life, it is a somber part of the story.
The faded grandeur of great pre-war cars suffering certain indignities is another. The watery crypt and silence and darkness this car survived in lends itself to another solemn experience.”