The ultimate road trip in a European automotive nirvana
For me, the primary purpose of automotive blogging is to let the steam out from my excessive automotive mania. My electronic footprints are the living proof that I deal a little too much with cars, for the fact that it is not my income generating activity. Since I'm beginning to feel the signs of addiction, after some brainstorming I've come up with a practical cure: the most obvious way of dealing with mental addiction is an overdose. The golden shot shall be administered by a region with the most dense automotive heritage, that lies in the heart of Europe.
At the time when the three iconic hosts of Top Gear launched their very own show with Amazon, they named their project Grand Tour. With this choice, they honored an old custom of aristocrats who ventured to discover the old continent and its cultural and culinary delights. If you missed the first episode, and you still don't believe me, take the immortal words of Wikipedia:
“The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper class European young men of sufficient means and rank (or those of more humble origin who could find a sponsor), as well as young women if they were also of sufficient means, and accompanied by a chaperon, such as other family members, when they had come of age (about the age of 21 years old).”
My trip was imagined like a modern Grand Tour. The old continent is full of great locations for car enthusiasts, rich in automotive heritage. National museums, factory treasure chests, and private car collections provide ample opportunity to engage in technical and historical adventures, often paired with culinary indulgences and sightseeing. In this post, I will outline the mother of road trips that I managed to absolve this summer. In order to avoid making the post too long, I will only include in this article an overview impression of each site and the memorable moments of the road trip itself. The detailed reviews are linked when available.
On a 600-kilometer route between Sochaux and Salzburg, over a dozen major car museums become accessible. As I consider myself as an automotive enthusiast with a faible for high-end classic cars and car shows, in the crosshair of these factors one will find car museums that offer technology and history usually paired with a breathtaking scene setting. The factory museums of historical brands showcase their treasures preserved in the realms of corporate witchcraft, and these historical masterpieces are surrounded by an appropriate environment mended by corporate identity. Some European automotive museums are up to challenge the factory museums, as the rise of classic cars values proportionately increased their budget too. The Louwman or Schlumpf collection also fulfils the role of a national museum, while they are actively curated with a professional mindset and ownership. There are over a dozen of such significant destinations in the region, and the route below aimed to include all of them on a three-day trip. While cars remained in the centre of my interest, the tightly scheduled trip still gave plenty of opportunities for sightseeing, to enjoy driving and to indulge in culinary adventures.
From Art Nouveau to Futurism: first stop at the Aventure Peugeot Museu
I chose Peugeot's factory museum in Sochaux for the starter of the pilgrimage. Actually, I could have kicked off at a variety of other destinations, taking different routes, but this region in south-western part of France has so far been missed out at previous occasions.
The Sochaux Museum celebrates its 30th birthday this year, and it was an excellent decision start there, as it is only one hour from the world's greatest car collection, the Cité de l'Automobile in Mulhouse.
The Museum opened its doors to the public in July 1988, and displays pretty much everything that carried the name Peugeot, not just the collections of automobiles and concept cars but, also race cars, bikes, tools and household goods.
The Aventure Peugeot Museum takes us through a stylistic time travel. The first set of cars from the 1891 to 1904 period is encapsulated in a stylish Art Nouveau decoration, while the next section switched to an Art Deco styling, marking a new epoch.
The Museum also covers successful mass production cars of the modern times, and showcases a wide selection of impressive concept cars, a specialty of Peugeot, in particular during the management of styling director Gérard Welter.
There is also a section on bicycles and motorcycles, that covers over 100 years of production, from the 1882 Grand Bi to the 1987 ST Scooter. The racing section is particularly strong with memorabilias from every sportive (ad)venture Peugeot took in the past decades from Dakar to Formula-1.
I won’t detail the museum any further, as I put together a dedicated article for that purpose. I had a thorough look that consumed most of the morning of the first day, leaving just enough time to see the main attraction of the day, the Cité de l'Automobile in Mulhouse.
Cité de l'Automobile - now I believe that it is the world's greatest car museum
The Cité de l'Automobile is often cited as the greatest auto museum in the world. Having seen some of the best Museums in Europe, I always read these claims with a bit of disbelief. Given their variety in terms of size, concept and purpose, it might be quite a bold claim to single out one as the greatest. Thus, I planned a visit to the Peugeot Museum in Sochaux on the same day, in order to best use the time available.
I arrived from Sochaux to the Cité by noon, and left with a completely egzosted exhausted body and overloaded mind at the end of the day. I have no doubt now, that the Cité is the greatest car collection in the world.
