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You Can Bet Your Bugatti: La Jollans host classic-car club weekend

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Elizabeth Hansen and Rick Adams pose outside their La Jolla home with some of the cars gathered for the Bugatti weekend they organized and hosted. (Note the Bugatti logo paved into the driveway.)
COREY LEVITAN

Most people would think the two Bugattis in his garage sufficient to express Rick Adams’ love for this ultra-high-end car brand. But Adams doesn’t agree with that assessment, since he also had to have the Bugatti logo paved into his driveway.

“Doesn’t everybody have a Bugatti logo in their driveway in stone?” joked Adams’ wife, Elizabeth Hansen, as 15 models of the classic car — each rarer than the next — pulled into their long Ardath Road driveway on Friday, March 15 during the kickoff party for the first-ever La Jolla meeting of the American Bugatti Club.

Bugattis are French race cars designed for beauty and performance by Italian-born car manufacturer Ettore Bugatti from 1909 until his death in 1947.

Only about 8,000 were ever made. Adams and his brother John — who claim they are descended from a grandfather of second U.S. president John Adams — fell in love with the car brand when their father began collecting them in 1960.

“Bugattis are special, they’re addictive, they’re fun,” said Adams, a retired research and development executive for Maxwell Laboratories. “It obviously harkens back to another era.”

The 360-strong car club has gathered for a series of Bugatti-centric weekend events every year somewhere in Southern California since forming in 1960. (Rick and John’s father took them to the very first meeting as children, in Santa Barbara.) This year, the more than 30 Bugatti weekend attendees — they call themselves Bugattists — included Alan Travis and his 1913 Type 22 from Phoenix, Norman Cowell and his 1927 Type 40 from Lomita, and Mike Cleary and his 1926 Type 38 from Carpinteria.

The owners transported their cars by trailer to the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, where most of them stayed and attended a banquet Saturday evening. They prefer to add miles only during their collective road rallies, Hansen explained. These included drives to and from the Rancho Santa Fe Cars & Coffee event on Saturday morning, and to and from a brunch at Only Yesterday Classic Autos (owned by La Jollans Chuck and Amy Spielman) on Sunday morning.

News quickly spread around the party of the arrival of the most eagerly awaited club member. It was Jim Hull, a retired furniture manufacturer, with his green 1938 Bugatti Type 57C (with 3-position Cabriolet body by Parisian coach-builder Letourneur & Marchand).

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Malibu resident Jim Hull arrives with his green 1938 Bugatti Type 57C and a story you wouldn't believe.
COREY LEVITAN

“They didn’t think I was going to make it,” the 77-year-old explained to a friend, referring not to the Bugatti weekend, but to the other side of emergency open-heart surgery he had a little over two months ago.

“The surgeon made a mistake and cut all the way through an artery,” Hull said. “All of a sudden, it was four hours of trying to keep me alive. But I wasn’t going to miss this weekend!”

Owning a car like this is a status symbol, Bugattists admit — and it’s something you have to admit when your car is occasionally worth as much as, or more than, your house.

As Adams estimated that all Bugattis are worth “six figures at least,” he motioned toward the silver 1924 Type 23 parked in his garage. As he estimated that others are worth seven, he motioned to the seafoam 1930 Type 46 next to it — winner of the 2014 La Jolla Concours d’Elegance Best in Show Award.

Frank Taliaferro from Point Loma, owner of a Type 57 Bugatti that he said was not here because “it’s in boxes — it’s a project,” eavesdropped on Adams’ interview and offered his own answer to what Bugattis are worth: “Whatever some damn fool is willing to pay for them.”

But it’s about more than owning a status symbol, Bugattists say. There’s a special connection they feel to Ettore Bugatti. It’s like they get to own a piece of his genius.

“The man was an artist, he really was,” said Hansen, a travel writer for Ranch & Coast Magazine, “and these guys are not motivated just by what he produced, but by his story, by his heart, by his soul that he put into everything.”

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Bugattists discuss their collective favorite subject during a lavish party in Rick Adams' and Elizabeth Hansen's La Jolla backyard.
COURTESY ELIZABETH HANSEN

Among the revelers was Michael Dorvillier, chairman of the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance, which will stage its 15th annual car celebration April 12-14. At the party, Dorvillier was caught in the awkward position of feeling playful pressure to acknowledge the superiority of Bugattis to every other car brand.

“You could say that I’m familiar with that position,” Dorvillier said, smiling. “Tomorrow morning, I’m going to a meeting in Rancho Santa Fe for the Shelby Cobra Club.”

There are actually tons of car clubs out there, each dedicated to adoring a particular make. In San Diego alone, there are at least 87 — including clubs dedicated to Chryslers, Pontiacs and PT Cruisers. And each is full of dozens of people getting together under the impression that love for a car brand is the actual reason.

But as the night unfolded and fine wine lubricated the many laugh-filled candlelit dinner conversations about engines and chassis and such, it became apparent that what these conversations were really about was something else — maintaining meaningful connections in a world that feels increasingly disconnected.

“It’s good to have you still around, Jim,” said one of Hull’s Bugatti friends as he hugged him, then raised a wine glass for a clink. “We were all really worried about you.”

Standing in stark relief to the rudeness of social media, it was a reminder of how much we all still crave hanging out in person with familiar faces and engaging in conversations about our favorite hobbies.

For information about the American Bugatti Club, visit americanbugatticlub.org