Cité de l’Automobile ( Musée national de l’automobile - Collection Schlumpf )

Cité de l’Automobile ( Musée national de l’automobile - Collection Schlumpf )

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Cité de l’Automobile, Musée national de l’automobile, Collection Schlumpf is located in Mulhouse, France and houses the Schlumpf Collection of classic automobiles. It contains the largest and most comprehensive collection of Bugatti motor vehicles in the world.

Brothers Hans and Fritz Schlumpf were Swiss citizens born in Italy, but after their mother Jeanne was widowed, she moved the family to her home town of Mulhouse in Alsace, France. The two brothers, who were later described as having a "Schlumpf obsession", were devoted to their mother.

In 1935 the Schlumpf brothers founded a limited company which focused on producing spun woollen products. By 1940, at the time of the Nazi invasion of France, 34 year old Fritz was the chairman of a spinning mill in Malmerspach. After World War II, the two brothers devoted their time to obsessively growing their business, and became quite wealthy.

Fritz loved cars, driven by an abiding love for beautiful automotive engineering. Having wanted a Bugatti since childhood, he bought a Bugatti Type 35B just before the Nazi invasion of France.
After the war he began racing classic cars, but was requested by the textile union to "abstain from this competition which could endanger your life and deprive us of our esteemed director." Schlumpf had been generous to his workers, providing employee trips, installing an employee theater and driving expectant mothers to the hospital in his own car. This was in great contrast to brother Hans, a former banker, who paid the mill workers poorly, docked fifteen minutes off their pay if they were late or signed out a minute or two early, and did not pay bonuses or increments.
With post-war modern 1950's car designs coming on stream, people wanted to exchange their classic 1920's through 1930's cars in for new models. Fritz and Hans began collecting in earnest in the early 1950s, developing a reputation in the trade for only buying the most desirable models. Assisted by Mr. Raffaelli, a Renault dealer from Marseilles and the owner of several Bugattis, they built a Bugatti collection obsessively and quickly:

- During the summer of 1960, they acquired ten Bugattis, including two Type 57s and one Type 46 5-liter model. In addition the pair found three Rolls-Royces, two Hispano Suizas and one Tatra. By the end of the summer, they had purchased a total of 40 cars
- Gordini sold them ten old racing cars in one sale
- Ferrari sold a racing single seater
- Mercedes-Benz sold spare cars from its collection
- Racing driver Jo Siffert sold three Lotus racing cars

While an enormous variety of marques is represented in the collection, it is now clear that the primary focus of the Schlumpf brothers was Bugatti. Fritz sent a form letter to all Bugatti owners on the club register, offering to buy all of their cars. In 1962 he bought nearly 50 Bugattis. In the spring of 1963, he acquired 18 of Ettore Bugatti's personal cars, including the Bugatti Royale Coupé Napoléon. In 1963 collector John Shakespeare of Centralia, Illinois, (oil developer, and heir to the Shakespeare fishing reel fortune), offered his collection of 30 Bugattis (then the largest collection in the US), and Fritz bought all of them. They were shipped from Hoffman, Illinois by the Southern Railroad to New Orleans, then by freighter to Le Havre, making headlines in the US. By 1967 an inventory showed 105 Bugattis in the brothers Schlumpf collection.

Over the years nearly 400 items (vehicles, chassis and engines) were acquired, and from 1964 as the woollen industry started to downturn, a wing of the former 200,000 sq ft (19,000 m2) Mulhouse spinning mill was chosen to quietly restore and house the collection.

A team of up to 40 carpenters, saddlers, and master mechanics were assembled to carry out the restoration work, who under a confidentiality agreement kept their work and the scale of the collection a secret - a singlemindedness often referred to as "The Schlumpf Obsession." Many, including members of Bugatti clubs around the world, knew of the collection. The scale of the enterprise surprised almost everybody.

Fritz visited Mulhouse daily, choosing the colors and type of restoration each car would receive. The workers removed the mill's interior walls and laid a red tile walkway with gravel floors for the cars to rest upon. The brothers Schlumpf remained very secretive about their car collection, only rarely showing it to a favored few.
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