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MAUTO - The Italian National Motor Museum
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Click here to save all images   MAUTO - The Italian National Motor Museum
Last July one of the oldest museums dedicated to motor vehicles only, celebrated its 90th anniversary. The museum was the fruit of the work of Senator Roberto Biscaretti di Ruffa, together with his son Carlo and Cesare Goria Gatti, who founded the Automobile Club Torino, and in 1899 they put their mark on the global car industry by putting Fiat on the map.

It was Carlo Biscaretti who became the first Coordinator of the activities after the city of Turin had approved the foundation of the museum, which effectively opened to the public in July 1939. At that time the museum had just over 180 exhibits and was located in the Municipal Stadium.

That the idea for a museum was conceived in Turin, was no coincidence. The capital of the Piemonte providence had always been at the forefront of industrial developments and with the introduction of the motor vehicle the city rapidly adopted the new opportunities By 1899 there were four car makers, a number that had risen to 23 by 1907, roughly 40% of all companies throughout Italy. In total 48 different companies were operating between 1899 and 1911, although many were rather short living. Only Fiat is currently still producing cars there.

Nevertheless, with so many factories around a rather varied collection of cars could be established. When the foundation of the museum started its activities, Biscaretti starting approaching friends and potential donors and went as far as putting calls in newspapers asking whether people would be willing to donate their ageing cars to the new museum. This was obviously successful, as the collection still contains quite a lot of Edwardian vehicles. Also donation became one of the mainstays of the museum, during our visit we were told that over its existence, the museum actually bought only three cars.

Over the years there were ups and downs and reading its history in the catalogue is a continuous encounter with famous names in Italian automotive history. In the late fifties work started on the construction of the current premises, which were opened in November 1960. Carlo Biscaretti passed away in 1959 so he was unable to see the results of his relentless efforts to get a dedicated museum for what many people now still consider to be the Biscaretti collection.

While the collection contained many of the famous cars that are still there, the exhibition facilities proved to be less and less up-to-date. In 2007 the museum closed for four years, and only reopened in 2011, completely refurbished and now meeting the requirements of modern museum lay-out.

In 2019 one of the most poignant features was introduced, with the showing of Biscaretti’s office and his personal appearance as a hologram, to welcome the visitors.

Apart from the permanent collection, of which several exhibits are regularly shown at other important events (Retromobile, Chantilly Arts & Elegance and Goodwood Festival of Speed) there are also special exhibitions in the vast lower spaces of the museum. When we visited the museum in late March we first stumbled on the special exhibition of WRC cars, sponsored by the Gino Macaluso Foundation, which comprised several of the cars that Gino had collected over the years and where he had been involved in either as a co-pilot or the team leader. Then there was a small presentation dedicated to the ISO brand, where apart from the better known V8 powered high end sports cars, also an example of the original Isetta and some motorcycles and even a snow scooter were presented.

The Museum Collection
The route through the museum is clearly laid out and starts with the earliest cars, dating from the 19th century, with one of the highlights being a 1899 Prinetti & Stucchi, 500 cc 4HP model, fitted with two coupled single cylinder engines and belt driven. This car is one of the very few bought by the Museum. The company stopped in 1902, partly because Mr. Prinetti was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. There are several more of these typical cars also from the early 20th century, several Fiats, a 10 HP Florentia, but also an Oldsmobile Curved Dash, considered to be the first mass-produced car in the world.

Carlo Biscaretti always had a great interest in motor sport, and one of the star of the collection is the Fiat 130 HP from 1907, with which Felipe Nazzaro won the French GP in Dieppe. Fiat bought the car back in the 1950s, after it had been discovered in France. It was subsequently donated to the museum. It was restored to its former glory during three years from 2019-2021, and was proudly shown at the Chantilly Concours of 2022.

Another gem is the Itala 35/45 HP, that won the 1907 Peking to Paris race. Itala donated the car to the museum in 1933, and it was stored during the eighties, and since then it has covered the same route twice once more.

Moving on a little we had to stop at one of the greatest break throughs in automotive history, the Lancia Lambda, the first ever car built with a unitary chassis. The museum has a cut through example of the car, hanging on its side, allowing to see exactly how different the construction actually was.

Historically important is the Maserati 26B, donated by Alfieri Maserati in 1933, and considered by the Maserati Brothers as the first car built in their own workshop. The 26B came third in the 1927 Targa Florio, and won the Italian championship for constructors in 1928.

One of the jewels in the crown is the 1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300, with a body by Touring, that was famous for having been fitted during WW II with a gasification system fuelled by wood, often done in times of fuel shortages, but perhaps not on many 8C 2300s. Apparently the wood installation was scrapped in the early sixties, but the car is still there, donated by Alfa Romeo.

As can be expected, the museum has two examples of the Cisitalia 202, a coupe and a Nuvolari Spider, and several other highlights from the early fifties, such as the Ferrari 500 F2, the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante and the sole remaining Lancia D24. Also the famous Fiat Turbina is there, with the engine displayed next to car.

Two F1 single seaters from the 50s alone are also worth a visit to the museum. First there is a Mercedes W196R, donated by Mercedes to the museum in 1957, shortly after Mercedes had decided to withdraw from motorsport, following the catastrophic 1955 Le Mans race. It would have been interesting to see how it would have fared against the Lancia D50, which was allegedly the only car that Mercedes was afraid of. Unfortunately the underfunded Lancia efforts never came to full fruition, and the only remaining original example can be seen here.

Most of the post-War competition cars are displayed on a banked track, with boxes on the opposing side that highlight extra special cars.

At the end of our tour we got permission to visit the basement, where the workshop is located as well as a large collection of cars that are either being stored there on a more or less permanent basis, or just temporary, because their space in the museum was needed for other purposes. The museum also has a large collection of models, and when we were there, the team was busy cataloguing a gift of over 4000 models in all possible scales, photographing and documenting each individual model. Surely they will find their way to the museum sooner or later.

Concluding we can say that when in the neighbourhood of Turin, a visit to MAUTO is very much worth it, not only because of the cars described here, but also because of the many automobilia and artefacts that are available, too much to actually photograph, but we think that our 70-shot gallery will give a good impression of what awaits you.

Report and images by Pieter Melissen for Ultimatecarpage.com.