The Cité de l’Automobile puts on display over 400 dream cars that together make up one of the most beautiful collections in the world. The museum is housed in a former woollen mill bought by the Schlumpf brothers in 1957 and transformed a few years later into a showcase for their collection.
It was in a former Mulhouse woollen mill, with its typically 19th century architecture, that Fritz Schlumpf established his fabulous collection of 437 cars belonging to 97 different marques.
Cars are displayed and in main sections. The main ones are the Motor Car Experience, the Motor Racing, the Motorcar Masterpieces and the Bugatti Veyron area. With this unique collection, the Cité de l’Automobile sees itself as being to cars what the Louvre is to art.
The entrance to the Cité de l’Automobile symbolises human creativity and imagination, especially in relation to the motor car. As soon as he arrives, the visitor finds himself in front of the atrium, a spectacular entryway constructed of wood, glass and steel and adorned with an unusual collection of suspended cars and animals.
Guided by a handrail, the visitor is now led inside the Cité de l’Automobile and comes upon an image wall, onto which film extracts are projected in which the star performer is the car. These are interspersed with projections where cars from the museum’s collections move along at the visitor’s speed and accompany him on the way to the next space.
The Motor Car Experience
Lit by 800 street lamps, identical to those on the Alexandre III bridge in Paris, the vast 17,000 m2 main hall puts these exhibits on display arranged according to the main periods of the motor car: The first group is that of the “Forerunners and Pioneers”: the cars of Panhard, Peugeot, De Dion and Benz, covering a period from 1895 to 1918. It was at this point that Panhard essentially defined the architecture of the modern motor car and as it was to remain for decades to come, with, in order from front to back: motor, clutch, gear box, and transmission to the rear wheels.
The 2nd group, the “Classic Cars”, marked the beginning of a 2nd phase (1918-1938), symbolised by the merger of two big names in motor vehicle manufacturing, Mercedes and Benz. With this merger the age of the “supercar” had arrived, characterised by enormous size and power. The introduction of front-wheel drive by Citroën in 1934 was the major technical innovation of the period, still used today by a great many car manufacturers. The opening of the Sochaux plant was a vitally important event for Peugeot.
The third group is the “Modern Cars”, from the period after 1945, marked by the appearance of lighter, popular cars. Manufacturers abandoned plans for heavy, so-called “bourgeois” cars, in favour of building cars that were more economical to run. Production of such vehicles was made possible largely by the adoption of the principles of Taylorism.
The collection presents some outstanding sports models such as the Panhard-Levassor two-seater (1908), the Mercedes W125 (1937), the Maserati 250F (1957) or the Lotus type 33 (1963). With its revolutionary aerodynamic lines, the famous Bugatti type 32 from 1923, designed by its creator, is the sole survivor of the Grand Prix circuit at Tours. It still has its original engine. Ranged on either side of the central avenue, they offer a brief glimpse of the most beautiful starting line-up in the world. Newly arrived (in December 2014): the Porsche 911 RSS and the Porsche Spyder LMP2 2006. Motorcar Masterpieces The truly prestigious motor cars (the Panhard-Levassor X26, the Delahaye Type 135 coach from 1949, the 1924 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost which once belonged to Charlie Chaplin, and the Isotta-Fraschini Model 8A), all occupy a special place in this museum. The central position is reserved for the wondrous Bugatti Royales, with pride of place being accorded to the famous Bugatti 41 Coupé Napoleon from 1930, which formerly belonged to Ettore Bugatti himself.
The Bugatti Veyron area
The Bugatti Veyron is one of the jewels of the collection at the Cité de l’Automobile. Technical expertise from the fields of aeronautics and astronautics has been used to produce a braking system that is, quite simply, incredible. From a speed of 100 km/h, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 comes to a stop after travelling just 31.4 m. And if you slam the brakes hard, it takes just 10 seconds to bring the vehicle from a speed of 400 km/h to a complete standstill. This exceptional car deserved a spectacular presentation. Today it has just that: for almost 5 minutes, the focus is on the Bugatti Veyron as it slowly turns on a pedestal allowing visitors to view every detail from every angle. Behind it, large screens show a lively and elegant film produced by the Bugatti company and presenting its exceptional technical capabilities.
The Jammet Collection
This collection of 101 children’s cars is exceptional. It represents a century of automobile history as seen through the dreams of children and imitations of “daddy’s car”. The latest models mainly consist of French and European cars. Several models are from the early 20th century: rare and much sought- after “Citroënettes”, Eureka vehicles, the flagship brand of children’s toys from 1920 to 1940.
Mascots are the figurines that adorn the radiator caps of some motor cars. Mercedes-Benz’s three-pointed star in a circle or Rolls Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy are particularly famous mascots, both of them imposed by the manufacturers. Other manufacturers allowed car owners a great freedom of choice of mascot until 1958. Discovery area: “The underside of a car” Vehicle restoration Vehicle restoration can range from simple treatment to stabilise metal, leather or upholstery, to dismantling the smallest of components for a full treatment, in some cases ultimately returning the car to a state of roadworthiness. The exhibition enables the visitor to find out more about a really extreme operation, involving the creation of a new chassis for a Bugatti Royale and the rebuilding of coachwork that has long since disappeared. The last motor car restored by the Museum is put on display: the 1976 Renault Alpine A110 Berlinette, presented by Mrs. Colette Noebel-Schröder, President of the International Friends of the Museum Association. It was restored in the Museum display: the 1976 Renault Alpine A110 Berlinette, presented by Mrs. Colette Noebel-Schröder, Secretary of the International Friends of the Museum Association. It was restored in the Museum workshops by volunteers from the Haut Rhin Alpine Berlinette enthusiasts club.
Life of a car in the collection
The life of a car in the collection is illustrated by a Bugatti 57S, a car built in 1936 and one of the first models mass-produced by Ettore and Jean Bugatti. On its arrival at the Museum it is partially dismantled to reveal the main points about it, from its design and construction, how it was used, and information about its owners. Expression of their turbulent age, it tells its own unique story.
The third exhibition takes place in muffled darkness. Cut-away reproductions illustrate the development of engines built in the 1880s and then gradually spoiled by all the motorists in the 20th century. Interactive animations help the visitor better to appreciate these engineering marvels: a 3-D film, accompanied by sound-effects, has been put together to explain how each one of these engines works, from the single-cylinder engine of Karl Benz to the 8-cylinder Bugatti. On a large screen, a 3-D film in 3 languages explains the workings of the fabulous 16-cylinder engine of the Bugatti Veyron Royale.
The exhibition track
The Cité de l’Automobile recently inaugurated its new exhibition track. This new track can seat 4,500 people on its terraces. It also includes an uncovered paddock in which up to 30 cars can be parked and a clubhouse equipped with a garage to host clubs and provide space for working on the vehicles. It also means that the Cité de l’Automobile has expanded from 4 to 8 hectares and added an open-air theatre to its museum complex. The Cité de l’Automobile is the first museum of its kind to create facilities that deliberately break with the static image of an exhibited collection. The cars resume their journeys to the delight of visitors and collectors.
Shows and events can be arranged around cars and take place in its three rings along with parades of the most prestigious cars in the museum. It is also a venue for the various clubs and associations of car collectors.