Our Visit to See Antique Vehicles at the National Automobile Museum in Mullhouse
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a tour is defined as “a journey for business, pleasure, or education often involving a series of stops and ending at the starting point.” Although as a Buzzy, we always want to tour in an antique vehicle, alas this is not always possible. While snow, wind and temperature may not alter our plans for going somewhere it certainly can change the mode of transportation taken. With that in mind the four of us started on our personal tour of France in a modern Citroën C5. Off we went in snow, wind and bitter temperatures across France culminating with a visit to Strasbourg and Mulhouse, home of the Cité de l’Automobile – Musée National – Collection Schlumpf – claimed to be the largest automobile museum in the world.
We departed Le Havre, France in the middle of a snow storm and drove over 600 kilometers to Strasbourg. Strasbourg is on the eastern border of France next to Germany. The town is known for its Christmas Festival, the oldest in France, timbered buildings and for being the home of the European Parliament. The city is beautiful, the food wonderful – both French and German – and the Marché de Noël fantastic. We sipped on mulled wine and wandered through the snow. It was easy to pretend that we had stepped back into history to visit a Christmas past.
The next day we had plans; we were off to see the National Automobile Museum in Mulhouse. The Museum covers over 25,000 square meters of space and is home to over 400 antique vehicles, including prestige, classic and race. From the moment we carefully walked across the snow covered parking lot and the footbridge over the mill stream and saw the unbelievable front with its hanging models of cars, we knew this was to be a great day. This museum is housed within the walls of a worsted woolen mill built in 1880 and fills several blocks of the town. For a nominal fee we entered the building and with the assistance of a hand held communication device (included in the entry fee) we received the history and information about the vehicle in any language required. Signage was also given in several languages. We all chose English in case you were wondering.
Antique Vehicles in the National Automobile Museum in Mullhouse
From the first view of antique vehicles and walk through the well-planned layout to the very end, we were in constant admiration of witnessing the earliest of the automobile development and history. The quantity and the quality of these antique vehicles kept us in almost gasping awe. The perfection of restoration, the beautiful visual displays and the movement through the years to demonstrate the improvement of the automobile was overwhelmingly exciting. The displays were full of richness in substance and interest. We moved through the earliest period of automotive inventions and designs to the magnificence of when other forces took place; such as for some, practicality, and for others the need for wealth to be seen with the vehicles that were owned.
The collection includes a 1878 Jacquot steam carriage, a 1893 Peugeot Type 8 phaetonnet, a 1894 Panhard and Levassor, and a 1896 Léon Bollée tricar. From steam cars on to the modern it was all displayed and identified thoroughly. Also included were the cars they called the ‘Dream Cars’ and we had to agree – 1930 Bugatti Royale Type 41, Hispano-Suiza’s, Rolls-Royce, Bentley’s and Maybachs. There were cars that we had not even heard of, like the 1907 Piccolo and a 1937 Tatra limousine. So many beautiful cars to see and so little time.
There were race cars in front of a visual effect to create the actual feeling of the cars ready to go at the signal. A 1902 Serpollet Type H, a Panhard and Levassor (a 1908), Bugatti’s, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes, Fiat, Simca-Gordini, Lotus, they were all there. You could “hear” the roar even in the silence of the room. We can’t forget to mention an extremely large collection of authentic pedal cars that had actually been used by children. We have never seen so many children’s toy cars from so early a time. Photos also showed many of those cars with the actual young owners of many years ago.
The backdrop for the cars included enormous photographs hanging behind the vehicles which highlighted the era of the cars. The 900 lights, which are reproductions of the lights on the Alexander III bridge in Paris, and gravel that imitates the roads of old, added a wonderful ambiance to what was seen. You felt part of the time and place. In addition, children big and small had the opportunity to turn a crank to start a car and to sit in a modern car that allows visitors to test their reflexes behind the wheel. Displays that simulate car manufacturing lines and a paint shop are also available.
Also included were areas dedicated to a specific purpose. There was a children’s area with the opportunity for the young ones to get into a miniature race car and race around a track and training areas to actually work with tools for the youth. They provide a veritable children’s and young people’s paradise for learning. We must also mention the restaurant within the museum with windows overlooking the vintage area and being in France, the service and the food was great. So was the wine!!! Now a glass of wine, antique vehicles and ambiance make for a fine day. There is a large research library and archive room, a gift shop of predominately books and a restoration facility. It is almost impossible to see everything in only one day.
The acquisition of the vehicles was based on the love of two brothers – Fritz and Hans Schlumpf. The Schlumpf brothers acquired almost all of the automobiles currently in the collection, changed the building from a mill to a museum and dedicated their life and money to restoring and preserving the antique vehicles. Although the Schlumpf Collection has been a part of some major political and financial issues, France and the City of Mulhouse have worked to preserve the museum for the future and for all of those that love the automobile.
As stated in the museum:
The automobile as seen in this museum certainly creates our awareness that the automobile is costly, dirty, unwieldy, slow, irritating, ugly, intrusive, unstable, dangerous, aggressive- in a word- a liability; but that would be to forget that it can be beautiful, fast, liberating, pleasurable, comfortable, accessible, dependable, exciting, silent, economic, in other words, an indispensable asset.
Few objects in our lives have such presence for us, such complicity, such a part to play in all of our joys and woes, simultaneously freeing and enslaving us.
For the four of us it was an unforgettable experience to feel so much a part of the evolution of the vehicle and of our hobby that we enjoy so much. Our mini-tour was a great success and we made our way back to Le Havre, snow and all, with great memories of our trip!
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