Brother's pride

Thirteen years after opening to the public, the Schlumpf brothers’ secret hoard has been regrouped. Bugattis remain centre-stage, but D McK has been inspecting the post-war racing machiner also on view.

Thousands of words have been written over the past twenty years about the Musee National de l’Automobile — the infamous Schlumpf Collection — at Mulhouse in Alsace, France. The unique collection came to public notice in 1976 when a disused spinning mill in which the eccentric Schlumpf brothers had hoarded more than four hundred historic cars was occupied by their employees. Angry at what they saw as the mis-spending of funds which should have been directed to bolstering the business, the workers took possession of what had become the most valuable asset of the now-bankrupt business, and drove the proprietors out.

Until that time the cars had been locked away from prying eyes, though contrary to much of what was published at the time of the workers’ occupation of the site, the old-car world was very well aware of the hoard. Indeed, the brothers had slowly begun inviting selected enthusiasts to view the amazing collection, though whether they would ever have thrown it open to the public at large is another matter.

Today the Musee Nationale is probably most famous for its Bugattis, but it has plenty to interest the student of later motor racing history as well. Although not a pure racing assemblage in the manner of the Donington Collection, Mulhouse has a good selection of Gordini, Maserati and Ferrari single-seaters and sports-racers, and many other makes besides.

It was however Bugattis which started the whole thing off, and they still comprise a major percentage of the items on show. Fritz Schlumpf had raced one of these Alsace-built cars in local events in the 1930s, and, as a fiercely patriotic Alsatian, seems to have developed an obsession to return as many Bugattis as he could to the region of their manufacture.

Together with his brother Hans, and employing intermediaries such as the French Bugatti authority Antoine Raffaelli, Schlumpf snapped up every Bugatti that came onto the market — at any price. Whole collections disappeared, never — it seemed — to be seen again, for the brothers at first posted guards to ensure that even enthusiasts were denied access to the collection. When the Bugatti factory disposed of its remaining assets to Hispano-Suiza in 1963, it was the Schlumpf brothers who acquired the cars — twenty of them. The following year they took over the famed Shakespeare collection from the USA, lock, stock and barrel. A special train had to be chartered to bring them to Mulhouse, and the collection grew by another 30 Bugattis overnight. As the brothers cornered the market, to the annoyance of established Bugatti owners, prices were driven up. But who could blame owners for liquidating their collections at such prices?

As time went by the brothers did invite the occasional selected — and select — guest to view the collection, but a strict ban on photographs was applied.

But Fritz Schlumpf’s incredible buying spree had been at the expense of the business, and the workforce took over. Early in 1978 the collection was declared a historic monument, and the Musee National de l’Automobile de Mulhouse was finally opened to the public in July 1982.

The funds to buy the collection came from an association made up of the local town council, regional authorities, the chamber of commerce, the Societe Panhard and the Comite du Salon de l’Automobile. This group owns the land, buildings and cars to this day. A second association established about the same time manages the museum on a non-profit basis. This one also includes local authorities and the chamber of commerce, together with local bodies concerned with tourism, development and the arts.

The sheer size of the museum is staggering. The display of cars is housed in one huge hall, covering more than 20,000 square metres (or five acres) of which 17,000 sq m comprises the display area.

When the first members of the press were admitted to the collection it comprised 427 cars, including 170 Bugattis, plus a pair of children’s electric cars, Among the remainder were fourteen racing Gordinis, the bulk of which had been acquired from Amedee Gordini after he closed his operation in 1957.

Over the ensuing years the collection has grown to around 540 cars, though not all the additions are owned by the museum. The museum’s own staff have now restored some sixty cars, and are working on more. Some of the other exhibits have been gifts from manufacturers and private individuals, others are purchases (mostly modest) and the rest loans. Some of this last group, for example the Panhard-Levassor and Porsche displays, are sufficiently long-term to be classified almost as permanent.

