The greatest museums you never heard of: Mazda Museum in Germany
An excellent stopover halfway between the best car museums in the world.
In pursuit of the ultimate automotive overdose, I discovered a Mazda Museum halfway between Stuttgart and Munich.
The Automobil Museum Frey is a private collection, run by a local German Mazda dealer, Mr. Walter Frey, but it is still able to leave a lasting impression (as their website).
The company behind this Museum is not the Mazda Corporation, but merely an enthusiastic local dealer in Germany. Here I have to stress, that the founder, Walter Frey, is not related to the famous Swiss car dealer Emil Frey. Thus, any comparisons to the major museums run by automotive moguls, such as the Lowman Museum would not be appropriate. For those, who never been to the Hague, the Louwman Collection is still curated by a private collector who owns a major car dealer network. It counts as the Dutch national museum, it is usually listed among the world’s best car museums, and I certainly can’t argue with that.
On the other hand, Auto Frey Augsburg is a family business established in 1978, as one of the first Mazda dealers of Germany. It cannot be compared to the Louwman empire. Still, the founder proved to be genuinely enthusiastic about the brand it represented. This enthusiasm seemed rather unilateral to me, as the only help Mr Frey got was from the local mayor, who helped to move the collection to a rather fitting historic environment, in a classic industrial warehouse (a tram depot).
The building, which dates back to 1897, bears a significant cultural heritage, and while the renovation remained faithful to the purpose, it certainly improved the quality to provide a unique loft-like contemporary atmosphere, as well as an ideal environment for classic cars. My personal favorite application of a reborn industrial complex is the Classic Remise in Düsseldorf, but that is an entirely different proposition, being a very stylish commercial classic car centre.
Mr Frey is an avid collector for over 30 years, since he acquired his first Mazda Cosmo Sport, purchased in 1980. This car remained a fundamental pillar of the exhibition, and also snatched top spots in events, e.g. at the Mazda stage in the 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show.
As further proof that the Cosmo is becoming a “mass market product” two Cosmos were parked in the museum, and a I found third one a few hours later in the Wankel section of the Audi Museum (unlikely that one of these oldtimers bypassed me during my high speed direct trip from Augsburg to Ingolstadt).
Beyond the two white sports coupés, a series of interesting midgets await the visitors in a wide variety of pastel colours and body versions. Next up, the Mazdas of the 60s and 70s, and with them, the arrival of metallic colours and Wankel technology.
On the other side, there is a line-up of Mazdas from my favorite Mazda epoque, the early nineties. The MX-3 and MX-6 coupés, the Xedos series, the 323F with pop-up headlights, or the eggshaped 121 are among my favourite cars of the Museum.
These masterpieces were followed by a period of economic decline, and the museum covers very few cars (basically, only MX-5 models and a strange gullwing “thing”) from the period of Ford ownership.
At the far side of the Museum hall, a Wankel-specific exhibition closes the show. Artefacts include Felix Wankel’s favourite bench from the NSU factory, on which he developed the engine that bears his name.
In addition, a wide range of examples illustrate the potential applications from buses to tow trucks. The crown jewel of the section is an RX7 beast with Group B specifications, Mazda’s attempt to enter the hall of fame of Rallye.
I really don’t want the exaggerate or create false expectations. At the same time, the Mazda Museum is just halfway between Stuttgart (where both Mercedes and Porsche resides) and Munich (in my case, I took a slight detour to Ingolstadt) and thus an ideal stopover to see something refreshing. Although the whole museum thing appears to be far away from the modernist Japanese spirit, upon my first visit I expressed my hopes that one day the Mazda HQ also start to appreciate such European initiatives and donate from the factory museum a few exotic rarities and unique pieces, maybe as part of a tour to reside in a number pf European flagship dealerships. In fact, since then the Museum took over a few interesting one-offs, like a Miata concept car (MX-5 Superlight), that is now accommodated in a fitting environment.