Journal: French Bugatti Workshop Has Seen Three Generations of Owners

French Bugatti Workshop Has Seen Three Generations of Owners

By Petrolicious Productions
December 5, 2013

Photography by David Marvier for Petrolicious

Henry Novo of France began working on Bugattis in 1929 when he was 14. Henry worked very hard so that he could become a racing mechanic—he worked each day beginning first thing in the morning and went late into the evening. Bugatti owners seemed the same then even as now; they were generally rich and well educated. Henri understood this, so he adapted to the part. He learned as much as he could to be able to fit in with his clientele, to make them feel comfortable leaving their cars in his hands. He read books and newspapers avidly and was careful not to use curse words or vulgar language.

Due to all his hard work and dedicated time in the ’20s and ’30s, Henry gained customers from all over Europe and was able improved his craft. When ladies came by to visit the cars, they were impressed with Henry, because he dressed himself carefully and nicely compared to the other workers in the shop.

During World War II, life was difficult. After the war, Henry decided to go to work for himself, which was difficult, because cars weren’t yet valuable and their owners weren’t quite ready to spend a lot of money. Nevertheless, he bought a garage very close to Paris, and in the middle of the 1960s, the value of cars increased and life for Henry became a bit easier. At this time he bought the current garage in Marolles en Hurepoix, France (about 40 km south of Paris), which many people today refer to as “Garage Novo”, and which a customer helped Henry convert from a farm. He continued working up to the 1980s, when the very first vintage car addicts started coming around.

Henry’s son, Jean, initially worked in the airplane industry, but he switched career paths in 1981 to work with his father. His son, Frédéric, joined the family business in 1992, making it three generations working together under one workshop roof. Before his passing in 2002, Henry taught Frédéric many tricks of the trade and all he knew, and although Jean has technically been retired since the year 2000, he still spends every day in the shop, even at age 74.

Now Frédéric runs the shop, where 80% of the cars that come through Bugatti. They also work on 1500 Delage (the most fantastic car of the world, in Frédéric’s opinion) and racing Delahaye.

Frédéric’s new mechanic, Willfrid, is crazy for Porsche, so now the shop also works on 356s and early 911s, and every now and again, even a Gordini or Ferrari rolls through.

Between Frédéric’s customers and those that Henry collected over the years, there has been a lot of change in the clientele. Originally they were born into money, and now they are lawyers, business managers, and even airplane pilots.

The shop is small; aside from Frédéric’s father, there are only two people working there. Frédéric tells us that they try to do the very best job possible and pay very close attention to the original details. Frédéric is very strong with patina and can make a new car look just like a barn find. Jean is very strong with machining and makes many parts himself. The car Frédéric is most proud to have worked on is the GP Delage 1500 cc with 200 horsepower, 54 roller bearings, and about 20 gears in the engine. It’s so intricate that it looks like a Swiss watch, and the sound is unbelievable.

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4 years ago

Make you want to buy an old Bugatti so you can visit and be part of the history.

Pablo Lemnos
Pablo Lemnos(@pablo_lemnos)
4 years ago

Increíble..!! felicitaciones todo muy hermoso.

Jon Ulrich
Jon Ulrich(@jolrechhotmail)
6 years ago

Fantastic! I can almost smell the oil in the air. What a beautiful garage with the sunlight streaming through the skylights.

John Maccarone
John Maccarone(@mybirddogs)
8 years ago


Eddie Relvas
Eddie Relvas(@eddie124)
8 years ago

Superb photos who really depict a soulful garage. Love it! You should do more of these, they’re so enticing I keep coming back to them.

Stephan P
Stephan P(@alfettaracer)
8 years ago

Fantastic shop, even a Bugatti vise! It’s worth more than a lot of cars featured here.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay(@christophergay)
8 years ago
Reply to  Stephan P

Ha! I saw that as well, and was thinking the same thing. I have a lot of vises (as well as some vices), but it’s not everyday you come across one with a Bugatti badge on it… especially in Southern California.

Xander Cesari
Xander Cesari(@xander18)
8 years ago
Reply to  Stephan P

The factory at Molsheim created much of its own tooling, and it’s said that Ettore specced much of his hardware to be unique so that only the factory would work on it. Molsheim also continued to operate into the ’50s, even though only a few new Bugatti models were released after WW2 (to my knowledge just the Type 101, which was an updated T57 anyway). I’m sure that a fair amount of that tooling was liberated into the enthusiast community after the factory finally shut down.

Jack du Gan
Jack du Gan(@socarco)
8 years ago

I remember Henri’s garage near Paris many years ago. The legacy of his passion lives on with Jean and Freddie who are representative of a very few specialists in cars of the early era. There are not many left who continue this craft. Vive le Marque.

Nuno Relha Vaz
Nuno Relha Vaz(@nrv)
8 years ago

this is one of those articles that shows – a like is not enough…
should be created a LOVE it

Julien Boutoille
Julien Boutoille(@statictoad)
8 years ago

Magnifique !!!

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
8 years ago

Magnificent. Great photos great story.

Peter McCormick
Peter McCormick(@atalante)
8 years ago

Marvelous and breath-taking. Thank you.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay(@christophergay)
8 years ago

Oh man, this hits the sweet spot.

Just looking into this shop exhibits many layers of history and knowledge. It reminds me of my father’s shop in many, many ways. This is the real deal.

The stories that went through here…

Thanks for sharing.