The collection displayed in the Cite de l’Automobile now belongs to the French nation and is regard as being to motorcars what the Louvre is to art. It has curious origins.
The Swiss brothers Hans (1904-89) and Fritz (1906-92) Schlumpf ran a textile concern in Mulhouse that prospered in the decades after the Second World War. They began to collect Bugatti cars, with the original intention of obtaining one example of every model of that marque, but their collection became an obsession. They purchased many cars and spares when the Bugatti company was sold in 1963 to Hispano Suiza, and through an agent persuaded many Bugatti owners to sell them their cars. The collection was displayed, with elaborate lighting and on carpeted floors, in a part of the factory from which employees were excluded.
Labour unrest in the 1970s culminated in a sit-in by the workers in 1977 that led to the flight of the brothers to their native Switzerland. There was much anger at the discovery of the collection that had consumed much of the capital that might have been invested in the factory.
After many legal vicissitudes the collection passed into new management in 1999. Some 400 cars are displayed in the former Schlumpf factory, with about 120 held in reserve. The collection is dominated by the products of the company founded by Ettore Bugatti (1881-1947) who was born in Italy but had his manufacturing plant in Alsace, at Molsheim 20 km west of Strasburg.