We all know those one of those guys, the ones who buys up obscure cars that most people are scrapping, who end up with a shed full of them. The Schulmpf brothers are those guys,.. except with Bugattis and a bit of civil unrest thrown in.
All cars go through a period of being pretty much worthless, or at least relatively worthless compared to their original value, you can see all sorts of cars changing hands for less than a grand right now that were a whole lot more expensive to buy when new. Maybe their values will bounce back, maybe they won’t, the real enthusiast doesn't care, for the value of the car means nothing, the car itself is the point. In the 1950's pre-world war two cars were getting thrown on the scrapheap by customers wanting the newest and greatest European sports cars. The Schlumpf Brothers were there to pick them up, and boy did they pick some interesting things up.
The Schlumpf brothers in question were Hans and Fritz, two Italian born Swiss who had moved to Mulhouse in France with their widowed mother. Their source of income was spun woollen products they opened their mill before world war two, and with an aggressive growth after the war they ended up very wealthy indeed, putting them in a position to engage their obsession. Whilst their predominant focus was Bugatti, the brothers collected some of the most desirable pre-war cars they could find, having gained a reputation for this kind of purchase put them in position that dealers sought out the brothers if something interesting came up. The activity was a one way street, cars went in and were not sold on.
In the mid 1960's the woollen industry started to downturn somewhat, so the brothers moved their collection into disused areas of the Mulhouse mill. They employed a team of people to work on and restore their car collection, at this point numbering nearly 400 cars. The people working on the cars were to keep details of the collection secret. This work carried on as the Woollen industry in Europe gradually fell away. The brothers planned to open the Mulhouse mill as a car museum, they had everything ready, reception rooms, displays, tickets, the lot but in 1977 they had other things on their mind and their two world collided.
Having had to close a number of factories due to the economic climate, hundreds of current and ex-employees blocked the brothers in their villa as part of industrial action to protest the loss of jobs, the French authorities move the brothers to Switzerland and the striking workforce occupy the mill. Once inside they discovered for the first time the extent of the car collection. The workers destroy an unrestored Austin 7, but limit their destruction there, realising that if the textile industry is doomed, then the collection of cars has value as museum. The workers set to operating the museum, however the brother’s debts continue to rise and the collection comes under threat from creditors. The French authorities step in at this point to ensure that the collection isn't sold by classifying it as a French historic monument.
The building is closed in 1979 as the brothers are declared bankrupt. From 1981 to 1999 the French National Automobile Museum Association runs the museum, but it struggles to keep it all in good order. In 1999 Culturespaces were contracted to take over the museum and renovate it, in March 2000 the museum reopened as the largest automobile museum in the world : Cité de l’Automobile.
According to Wikipedia the current collection includes "over 520 vehicles, with 400 displayed". The collection contains 123 Bugattis in the 400 on display, including three Bugatti Royales.
Next time you find yourself fancying a long weekend away, you could do a lot worse than heading to the Schlumpf Collection.
More information on this amazing story can be found here.
Most photos taken from this collection.