Is a Pur Sang a Bugatti? How do we determine if replicas “count”?


As my colleague Jay Leno wrote in his column of the latest Hagerty magazine, replica cars are a way for regular Jills and Joes to experience the noise and vibration of certain types of classics that would otherwise be several tax brackets out of their league. I have some personal experience with this, as my 1933 Austin Seven wears a 10-year-old aluminum body that is, through squinted eyes, a replica of Austin’s original factory Ulster racers. The little boattail Austin looks the part and gives me a taste of the sporting life in the 1930s for a fraction of the cost of the real thing.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/01/18/is-a-pur-sang-a-bugatti


I think it is fair to say that the movement against Pur Sang’s cars began in England where there has been a huge commotion caused by the government disallowing registration of a number of old cars, including Bugattis because of, primarily, non-original chassis. This has had a ripple effect that has raised concerns in the US as well. English companies have a long history of producing Bugatti replicas-only they have not been called that due to having perhaps a steering wheel or a clock that was originally in a Bugatti. That the “Argies” should now do the same thing is seen as beyond the pale. I should add that I am English born and bred-but perhaps that gives me more insight into the situation…


The automotive world has misused the term “replica” for decades, and thus to call a Pur Sang a replica does not do it justice. Some will argue that nothing (meaning no parts) originated in Molsheim, so you cannot call it a Bugatti. However, Pur Sang copies the body, chassis and engine of the original, and those design elements are pure Bugatti. That makes it more a Bugatti than anything else in today’s automotive lexicon, but it’s still not a real Bugatti because it is not a restoration.
The dictionary defines replica as an exact copy. Nothing, and I mean nothing, that does not copy as closely as possible the entire original car should be called a replica, because to do so deprives true replicas of terminology that adequately describes what it is - like the Pur Sang.
Kit cars built on VW or other non-original chassis have been called replicas, a gross overstatement of what those vehicles are. They are not replicas because they are not exact copies. Have you looked at the multitude of “Mercedes 500 K replicas” that litter the market? Some could just as easily be called MG replicas. They mostly make me want to vomit not because every one of them is ugly, but because they are misnamed and to call them replicas of the iconic 500 K is an insult. Come up with your own name because your product is not a Mercedes 500 K in any regard whatsoever.
My point is, in the automotive world, “replica” is now a pejorative term and the basis for discrimination if not outright exclusion from certain events. If you have a car with an original chassis and factory-correct new body, it should not be referred to as a replica as that term is used in the automotive world. One is forced to use the awkward expression “restored to correct” or “restored to authentic.” But the Pur Sang is not a restoration.
If the automotive world had not misused the term replica for decades, that is what an original chassis and factory-correct body would be called. And so would the Pur Sang because it is an exact copy. Calling an exact copy of a car (including the engine) a replica is not right because it is not fair to use the same term used to describe the absolute crap that people call replicas of the Mercedes 500 K, for example, when it has a Chevy engine, Mustang suspension and false exhaust pipes coming out of the hood (sometimes on the wrong side), not to mention the body bears almost no resemblance to the real thing.
Stop calling cars that are not exact copies “replicas,” then you can call the Pur Sang a replica. Otherwise, I think you call it a Bugatti tribute or something like that - but not “replica.” Maybe the bottom line is that it is a Pur Sang and nothing else. It stands on its own. Real Bugatti owners have a right to put Pur Sangs in a different category, but they darn sure ought to appreciate them and include them in club functions. There is no “slippery slope” here. Pur Sangs are, as I understand it, exact copies, and it’s either an exact copy or it’s not. I have seen a couple of Pur Sangs in Monterey, and they are amazing cars.


I will add two more thoughts. I am against misrepresentation. Pur Sangs and any other true replica should be honestly represented as what they are and not just called a Bugatti and parked next to real ones at a show. If it’s a car with an original chassis and factory-correct new body, call it what it is - restored to original, restored to authentic, restored to factory specs or restored with new coachwork. “New Coachwork” has been added as a class at some concours events to give due respect to original chassis restorations where the original body was either destroyed completely or not a candidate for restoration.

One issue there is whether the new coachwork is the same as what this chassis left the factory with or is a different body style available for that chassis (cabriolet or sedan to roadster, for example). As long as the new coachwork is factory correct, I don’t have a problem with putting yourself in the same shoes the original owner was wearing when he chose what body style he wanted from the options offered by the factory. It is no less restored to authentic, and that’s the important part - showing and educating people about classic design.