No fewer than 102 makes are represented in the display today, including 66 of French Origin. Of the last group, a total of 112 exhibits are Bugattis, and the most frequently heard comment from visitors is that they never want to see another Bugatti…

There are other short-comings too. Both in the brothers’ the and since, little discrimination seems to have been shown when making acquisitions, and no attempt made to provide a representative, cross of historical artefacts. Their entire Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Lotus racing stock, for example, has come from Switzerland, and is therefore of greater interest to students of Swiss motor racing history than of the broader picture. At the same time, little concern seems to have been shown about duplication.

The present administrators make no claim to present a historical review as such. They make no secret of the fact that this is a European collection, and they are concentrating on filling the gaps in that area before extending it — at some future date — to include the USA and, one day, even the Far East.

Nor is it a racing-car collection, and a review of the post-war competition machinery in the museum today illustrates the strengths — and weaknesses — of the collection as an aid to the study of motor racing history.

Sole recognition of Britain’s contribution to post-war Grand Prix racing is a display of three rear-engined F1 Lotuses from the 1961/65 1½-litre F1, all having come to the museum from the Siffert Collection. These comprise a customer 18, an ex-works 24 and a 33 which was also originally campaigned by Team Lotus.

Two of these seem straightforward enough. The 18 is Chassis No 913, supplied originally to Italian amateur Ernesto Prinoth, and the 33 is R9, which Clark and Spence raced for Team Lotus and which Bonnier later ran briefly.

The 24, however, does not check out. The Museum says it is 949, an ex-works car later driven by Siffert for Ecurie Filipinetti. But 949 went from the factory to Collomb, and was written off after a transporter fire in 1965 (though a car with this number appeared in UK historic events in the 1980s). The ex-works 24 which Siffert raced for Filipinetti was 950 — at present in England.

There is better representation from Italy’s post-war period of Grand Prix dominance, starting with a 4CL Maserati (1578), This was one of the Scuderia Milano team cars of 1946, though whether — as the museum claims — it was driven by Villoresi is impossible to check. What is known is that it started life with a different number, 1571, in 1939, when it was used by Ettore Bianco in voiturette events.

There is also a 4CLT/48 San Remo model — Farina’s car (1602) — and not one but two 250Fs. One of these is identified as 2511 , which was raced by the factory and then Scuderia Centro-Sud; this 2511 however was built up from 2506, the ex-Rosier car, around 1959 or 1960, and is distinguished by a very high tail. By giving nothing of the car’s history in their literature, the museum seems to accept that it is by no means certain.

The other 250F is 2526, one of the two offset-transmission cars built for the 1956 Italian Grand Prix (and re-numbered 2530 when sold in 1958).

No fewer than six single-seater Ferraris are on show, four of them from the Swiss Ecurie Espadon (Rudi Fischer and friends). Oldest of this quartet is supposedly a 166 monoposto, described as a 1948 model numbered 001F. It seems more probable that it is the year-old car which Espadon ran in 1951 and which is described by other authorities as 06C.

A second VI2 is the unique 2.6-litre car (110) campaigned by Fischer in 1951 Grands Prix, while the others are slightly later four-cylinder models, a 2-litre 500 and a 2.5-litre 625. The latter (184F2) had been run by Ecurie Espadon with a 2-litre engine in F2, but the other (0512MD) is another mystery, as the team seems to have raced only one 500 in 1952/53. The number does however appear in Ferrari records as ‘500 F2’.

None of the 1954/60 Ferrari designs is represented but there are two F1 cars from later periods, a 156 (0004) raced by Surtees and Bandini in 1963/4 and a 1970 312B (002) which Ickx and Andretti drove, and which was later owned by Peter Schetty in Switzerland.

Finally among the post-war Italian singleseaters is a Cisitalia D46 (026), one of the little Fiat-based cars which enjoyed a short flush of popularity in the late 1940s.

As might be expected, it is the French cars which are best represented among the post-war single-seaters, but it is perhaps surprising that no example of the four-cylinder Simca-Gordini, which was the Cisitalia’s greatest rival, should be on show. The Schlumpf Collection more than makes up for this omission, however, by displaying two six-cylinder models and two eights, all in 2500cc F1 trim. Included among the Type 16 sixes is Chassis No 34, with which in earlier 2-litre form Behra inflicted his famous defeat on the entire Ferrari team in the 1952 Reims Grand Prix; the other example is No 35. The straight-eight Type 32s in the museum are 41, which is displayed with body alongside, and 42, which raced only once.

