Cité de l’automobile

Cité de
l’automobile

A place of history

The Cité de l’Automobile puts on display over 400 dream cars that together make up one of the most beautiful collections in the world. The museum is housed in a former woollen mill bought by the Schlumpf brothers in 1957 and transformed a few years later into a showcase for their collection.

1906 The Schlumpfs in Mulhouse

1906

The Schlumpfs in Mulhouse

Carl and Jeanne Schlumpf settled in Mulhouse just after the births of their two sons, Hans and Fritz. 

1906 The Schlumpfs in Mulhouse

Carl Schlumpf worked as an accountant in the Becker horticultural company. He did, in fact, marry one of Becker’s daughters, Jeanne. Hans born in 1904 and Fritz in 1906. Carl Schlumpf died in August 1918. Hans was sent to a private school in Switzerland and graduated in business studies. Fritz attended the secondary school in Mulhouse. After working in various textile companies, he started his own wool brokering business in 1928.

1935 The brothers went into business together

1935

The brothers went into business together

Hans and Fritz became partners and established their first companies together.

1935 The brothers went into business together

The two brothers founded the SAIL (the Société Anonyme pour l'Industrie Lainière, a public limited company in the wool industry), bought their first shares in the Malmerspach spinning mill, and took control of various companies in 1940, and subsequently in Erstein and Roubaix in 1956.

In 1957, the Schlumpf brothers bought the HKD textile factory, a former wool spinning mill in Mulhouse. As a leading businessman, Fritz made almost all the decisions. His elder brother followed his lead and their empire continued to grow.

1961 The first cars

1961

The first cars

Between 1961 and 1963, Fritz Schlumpf secretly bought large numbers of vintage cars. 

1961 The first cars

To make these purchases, he established contact with ‘buyers’ in France, Switzerland, England, Italy, Germany, and the United States. The rich industrialist relentlessly acquired classic European cars, while shunning American models.

Fritz Schlumpf only allowed a few privileged people to access the factory warehouses where the cars were stored and kept his collection secret. In May 1965, the first article was published in Alsace that revealed the sheer extent of this hidden collection. Fritz Schlumpf began to seriously consider a project to establish a museum.

1966 The ‘Schlumpf Museum’ project

1966

The ‘Schlumpf Museum’ project

Work began to showcase the collection. This major project took several years to implement. But the museum conceived by Fritz Schlumpf was never opened.

1966 The ‘Schlumpf Museum’ project

All the partition walls in the large warehouse building were removed. The new open exhibition area of 17,000 m² was subdivided into 23 ‘areas’, each comprising ten to twenty cars and surrounded by three kilometres of wide, tiled walkways.

At the same time, the pace of the restoration work on the cars increased. This required the participation of seven assistant mechanics, two upholsterers, two bodywork specialists, an assistant bodywork specialist, and five painters. To acquire and exhibit the cars in his collection, Fritz Schlumpf spent around 12 million francs in ten years. 

1976 The Schlumpf affair

1976

The Schlumpf affair

In 1976, the museum was ready to welcome its first visitors, and the reception halls and velvet-clad restaurant were ready for the inauguration. The admission tickets had been printed, and glasses of champagne prepared to celebrate the opening of the museum. But it was not to be …

1976 The Schlumpf affair

Unfortunately, at that time, due to the textile crisis, the Schlumpf companies were faced with cash flow problems. At first, they refused to sack their workers, but the two brothers were eventually forced to admit defeat: they filed for bankruptcy, the factory workers were laid off, and the site officially sealed.

In the early hours of 7 March 1977, a handful of men entered the HKD factory in Mulhouse. To their amazement, they discovered 436 gleaming vintage cars, a veritable treasure secretly amassed by the brothers Hans and Fritz Schlumpf since the 1960s with money generated by their factories. 

The warehouses were occupied by the unions. The ‘Musée Schlumpf’ was renamed and became the ‘Musée des Travailleurs’ (Workers’ Museum). Placed under the management of the CFDT trade union, admission to the Museum was free. ‘I earned 1,400 francs a month, and this is where the rest went’, declared one of the many signs placed on the grille of a racing car.

Henceforth, the Schlumpf brothers were confined to their villa. After three days, on the instigation of the French authorities, the Schlumpf brothers were accompanied to the Swiss border, where they officially settled.  In 1979, the Colmar Appeal Court upheld the liquidation of the property of the two brothers, including the collection of cars restored with the factory’s capital. 

1981 Musée national de l’Automobile

1981

Musée national de l’Automobile

The Association du Musée National de l'Automobile—which comprises the City of Mulhouse, the Haut-Rhin département, the Alsace Region, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Mulhouse, the Automobile Club de France, the Société Panhard, and the Comité du Salon de l'Automobile— purchased the collection for 44 million francs, an acquisition authorised by the Court of Cassation the previous year.

1981 Musée national de l’Automobile

On 10 July 1982, the Musée National de l’Automobile opened its doors to the general public. Substantive work began to improve the display of the collection and attract visitors.

In 1989, following the rulings of the Paris Court of Appeal, the Musée National de l'Automobile was obliged to add ‘Collection Schlumpf’ to its name and on any documents mentioning part of the collection.

1999 Culturespaces becomes a delegate

1999

Culturespaces becomes a delegate

The Association of the Musée National de l'Automobile entrusted Culturespaces with the management of the museum. 

1999 Culturespaces becomes a delegate

On 25 March 2000, after extensive work, Culturespaces opened the doors of the world’s largest automobile museum—which had been partly renovated and modernised—to the general public. The choices relating to the Museum’s renovation were based on three objectives: the preservation of its identity, showcasing the collection, and the conception of a modern and dynamic project. 

In July 2006, Culturespaces inaugurated new venues and the Musée National de l'Automobile became the Cité de l'Automobile. In the autumn of that year, visitors discovered a series of suspended cars. This curious display of cars and animals was complemented by alternating sound effects that included natural, atmospheric, and mechanical sounds.

The main aim of this project was to shift from a showcase collection to a museum that opened out onto the exterior, where visitors could explore the entirety of the former plant that extended over four hectares; the idea was to highlight the former factory’s exceptional architectural heritage. 

In July 2011, wishing to break away from the static image of an exhibited collection, Culturespaces created a racing track called the ‘Autodrome’. The cars were being driven once again, to the delight of the visitors and collectors. The racing track could accommodate 4,500 people in its stands. It extended the Cité de l’Automobile from four to eight hectares and added an open-air theatre to the museum complex.

1999 Culturespaces becomes a delegate