Denis, my eldest son and I had arrived in Munich, Germany, the previous evening from London’s Heathrow, and quite determined to make up lost time experiencing the cuisine at a busy downtown restaurant and then visiting as many car museums as we could in the area, all in a single weekend.
It was always going to be an early start to explore the first of four car museums we were here to savour: one in Munich (BMW), another in nearby Augsburg (Mazda) before heading off to Stuttgart to visit Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
Well, to start the ball rolling, how could a motoring scribbler fail to be impressed by Munich’s finest automobile company – BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) – car and motorcycle products, along with the occasional foray by this German manufacturer who dabbled in aero engines out of necessity; and even building powerboats on occasion.
It might surprise Automotive Refinisher readers that the first vehicle to be produced by BMW was in fact a motorcycle. Currently there are 11 different models manufactured right here in Munich – including racebikes, enduro, touring, urban mobility, sport and roadster models. And every example can be seen in this ‘living museum’. (As enthusiasts may know, the BMW motif, a blue and white roundel, denotes a spinning aircraft propeller) and has been around since 1925 to the present day.
Impressive as the car side of ‘BMW Welt Museum and Group Plant’, to give the museum its proper title (first opened in 1973 before moving to the current site), for me it’s the motorcycle section I had really come to see, having owned many bikes in more than half a century of riding, the last four being Beemers.
First up was a classy R69S; BMW’s superbike the 90S; arguably the greatest touring bike ever made: the R100 series bike, and my current steed garaged in Cape Town, a trusty F650GS dual-purpose bike.
What was a little surprising to me was the public’s support towards motoring museums generally that weekend. All the venues encountered, without exception, were really well supported by enthusiasts and the general public, young and old alike. Sundays are known as family day out over there… get the picture?
Why was this, I wondered, was it perhaps just plain old curiosity of an era gone by or maybe just something to do on a weekend? Nope, I suspect it was all to do with pride in Germany’s automobile heritage (whether two wheels or four). Well, that’s my opinion anyway, and I’m sticking to it!
The standard of the exhibits, whether they were simply crankcases, complete power plants, technical drawings or just beautifully streamlined bodywork (on or off their respective chassis), could all be viewed close up for pictures or scrutiny, without fear of being admonished by bossy security staff!
Suffice to say that Saturday morning in Munich passed by in the blink of an eye. Incidentally, I must say the transport experienced in Germany that weekend (plane/train/taxi or tram) was simply a revelation after having to on occasion risk life and limb riding Cape Town’s rundown trains or the use of life-threatening Hi-Ace taxis – all with little hope of improvement.
By contrast the mainline train station in Munich proved efficient and ultra clean. Waiting at numerous platforms were streamlined and ultra-modern inter-city trains that all appeared to be departing on time to their various destinations.
Language difficulties buying tickets were kept to a minimum via an automatic ticket machine that proved easy to use even for this Luddite. Perhaps not especially cheap, but my son and I were very impressed with a transport system that really does work to everyone’s benefit.
Augsberg and the ‘Frey Mazda’ Museum
Augsburg was the next stopover point, a 40-minute train ride out of Munich Central. The train proved smooth (due to having rubber coated wheels, I believe); the carriage was of the luxurious sort that boasted ‘unripped seats and non-existent graffiti on the walls, doors and ceiling’, something I was definitely not used too! The nearest comparison I can think of in South Africa is the Gautrain out of OR Tambo Airport – and to think, we weren’t even travelling first class that weekend.
Reputed to be the second oldest city in Germany, Augsburg seems to have lots of universities, judging by the amount of students that use bicycles to move around. The railway station car park was full to overflowing. Heading for the Frey Mazda Motor Museum, a 10-minute taxi ride provided a dream come true for this motoring enthusiast.
The owners, the Frey family, still run the Mazda agency and had, of course, amassed pretty much ‘one of everything’ over time that Mazda had been exporting (since the late 1950’s to Europe).
Interestingly, this is the largest private Mazda museum outside of Hiroshima in Japan (and one certainly a lot easier to reach), and by converting a classic-period 500 square metre tram station for the purpose really works well for visitors and enthusiasts alike.
Naturally, lots of space was needed to house all the exhibits, from a motorcycle-powered Type GB three-wheeler pick-up, to a perfect example of a ‘Kei’ (Japanese small city-car vehicle) R360 Coupe with its twin-cylinder 356cc motor – these vehicles were tax exempt in Japan and proved a really successful model for Mazda.
