Saturday, June 15, 2013

BeaterBlog Recommended Attraction: Musée national de l’automobile, Collection Schlumpf

Growing up in Detroit exposed me to almost zero French cars. By the time I was ten none were available new and I went years without seeing one on the road. They were like Russian cars that existed only in books. Since then, I've rode in and even driven a few but my understanding of French motoring was lacking. The Musée national de l’automobile (French National Automobile Museum) has opened my eyes.

This collection cannot be described without a little background of how it came together. In the 1950's two rich brothers began quietly collecting pre-war cars with an eye toward the biggest and grandest, and especially Bugattis. They hired dozens of craftsmen and over a few decades the collection grew to over 400 fully restored automobiles. In the late 1970's their textile business began to sink and after a lot of drama (strikes, sit-ins) the collection was confiscated and a museum opened in 1982. The building and cars were essentially as the older brother (Fritz Schlumpf) had left them and the main hall of the museum still reflects this. Essentially, all the cars were lined up in a large, low ceiling room with each car parked on gravel.

In 1999, the museum underwent a major renovation that reorganized the collection in a more chronological fashion, separated out some of the finer pre-war cars in another room, added pictures and audio-guides with info on nearly every car, and added a few interactive displays among other changes.

That little history lesson will help you comprehend how so many grand Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza, Rolls-Royce, Alfa-Romeo, Gordini, Ferrari, etc, ect came to be under one roof in Mulhouse France. If you're not familiar with the Alsace region, it's near the German border a few hours drive from Stuttgart or Munich.

The Bugattis really stand out since it's nearly impossible to not be near a few anywhere in the museum. The three type 47 Royales are beyond grand. The presence of the Royale automobiles is difficult to describe. Sure it's huge but it's more than that, it has a certain je ne sais quoi.

The 250LM will always be my favorite Ferrari. It didn't win any important races but I just love the looks.

Bugatti race cars are so numerous, that pre-war race cars get their own exhibit hall.
While pre-war cars dominate, the collection of later cars is also impressive. Race cars from the 1950's onwards have their own exhibit hall. Two long rows of formula cars line one side while coupes and sports line the other. The collection is heavy on 50's and 60's racers many of which look very authentic. The Schlumpf bros bought most of these after a long and difficult life on the track. While they were restored, I don't believe they were over-restored as many cars are today. These were hand built race cars in the 50's, not every curve was perfectly smooth or panel flat. These cars show that and I appreciate them for it.

One of the very few Silver Arrows not in the hands of Daimler, this W125 is magnificent.
Perhaps to make the museum more interesting to the entire family, three interactive exhibits were added during the renovation. The first is rather ordinary, allowing two people to don period clothing and have your picture taken in an old French car.

The second is more exciting as you get to crank start a 1930's Citroen. The motor is only a tiny two cylinder, so most people can handle it. A polite docent explains (in French) how to turn on the fuel supply and pull a handle on the dash board (choke, ignition switch? my French is Épouvantable). Now you're ready to crank. Push the crank into the motor to engage, place your thumb with your fingers, and let it fly. It's not much different to starting a lawn mower. Make no mistake, this is no simulation. When you do it right the Citroen sputters to life as your docent applies throttle. Real interaction with the artifacts is a nice touch.

The third activity was more puzzling. At first, I thought they just had a modern car on a rotisserie to show you all the parts. Then, I realized we could get in it while it rolled around, sounds like fun. Initially our docent had some concern that I was too tall for this ride but after some gestures I was allowed in the passenger seat. My companion and I strapped our ordinary three-point seat belts and examined the duct tape over the rips in the upholstery. I was instructed to brace my hands on the ceiling and the docent started the ride (see video). I wasn't really prepared for such a violent ride but survived unharmed. Sure it's highly dangerous by American standards but I don't think they get many American visitors.

Panhard race car with LeMans history. This is the French national car museum after all.

Simca 1000 is as close to a BeaterBlog project car as I can find here.

De-Dion cars are numerous in the collection and display the rear suspension design that still carries his name.

If walking around the museum is too ordinary, take the futuristic French tram.

Vital info:
English website:

Cost: 11 euro for adults

15 rue de l’épée 68 100 Mulhouse, France

Opening Times:
From 1 to 6 January: from 10 a.m to 5 p.m
From 7 January to 15 February: weekdays from 1 p.m to 5 p.m / weekends from 10 a.m to 5 p.m
From 16 February to 12 April: from 10 a.m to 5 p.m
From 13 April to 11 November: from 10 a.m to 6 p.m
From 12 November to 31 December: from 10 a.m to 5 p.m
Closed 25 December.


  1. Wow, very cool. That Panhard LeMans car is great, but probably a rolling chicane.

  2. A rolling chicane for sure, although it did win the "Index of Performance" award in 1962 so it's a car with a pedigree.

    I'm also slightly embarrassed to admit I didn't know the Panhard rod rear suspension link was an invention of the French automaker. Now I know.

  3. Great blogging. I've found lots of necessary info from your blog. Thanks.

  4. Potential seekers of car lease may check various auto lease deals provided by different companies which are further available online. There are various online companies engaged in providing car rental/lease services. Know The Benefits Of Novated Lease

  5. New opportunities are waiting to be tapped in the global as well as local automobile market. It is for this reason that the scope of automobile engineering as principal career option has widened. best retractable tonneau cover

  6. The automobile sector forms one of the fastest growing sectors in the Indian economy and so is the popularity of automobiles in India. Garanzie

  7. The bar is set high for every one of the bloggers out there.
    rat wax

  8. Nice information, valuable and excellent design, as share good stuff with good ideas and concepts, lots of great information and inspiration, both of which I need, thanks to offer such a helpful information here.
    cash for junk car fort lauderdale