Cité De L'Automobile - History - Obsessive Secrecy

Obsessive Secrecy

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.

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