National Automobile Museum, Turin, Italy (Where Gumbo was #327)

 

This week Gumbo spent some enjoyable hours at MAUTO, the National Automobile Museum of Turin. Congratulations to George G, Michael Fong II and PortMoresby, who correctly identified where we were.

Originally established in 1932, the museum was given a large purpose-built home on the banks of the river Po in 1960. It underwent extensive renovations in 2011 and the result has a very contemporary feel. Over three large floors of exhibition space the museum takes the visitor through the evolution of the motor car and various aspects of vehicle technology and design. There are nearly 200 vehicles on display, involving around 80 different marques.

The exhibits and the different themes are generally very well thought out. One niggle is that, unfortunately, the lighting often leaves something to be desired – in a few places you get the feeling that the set designers got carried away with their own ideas and lost sight of the actual purpose of the installation. 

This was not an issue with the nicely displayed Fiat 130HP in the photo at the top. It is one of the key exhibits. Its powerful 16 litre (!) engine enabled it to win the 1907 French Grand Prix as well as several other races of that year.

The steam-powered three-wheeler shown below is another of the museum's historical treasures. It dates from 1891 and was built by the Lombard inventor Enrico Pecori.

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The exhibits include several other vehicles from the last decade of the 19th century. 

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The one pictured below is an 1899 B1, built by the French company Panhard & Levassor – which, according to the information board next to it, is France's oldest marque. It has a Daimler engine under the bonnet.

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Walking along the corridor, you move forward into the 20th century. The vehicle in the next shot is another French one, a (single-cylinder) 1907 8HP manufactured by the firm Sizaire & Naudin. 

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These two are Italian and both date from 1908. The one on the left is a Brixia Züst 10HP and the one on the right a Legnano A 6/8HP – apparently the only model which the company (FIAL) ever produced.

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The early part of the 20th century saw many new ideas being tried out and also the emergence of luxury vehicles. The one at the front of the photo below is an example: a large Itala 35/45HP from 1909.

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This Isotta Fraschini (an AN 20/30HP) from the same year is equally luxurious. Its last owner, and quite possibly also the first, was a woman whose driving licence is displayed on the side of the vehicle.

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Under the bonnet of this STAE from 1909 is a large battery – it is an electric car. Surprisingly perhaps, it is supposed to have had a range of 80 to 90 km on a single charge. (If you are interested in the history of electric cars, you may find the following website useful: https://cleantechnica.com/2015...lectric-car-history/ .)

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Whilst the STAE was produced in Italy – the 'T' in the name stands for Turin – we are back to French cars with the bright yellow 1911 Bedelia below. As you can see, this involved a 'back seat driver' in the true sense: the passenger sat at the front.

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Just around the corner you find this magnificent Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost from 1914.

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Of course, a museum of this type also needs a Ford Model T (ideally a black one). This one dates from 1916. Some 16 million Model Ts were produced in total and by 1918 they apparently accounted for half the cars in the United States.

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The Citroën company was founded in 1919. This C3-5CV was produced three years later.

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In contrast to Citroën, FOD is a company you might not have heard of. It was founded in Turin at around the same time, but ceased trading in 1927. Its vehicles made extensive use of aluminium, not only in the chassis but also in many other components. The blue 18 horsepower model pictured below dates from 1926.

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The two cars in the next shot are from the same era: a 1926 SCAT-Ceirano 150S (on the left) and a 1929 Fiat 509A. The latter apparently had done 200,000 km before ending up in the museum (in 1956).

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One of the most famous cars in the collection probably is this beautiful Isotta Fraschini 8A from 1929. It was used in the film 'Sunset Boulevard', which starred Gloria Swanson in the role of 'Norma Desmond'. The initials ND are painted on the rear doors.

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As the side view shows, the car has a very long front section. It is powered by a 7.3 litre straight-eight engine and in another part of the museum you can see why this engine requires such a long bonnet.

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The 1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 below also has an engine of this type, albeit of a considerably smaller capacity. As the sign behind it proclaims, it looks very elegant indeed.

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Elegance is also an attribute most people would probably ascribe to the Citroën 11CV, which is familiar to cinema fans from various gangster movies. The one shown in the next shot dates from 1934, the year in which production of this model started. (The car on the left is a Fiat 508 from 1932.)

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In addition to the Model T Ford, which has already been mentioned, the museum's collection includes a number of other American cars.

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This 1931 Cord L-29 is a particularly good-looking example. Unfortunately, the company lasted only 8 years: having been founded in 1929, it went bankrupt in 1937.

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By the mid-1930s the styling of cars had changed considerably, as this 1936 Buick 41C Special illustrates.

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Both the Cord and the Buick had straight-eight engines, as did this handsome Packard Super-Eight 1501 from 1937.

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This Series 62 Cadillac from 1947 was powered by the first mass-produced V8 engine. It has an overall length of 5.57m and weighs over 2 tonnes.

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Cars produced in Europe, especially after the war, were generally much smaller and new factors entered into the designers' thinking. This is a 1948 Lancia Aprilia. The model was famous for its low drag coefficient.

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Various exhibits at MAUTO underline the post-war European trend towards frugality, as illustrated in the next few shots. The first shows a 1956 Fiat 600 Multipla ...

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…  followed by two Fiats and a Vespa (in the middle) from the 1950s and 60s ...

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… a 1952 Volkswagen Beetle (note the split rear window)  ...

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… and finally a BMW Isetta from 1962.

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The technology-oriented sections of the museum provide interesting insights into, for instance, changes in wheel design and materials as well as chassis and engine design. There are also exhibits dealing with specific technological innovations, such as those associated with the Citroën DS. It introduced disc brakes to the mass market and its hydropneumatic suspension provided for a far smoother ride than any of its competitors could offer.

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The rather mundane-looking car below is a 1966 NSU RO80. It features a technological innovation of a different kind: the Wankel engine (named after Felix Wankel, who patented the design in 1929). This is a pistonless rotary engine, which has a comparatively high power-to-weight ratio and runs more smoothly than conventional piston engines. However, its high fuel consumption and poor emissions profile meant that the concept never really took off. 

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As you would expect – we are in Italy after all – MAUTO has large sections devoted to motor racing and sports cars.

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Below are a few additional examples of the exhibits which fall under this theme. The first is a Mercedes W196 from the mid-fifties. They were referred to as Silver Arrows (a name originally coined in connection with the Mercedes racing cars of the 1930s).

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The next shot shows a sleek 1948 Cisitalia 202.

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The red-and-white vehicle below is a 1954 Fiat Turbina, a gas-turbine powered concept car.

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This 1952 Alfa Romeo Disco Volante looks even more intriguing – the Italian name translates as 'Flying Saucer'. Sadly, only a few were ever produced.

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There are many more design studies and concept cars on the ground floor of the museum.

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There is also an interesting section there dealing with wood as a material for vehicle bodywork. However, the stars of MAUTO's show are undoubtedly the magnificent beasts of days gone by – like this Mercedes 540K from 1936.

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To get to MAUTO from the centre of Turin, take the Metro to Lingotto (the terminus, and incidentally the site of the former Fiat factory). From there it is an easy 10 minute walk to the museum.

The museum's website is:

http://www.museoauto.it/website/en/

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