“Start Your Engines” – in Mulhouse

Cross the waterway to the impressive entry - © C. Recoura

At La Cité de l’Automobile – National Museum – Schlumpf Collection, it’s sort of an odd “marriage”, this extraordinary collection of automobiles and a grand old woolen mill in eastern France.  When you think about bringing together perhaps the finest automobile collection in the world, you might imagine boys tinkering with cars through their lifetime, indulging a passion for the “road warriors” of their day.  But that’s not the case with this museum collection.

A pair of brothers, successful textile industrialists, the Schlumpfs purchased a huge woolen mill in Mulhouse, France in 1957.  After the death of their mother, Fritz Schlumpfs undertook a secretive but massive buying spree of exotic cars.  Stoked by his taking part in rallies with his Bugatti, Fritz collected only the best of European automobiles and only allowed a privileged few to view them.  A series of labor disputes, though, forced the brothers to live out their days in Switzerland, with the collection sitting fairly idle for several years.

The museum’s management was entrusted to Culturespaces in 1999, a step that prompted the progressive company to modernize and expand the museum to become a vibrant experience.  The museum now showcases the unique collection of over 400 of the world’s most exotic cars – Bugatti and Rolls Royce, Ferrari and Peugeots.

Motor Masterpieces – © C. Recoura

From the outset, the Cité de l’Automobile is impressive, welcoming you through a soaring arch and atrium.  Through the wood, glass and steel door, a wall of images features film excerpts, in which cars starred.  As you move toward another entrance, an entire flight of suspended cars greets you.  There simply is such an abundance of space, and designers have used it well to offer visitors an imaginative experience.

Engineers have assembled car and animal designs, sound devices and natural atmospheric sounds in a relaxed, welcoming environment that allows you to set your own pace for exploring. Since taking on management of the museum, Culturespaces has transformed the Museum and exhibition spaces from a closed collection to one that fully exploits the factory’s architectural heritage and spills to an Exhibition track and open-air theatre on the outside.

The experience really offers a rather breathtaking journey through the history of auto production.  The Motor Masterpieces collection calls to mind Great Gatsby-esque images of West Egg parties and handsome cars.

In a very comfortable setting, you pass through sofa-furnished areas to see the sports car collection, “under the bonnet” and the evolution of automobiles from machines for the privileged and race enthusiasts to those for the masses.  The site even offers restaurant dining from a gourmet meal experience to a traditional café.

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