Bugatti Queen

At 100 kph or 150 kph, in a Monza, a DePalmer Miller, or a Bugatti 35, and with Rene Carrère, Henri de Courcelles, or Marcel Mongin, fast speeds, fast cars, and fast men were the components of the unique lifestyle of Hellé Nice. This lifestyle was, according to biographer Miranda Seymour, one unending campaign for publicity, morphine, champagne, cars, and sex. It was also a life of exposing and being exposed, of exploiting and being exploited. This is the appeal of Seymour’s work, one in which she brings to the racing legend’s story impervious honesty and impeccable research. And one in which she delivers respect for the nostalgia of the times and of Nice herself.

Seymour accomplishes this endearing tone by using an accessible approach and delivery. The biographer sustains where she might otherwise have failed by admitting to filling in the details in a speculative and dreamy manner wherever the nuances of Hellé Nice’s life are left out. The aptly assigned subtitle to Bugatti Queen: In Search of a French Racing Legend, gives readers the first indication that this book is not a seamless string of well-known documentation, but is instead a speculative adventure as logically organized and poetically defined as any new discovery might be.

And the admitted speculation is delivered in a language and style that engages, enthralls, and even educates without exaggerating or embellishing. In fact, Seymour exposes the embellishments. There were the unscrupulous agents and race circuit investors who exploited Nice as a beauty, a woman, a sex-symbol, a representative of a hurting France, and a neophyte. Nice herself, as Seymour subtly implies, may have done some exploiting on her own, to further her career, to finance and operate her cars, and to feed her need for fearless fun, fans, and fast speeds.