There are two examples of the Talbot Lago 26C, 110002 and 110010, both of which joined the collection from Serge Pozzoli’s private museum. This last car was sold to Englishman P A T Garland, though never raced — by him or anyone else — but the other number does not seem to appear in any of the Talbot listings. The museum says however that it was raced by Sommer and Giraud-Cabantous.

Needless to say, both examples of the last GP Bugatti made, the woeful Type 251, are here. The all-independent cars were fitted with a Colombo-designed straight-eight engine mounted east–west, and appeared in Trintignant’s hands at the 1956 French Grand Prix, where they showed not the slightest promise. One car (251001) is complete, and the other (number unknown, but 251002 would be a good guess) is displayed sans body.

The collection also has on display the third of five prototypes of the earlier 73C model, which was planned to provide Molsheim with a 1500cc Grand Prix contender in the 1940s. Unlike the car at Donington, the French one has not been given a ‘might have been’ body, but is presented in chassis form.

As mentioned earlier, the museum does not restrict itself to single-seaters, though there is only a smattering of post-war sports-racing machinery. Three are Ferraris, which start with the 3-litre 250MM (0230MM) sold to Roberto Rossellini, the famous film director (and husband of Ingrid Bergmann) in 1953 and driven by him in that year’s Mille Miglia. There is then nothing till a 1957 500TRC (0692MDTR) which appeared in a few events in the hands of Adrian Conan-Doyle and later became one of the first elements of the Siffert Collection in Switzerland. The third sports Ferrari is a little-raced 250LM (5975), sold to a Swedish owner in 1965 and in the Schlumpfs’ possession since 1967.

The sole sports Maserati is a 300S (3065) of unknown history, but there is compensation for their lack in the form of a rare Disco Volante Alfa Romeo. This is believed to be 1359.00002, a 2-litre model with Touring bodywork very reminiscent of an A6GCS Maserati or an Amolt-Bristol, but Alfa historians are uncertain of the car’s origins.

Pride of place among the German contenders is a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR (No 5), one of the 3-litre eight-cylinder cars which were so dominant in the 1955 world sportscar championship.

Missing are any early racing Porsches, the oldest being a 908. This is a car (013) raced in its heyday by Siffert, Redman, Stommelen, Jost, and Steve McQueen. Several more modern (and therefore less historic) cars, on loan from the Porsche museum in Stuttgart, make up this part of the display.

The Gordinis in this section comprise two 1½-litre four-cylinder cars, four sixes of various size and two 3-litre eights. Among the fours is a 21S coupe (c/no 21GCS) which gained many successes in French sportscar races from the time of its construction in 1950; the other four is a slightly newer 17S (39), one of several sportscars Gordini rebuilt from obsolete F2 stock. Another is the 2-litre six (no 18), the 20S which Bordoni raced with such success in Italian events before acquiring a bigger model. The display also includes a 21/2-litre 20S (43) and the distinctive flat-bonnetted 26S (38/36) which won the 2-litre class at Le Mans in 1953. The fourth six-cylinder car (19) is the 23S, which scored many 1500cc class successes in the hands of Guelfi and others.

Both the eight-cylinder 24S models — confusingly — are numbered 37; one of them was built on a 1952 chassis which had been crashed, and was in fact the last car built by Gordini in 1957.

Finally among the post-war French sportscars is a 1962 Panhard CD Le Mans coupe, one of the scores of French cars which used to dispute the 750cc class in the 24hr race each year; this one is on loan from the Panhard family.

Since the Musee National was opened in July 1982, annual visitor numbers have averaged more than 400,000. The museum’s own analysis of visitors shows that most — 62% — are French, with another 24% coming from Germany or Switzerland. Not surprising perhaps, as the museum is sited at the point where France and Germany meet Switzerland.

Plans for the next two or three years include the acquisition of a large sports stadium which is situated directly behind the existing premises. At present this is owned by the civic authorities, but the Museum would like to use it for special events. The stadium would give them somewhere to show the cars being driven, which they are keen to do.