But it’s more than just being excessively huge, it excels in every area, from interactive and educational sections to children’s corner, race cars from all epochs and sports, modern and even some contemporary cars, great design and consistent architecture, all the boxes are checked.
I could find single aspects where the Louwman or Mercedes Museum can beat the Cité, but the credit for overall excellence goes to Mulhouse.
The Museum is hosted in a large factory complex with many floors, corridors and external areas, including a very own racetrack and an electric tourist train, whereby the majority of the 400 cars are located in a single giant hall with endless lines of cars of all epochs.
It has the largest collection of Bugattis, and a stronger focus on France, but the Museum still covers all geographic areas.
And the concrete exhibits are incredible, from long gone brands like Minerva and Isotta Fraschini through steam cars and crazy French concepts cars like the Panhard Dynavia right to the super rare Le Mans Ferrari and Aston Martin Lagonda, the Cité covers a vast body of artefacts.
I got lost for hours with an acute overdose of pre-WW II cars, but I also managed to take the time to drift with a Dodge Viper on the Cité de L’Automobile’s private oval track.
I also covered the Cité on egzostive, but this time it required four articles to show everything (Part 1 on introduction and pre WW I cars, Part 2 on the rest of the main hall, Part 3 on the hall of race cars, and finally Part 4 on the Porsche special exhibition and pre-WW II high-end luxury cars).
After Mulhouse, it would have been difficult to take the experience any further, so I called it a day and booked a last minute accommodation near the next stop in Speyer, so that after a healthy breakfast, I could start the second day without delay.
Speyer Technical Museum - size does matter
When I passed by the Technik Museum Sinsheim earlier this year, it was clear to me that at some point, I will pay a visit to the sister museum in Speyer.
The Sinsheim site was an evident candidate for a visit, with the Concorde and TU-144 parking next to each other in a take-off angle by one of Germany’s busiest roads.
If there is anything, the Museum could have used that was space. And space is what the Speyer site really has to offer; thus this new site is about size.
Space Shuttle, Jumbo Jet, giant Antonov plane, ships or a modern age diesel-electric Submarine, one can find dozens of king size vehicles, and there is also enough room for decoration with a concept.
The Museum hosts quite a few dozen cars. In addition to the evergreen classic cars, like the Gullwing SL and the E Type, there are a few unusual and/or rare cars, as well as a few vintage popular cars.
The Speyer site lied comfortably in the way, and I managed to access it with a slight detour en route from the Cité de l’ Automobile in Mulhouse to the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart. Speyer proved to be a refreshing change between the French and the German car museums. The Technical Museum can hold its own, and at the same time, it was able to distinguish itself also from every other museum including its sister site.
The Porsche Museum is the best place to celebrate the brand’s 70th anniversary
Since I was already passing by Stuttgart, the Porsche factory museum was a must see. I passed by for the third time this summer, but I always leave speechless. The Porsche paradise is located near Porsche’s main factory site, the address is Porsche Platz 1 (What did you expect? : ) ) 70435 Stuttgart.
The site hosts a flagship dealership with exquisite test drive possibilities, and offers an unforgettable insight into the brand’s past, present and future.
The Museum is also supported by an extensive warehouse and restoration centre that allows a considerable variation and targeted temporary exhibitions; hence I always try to pass by if possible, usually in combination with the Mercedes Museum.
The Porsche car company celebrated its 70th birthday on June 8th. The Porsche memorial year is an important event, we are talking about the car brand with the most active presence in the oldtimer scene.
The backbone of all renowned classic car events is made up of various generations of the 911s, and no classic car race would be complete without the legendary Porsches. The brand itself is also very active, Porsche is one of the three historical brands that takes classic car owners very seriously and is represented at the factory level in five to six international annual classic car exhibitions.
In the memorial year, Porsche is participating in a number of programs, including Porsche Museum’s own show and a thematic exhibition in the Porsche Pavillon at VW's Autostadt). Many other events and organizers are joining a cross-continental celebration year such as Goodwood Festival of Speed California's Petersen Automotive Museum, the above mentioned French Cité or the Belgian Autoworld, are also preparing for a Porsche exhibition. I spent here two hours that would only suffice for a mild refresher course (but a great opportunity to prep a new article on egzostive). In the course of the trip, more Porsche will come, but they are mainly red :).
Here I will take a rhetorical break as there are five more Museums to recall from the trip. I can already tell, that from here onwards the road trip developed into a true emotional roller-coaster.