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Pim Hascher

Car buff bows to BugattiFour years after Pim Hascher was born in 1922, a beautiful blue car was driven out of the Bugatti factory in France, ready for delivery to its owner. Hascher did not set eyes on this car, a Bugatti Type 37, until 1953. But when he did, it was the start of a beautiful friendship, he says.
   By the time Hascher was born in Leiden, in the Netherlands, Ettore Bugatti had already been designing and producing his distinctive cars for 22 years. But this was of little importance to young Hascher. At that time, cars were a preserve of the rich and aristocratic, and Hascher was born into a middle-class family of Dutch musicians. In fact, music would occupy Hascher’s working life until he was in his 50s.
   “My grandfather was a musician, an organist, and I was brought up to assume that I, too, one day would earn my living as a musician,” says Hascher, a soft-spoken giant of a man, now in his 70s. Hascher’s father was a violinist for the Amsterdam-based Concertgebouw Orchestra. Eventually Hascher also joined that orchestra – as a double-bass player.
   “To be honest, my heart was not in the music,” Hascher says. “Not only did I not want to be a musician, but I did not like the classical music we were playing. I preferred jazz.”
   In fact, as we talk to Hascher in the sitting room of his old country house, situated several kilometres from Amsterdam, what is in evidence is not his musician’s life but rather the fruits of years spent collecting antiques – clocks, Dutch paintings, old organs and myriad other objects and memorabilia.
   The entire house, in fact, is a testimony to Hascher’s collectomania. Vintage motorbikes fill a room next to the kitchen, which in turn is filled with the sound of caged budgerigars. Around us, 18th century grandfather clocks jostle with fairground models. More clocks cover the wall – all ticking, all out of time. A huge model ship sails on a pile of papers and books, and a period doll lies on the table, eyes staring up at a mannequin’s foot that is just visible over the top of a carved table that hangs from the ceiling. Hascher watches, amused, as we survey the room. “I’ve always liked collecting antiques, and being in the orchestra gave me a lot of time to search for things,” he says.

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Car buff bows to BugattiFour years after Pim Hascher was born in 1922, a beautiful blue car was driven out of the Bugatti factory in France, ready for delivery to its owner. Hascher did not set eyes on this car, a Bugatti Type 37, until 1953. But when he did, it was the start of a beautiful friendship, he says.
   By the time Hascher was born in Leiden, in the Netherlands, Ettore Bugatti had already been designing and producing his distinctive cars for 22 years. But this was of little importance to young Hascher. At that time, cars were a preserve of the rich and aristocratic, and Hascher was born into a middle-class family of Dutch musicians. In fact, music would occupy Hascher’s working life until he was in his 50s.
   “My grandfather was a musician, an organist, and I was brought up to assume that I, too, one day would earn my living as a musician,” says Hascher, a soft-spoken giant of a man, now in his 70s. Hascher’s father was a violinist for the Amsterdam-based Concertgebouw Orchestra. Eventually Hascher also joined that orchestra – as a double-bass player.
   “To be honest, my heart was not in the music,” Hascher says. “Not only did I not want to be a musician, but I did not like the classical music we were playing. I preferred jazz.”
   In fact, as we talk to Hascher in the sitting room of his old country house, situated several kilometres from Amsterdam, what is in evidence is not his musician’s life but rather the fruits of years spent collecting antiques – clocks, Dutch paintings, old organs and myriad other objects and memorabilia.
   The entire house, in fact, is a testimony to Hascher’s collectomania. Vintage motorbikes fill a room next to the kitchen, which in turn is filled with the sound of caged budgerigars. Around us, 18th century grandfather clocks jostle with fairground models. More clocks cover the wall – all ticking, all out of time. A huge model ship sails on a pile of papers and books, and a period doll lies on the table, eyes staring up at a mannequin’s foot that is just visible over the top of a carved table that hangs from the ceiling. Hascher watches, amused, as we survey the room. “I’ve always liked collecting antiques, and being in the orchestra gave me a lot of time to search for things,” he says.

