French Bugatti Workshop Has Seen Three Generations of Owners
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.