Naturally, rotary-powered vehicles to ‘standard’ propelled ones, form the backbone of the museum. Owning a Mazda MX5 (and the reason for wanting to visit the Frey Museum, I guess) does make me perhaps somewhat biased finding a favourite exhibit that day, but the rarely seen 2007 MX5-based race car will fit very nicely in my garage back in the Mother City, yep, it’s a car that ticked all the right boxes.
Alas, it was getting late and we needed to head back to Augsburg railway station to catch the train onwards to Stuttgart and home to Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. A short wait at the bar at the station definitely has its rewards: “Two of your finest beers, please,” barman.
Stuttgart and the Mercedes-Benz Museum
Completed in 2006 the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart has nine circular floors of motoring nirvana and quite naturally boasts the most exhibits and the biggest floor space of any other automobile museum outside of America. Now that’s style!
Walking around that day it’s a fascinating journey that takes motoring enthusiasts back in time to the dawn of motoring in1886 and see ‘in the metal’ Karl Benz’ patent-motorwagen, widely regarded as the very first petrol-powered vehicle ever made.
Interestingly, the name Daimler-Benz only came about in 1926 – but that’s still 92 years ago. A little-known slogan created around that time for the Mercedes-Benz brand was “The best or Nothing”, copywriting at its very best, I’d say.
Perhaps you may have wondered about that name Mercedes? Well, it’s attributed to an Austrian businessman named Emil Jellinek, who, in 1902, was heavily involved in matters motoring (particularly German-made marques), and, blessed with a daughter christened her Mercedes, a name that struck a chord with the shareholders of Mercedes-Benz.
If you do get the chance to visit this museum be sure to start at the very top of the building on the ninth floor, it’s a lot easier to walk down than up! Every floor houses motoring treasures, from early fire engines to commercial vehicles to one offs and a whole host of wonderful MB products diverse in presentation.
Healthy competition would have provided the MB brand, starting in 1901 in Nice (France) race week, to eventually dominate in the 20’s and 30’s with the legendary Silver Arrows – to winning ways at Le Mans – and the current DTM race series, they’ve won that the most times, too!
Well, if I must choose a favourite exhibit that day it has to be the SLR300 racecar that won the 1955 sports car world championships (complete with its own SL-powered car carrier.
Getting the racer between venues anywhere across Europe would have been achieved in record time – because under the bonnet of the transporter was the identical engine fitted to the racecar!
Coming a close a second would have been the 1938 urban bus and long distance coach seen in the picture alongside, and later converted by the Austrian postal service between Salzburg and Vienna and in use for many years.
- Maybe South African readers may remember the mammoth maroon SAR (South African Railways – not those income tax okies!) and their similar buses that travelled the length and breadth of the country back in the 60’s-70’s and possibly even into the 80’s?
Pole Position at Porscheplatz
We all need our pulse to beat a little faster on occasion – so there’s surely no finer way to do this than visiting the Porsche car museum found at the other end of the city in Zuffenhausen.
Talk about the magic of name – or in Porsche’s case – the numbers 911, in among a whole combination of similar digits with bragging rights as long as your arm.
On June 8th, 2018 Porsche celebrated their 70th anniversary – an amazing milestone, having over 30 000 race victories to its credit – oddly enough deciding to skip Le Mans this year in any official capacity – probably to give the others a chance this time around, I’d venture to say!
At the ‘Porscheplatz’ Museum there’s plenty to see including stunning prototypes, legendary racing machines and even a tractor bearing the eponymous name of Porsche. In fact, in an easily-managed to walk-around area there’s more than 80 vehicles all vying for your attention – what a way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
A little surprisingly the public is again allowed to get close enough to the exhibits to even touch and feel them. Well, maybe not quite … but I must admit to being just a little tempted to climb aboard the diesel-powered, German ‘Vaaljapie’ to see whether it also featured ‘winning edge performance credentials’.
If you are ever planning a visit over here, be sure to arrive early and book a test ride in any one of the half dozen Porsche supercars parked on the museum forecourt. True, there’s a set route to follow, but I’m sure it will include a decent section of dual carriageway (autobahn) to test your reflexes and nerve.
- Again, if like me you enjoy reading about cars of this ilk, be sure to check out the visitor’s shop that boasts a secondhand section of rare books for sale, thankfully in English, and I now have a welcome copy of Osprey’s 1997 Porsche Racing to add to my collection back home in Cape Town.