You win' in visit to world's best automotive museum
By Larry Edsall
Mulhouse may not have the romantic sound of so many of Europe's most fascinating locations. In fact, its location provides little cause for celebration: It's on the French side of the Rhine River, just across the water from Germany's southwestern most tip and a few kilometers northwest of Basel, Switzerland, which may sound exotic but nonetheless is a major industrial center and a goodly distance from the beauty of the Alps.
Pronounced in its native language, Mulhouse sounds like "my lose." But for the auto enthusiast, this city of more than 100,000 residents definitely is a place where you win, because an old textile plant houses what may well be the most beautiful collection of automotive hardware in the world, the formerly private Schlumpf Collection that now serves as the National Automobile Museum of France.
Think what you will about the French, about Freedom fries, labor unrest and all of those sorts of things. But while the Germans created the automobile and while the Italians have styled some of the most beautiful examples, it was the French who not only set the automobile's architecture but who popularized the motorcar for personal transportation and especially for enjoyment.
Which brings us to Fritz Schlumpf, who with his brother Hans built a large industrial empire, though it seems that all Fritz really cared about was building his car collection. Thus, by the early 1970s, Frtiz' ironhanded management style, that famed French labor unrest and a downturn in the textile industry combined to put the brothers out of business.
As the story goes, because they came with so much debt, no one would buy the Schlumpf brothers' factories. Thus it was in the spring of 1977 that workers entered one of the brothers' old buildings and were astounded to find hundreds of historic vehicles all lined up just so. To prevent the collection from being sold off car by car, the workers eventually convinced the French Council of State to declare the facility a historical monument - and it truly is.
Fritz Schlumpf built quite a car collection - and also quite a place to house it. While the old factory was already there, Schulmpf set up boulevard-like displays with large photographic backdrops putting the vehicles in context and with 800 lampposts - all copies of the lamps on the Alexander III bridge in Paris - helping to illuminate the gallery.
The displays are organized by Pioneers, Ancestors, Veterans, Classics and Moderns, and overwhelmingly comprise French cars, and especially Bugattis. So many Bugattis. Like more than 120 Bugattis - including two of the exceptionally rare Royales -- among the some 500 cars in the collection.
And then, when you think you've seen the entire collection, you go around a corner onto what appears to be the starting grid of the grandest of Grand Prix races.
The museum is open daily except for Christmas day. Admission for adults is 10 Euros, about $12.50 and worth every penny of it.
By the way, this is a child-friendly place with several hands-on displays as well as a café, gift shop and bookstore
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* Images courtesy of Larry Edsall and iZoom.com.