A conductor friend introduced Hascher to Bugatti cars in the late 1940s. Hascher says he was not overly impressed by the look of the car but was captivated by the exclusive styling of the Bugatti engine. “I’ve always been interested in the internal workings of such things as clocks and engines,” he says. “Given the choice, I would have been an engineer, not a musician.”
   Ettore Bugatti came from a family of artists, but he himself was more talented in technical design. Bugatti began building cars for German companies in 1900 and by 1909 had opened his own factory in France. That year he also designed the first Bugatti car, the Type 10. In 1930 his son Jean joined him and the Bugatti car began to develop its distinctive flamboyant style.
   It is the marriage of aesthetics and function in Bugatti design that fascinates Hascher. “Ettore designed the engine from the outside in rather than from the inside out,” he says. “The aesthetics of an engine were just as important to him as its efficient functioning. It’s this [combination] that makes the Bugatti car unique. I don’t know of any other engine that has had so much thought and attention put into it.”
   Hascher bought his first Bugatti, a Type 40, in the early 1950s and was a familiar sight in Amsterdam, driving with his double bass in the seat beside him. But, he says, “It had a Chevrolet engine, so I got rid of it soon after.”
   In 1953 Hascher bought a Bugatti Type 37, a two-ring sports car, for 1,000 Dutch guilders. The car is now worth 350,000 NLG (US$175,000). “I walked into a garage one day, saw it and bought it,” Hascher recalls. “I rode everywhere in it for six months, and then the engine gave out. At that time it was impossible to buy spare parts because Bugatti had stopped production in 1951.”
   In fact, the 37’s original four-cylinder engine had been replaced by a more powerful eight-cylinder engine. It wasn’t until much later, through the Bugatti Club of the Netherlands, that Hascher tracked down the engine that had originally been built for his car.
   For 35 years Hascher’s Type 37 sat in the garage. Finally, explains Hascher, “people began to appreciate Bugatti and make spare parts for the cars, so it became possible to restore the car to its original state. There are specialised manufacturers in England and France.”

Hascher also has a supercharged 2.3 straight-eight engine Bugatti Type 43 that is capable of reaching 180 kilometres per hour. He leads us down narrow stairs into his garden for a private viewing of the car. With a bigger body than the Type 37, this 1930s Grand Tourer with a Grand Prix engine is, says Hascher, “the most beautiful thing, especially the engine. As engines go it is very rare to have one in any condition.”
   The car was previously owned by Guillaume Prick, known as the “Bugatti Pope.” At one time he was the president of the Bugatti Club of the Netherlands. Prick was a friend of the Bugatti family, and Hascher has seen photographs of his car in front of Ettore’s Molsheim villa. Although the Bugattis produced about 7,800 cars, there are probably only 20 surviving Type 43s. This scarcity is reflected in their value: Hascher’s 43 is probably worth 1 million NLG (US$500,000).
   Hascher climbs into the driver’s seat and suddenly the serious Dutchman is grinning like a small boy about to be taken for his first spin in a racing car. “It’s such a thrill to be driving this,” he says patting the wooden steering wheel fondly. “Each time I get into it, I have the same special feeling I did the first time I drove it.” Then, as if to sober himself, Hascher, a lifetime bachelor, adds, “I have an acquaintance who says he’d swap his wife for a Bugatti. But you can’t compare the two. You can’t have the same passion for an object as you do for a living thing.”
   Hascher is in the process of buying a Type 51, the last Bugatti to leave the factory before it closed. “It’s in France,” is all he will say about this. The Type 43 is pushed back into the garage alongside another project, a half-assembled special-bodied six-cylinder Alfa Romeo. Back inside the house we are shown photographs of Hascher as a younger man – still the gentle giant, belting down the road in his Bugatti, invariably with an attractive woman beside him. He wears the same happy grin in each photo, but he won’t say whether it’s because of the car or his passenger.

Christine Aziz  
a journalist based in London  
photos Eric Bakker

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