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
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
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.