A few months ago, during a trip to Europe, I had the tremendous privilege of visiting the world’s greatest car museum, the Cité de l’Automobile (Automobile City) in Mulhouse, Alsace, France. This is home to the world’s largest collection of Bugatti cars, and one of the largest car collections in the world. And believe me, it’s not something I’ll be forgetting any time soon. Here’s a quick skim through all of the remarkable pieces of automotive history I came across throughout my exciting journey.
Motocar Experience Section
1) Benz Viktoria – One of Karl Benz’s first ever production cars, and in fact one of the first ever available four-wheeled cars. Sold from 1892-1898, it was powered by a whopping 4 brake horsepower, single cylinder engine. It was rear wheel drive, so you could send it flying around corners at breakneck speeds.
2) Bugatti Biplace Sport Type 35B – This magnificently slick machine is a version of the original Type 35, the most successful racing car in history, which, by the way, they have a great number of throughout the exhibition. It was powered by a roaring 2.3 litre straight eight, with a supercharger just for extra fun. No doubt about it, a car ahead of its time .
3) Mercedes-Benz 300SL – What would a car museum be without this piece of history? Some would say the greatest sports car of all time. One thing for sure, this car was simply German engineering and style at its finest: unbelievable and definitely unbreakable.
4) Ferrari 250LM – This super fast version of the 250 series, which, by the way, was no slow coach, powered by a raging V12 under the bonnet, was truly a force to be reckoned with. Built for the Le Mans, hence the initials LM, it was unfortunately not allowed to race in the GT category, rather, it raced in the prototype category, matching it up with the more advanced cars of its era. This definitively didn’t stop it taking home the title, as we would expect from a purebred Italian racehorse.
5) Ferrari 512 Testarossa – A more modern car featured in the massive collection is the iconic Testarossa, equipped with a 380 horsepower flat 12 engine. This gave the car outstanding performance, and it now it is still a seriously fast car, so I can’t imagine what it was like in the early 90s.
6) Alpine A110 – Just about as classic as they get. Around 750kg of fast, corner thrashing, elegant French engineering. A classic so loved and commended by fans around the globe that it has been remade in the last year. Hard to own one of the best car museums in the world in France without owning one of these.
7) Bugatti Veyron – No words needed for this. That won’t stop me though. Some would say the greatest car of all time, but I think we can all agree that this is just about the greatest car of the 21st century.
Motor Racing Section
This section was absolutely jam packed with both stunning and iconic performance vehicles, from classics all the way to cars from the last twenty years, from a wide range of different types of motorsport. I will list these motorsport types rather than the cars themselves, as this would otherwise take forever.
1) Rally – Inside a dark secluded room of the exhibition lie three group B rally cars, asleep, but ready to kick up entire cubic metres of dirt at any given moment. A ford RS200, a Renault R5 turbo, and a Peugeot 205 T16.
2) Grand Prix race cars- Evolution from various Bugattis and Maseratis and Alfas, and plenty more, believe me, from the early 20th century all the way up to various French F1 cars, which haven’t done too well in the last few years, *ahem ahem*, driven by Michael Schumacher and many other incredible drivers.
3) Endurance race cars- Cars designed for races such as Le Mans. Many classic Bugattis all the way up to the Le Mans champion of 2000: the Audi R8. Not the current production model in case you are completely confused. Very similar to Grand Prix cars in exterior design up until later on.
Motocar Masterpieces Section
This was probably my favourite section, as it was the home to, in my opinion, the most magnificent car of all time: The Bugatti Royale.
A massive machine, its beauty and majesty incomparable, powered by one monster of an engine. If I was a dictator, and I was offered any car as my flagship car, I would most certainly choose one of these. In fact, I don’t quite think I'm able to put into words just how great this car is, and to be honest, I don’t think I ever will be
This section was filled with many other monstrously big vehicles of admirable quality, to say the very least: Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Panhard-Levassors, Delahayes, and many other marques which people have unfortunately never heard of, whose final memories lie beneath the ground in a collection I can genuinely say not enough people have the privilege of exploring.
How would I rate this experience? One word. Breathtaking. A feast for the eyes, a collection you could explore for days on end and still have new things to learn about it day after day. Economically, it’s probably worth millions on end, if not a billion, as there are supposedly hundreds more classics waiting to be restored in the ground beneath it. But all that isn’t important. The significance of this collection lies in its rich cultural and historical diversity, and the passion it creates and satisfies for motoring fanatics around the globe, and even people who have never heard of a single classic car in their life. Whether you like cars or not, this is a must do in France. I was there for a half a day and I can confidently say that it was not nearly enough. I would need whole months to get through every minor detail written on each and every car, and I would quite happily do exactly that.