The world’s largest Bugatti collection is a star attraction at the world’s biggest car museum, La Cité de l’Automobile – National Museum – Schlumpf Collection, at Mulhouse in eastern France near the Swiss and German borders.
Formerly The National Car Museum, this fascinating museum houses the largest set of Bugattis among a collection of more than 400 beautiful and unusual cars.
But there is a dramatic story behind the collection, which was founded by brothers Hans and Fritz Schlumpf who were born in Italy in 1904 and 1906 respectively. Their father was Swiss and their mother, Jeanne Becker, was from Mulhouse, where the family settled in 1906.
Fritz worked in the textile industry, and started his own business as a wool broker in 1928 and the brothers built up a textile business, acquiring mills and taking control of various companies over the decades.
But between 1961 and 1963, Fritz Schlumpf used his industrial wealth to secretly buy large numbers of classic cars, notably Bugattis, by linking with various buyers in France, Switzerland, England, Italy, Germany and the USA.
In 1966, work on displaying the collection began. Fritz Schlumpf’s aim was to reveal to the public for the first time the exceptional collection that he had managed to bring together in just a few years. He developed part of the factory warehousing to create the “Schlumpf Museum”.
But by June 1976, the textile factory was in crisis and its employees were on strike. The brothers tried to sell their factories for a symbolic one French franc, quit and took refuge in Basel and would never return to France, but a long period of legal battles between the Schlumpf brothers and their creditors followed.
In 1977, the warehouses were occupied by the unions and renamed the “Workers Museum”. Then in 1978, at the instigation of Jean Panhard, the French Council of State classed the collection as a Historical Monument, meaning no part could leave French territory.
In 1981, it was bought by the National Automobile Museum Association which included the City of Mulhouse, the Haut-Rhin Département, the Alsace Region, the Mulhouse Chamber of Commerce, the Automobile Club de France, the Panhard Company and the organisers of the Paris Motor Show. They raised 44 million Francs to buy the collection – although 20 years later the Schlumpfs won an award of a further 25m Frances – and The National Automobile Museum opened to the public in 1982.
Later it was forced to add “Schlumpf Collection” to its name and then in 1999 its operation was entrusted to the company Culturespaces, with the formal public opening the next year after considerable renovation and modernisation.
The collection is spread throughout several large spaces: the “Motocar Experience”, the “Motor racing”, the “Motocar Masterpieces” and the “Bugatti Veyron” areas.
In the Motocar Experience’s huge 17,000 m² hall, lit by 800 lamp posts identical to those on the Alexandre III bridge in Paris, has 243 cars that have marked their era telling the story of the motorcar from 1878 through to the present today. The cars are organized into chronological periods.
In July 2006, Culturespaces opened new areas designed by Studio Milou Architecture. These include the entrance to the Museum (forecourt, footbridge, atrium, projection wall) and the three exhibition spaces at the end of the tour.