Last-century mechanical civilisation is concentrated in Marxzell’s eclectic collection. Leave no corner undiscovered.
Although car museums are closing all over the world, there are still plenty to be seen and even a few new ones opening. They vary from custom buildings full of desirable vehicles to cold, damp sheds full of as-found cars, along with all sorts of bits and pieces, or automobilia as we enthusiasts call it.
Just when you thought you had seen everything, there’s always the Marxzell Vehicle Museum, Marxzell, Germany. About an hour from the bright, shiny new Porsche Museum, near Karlsruhe in the Black Forest, lies the small town of Marxzell, the home of one of the strangest motor vehicle museums you will ever find. The car park is opposite, with a MiG fighter aeroplane on a shed roof and a Trabant permanently parked. Across the road is the German equivalent of the Beaulieu National Motor Museum and its autojumble combined, mixed, shrunk and crammed into an old saw mill.
The museum was started by Bernhard Reichart. He died before it was opened but, thankfully, his family shared his enthusiasm and brought Bernhard’s vision to fruition.
The entrance is past a couple of trams, a flock of geese and some tractors, just beyond a strange Mowag armoured car. Keep an eye open for the radial aero engines along the mill wall. Once inside, you are immediately swamped with cars (about 140), motorcycles (about 170), cycles, tractors (23), fire-trucks (16) and even a Fire Department helicopter. Now stand and wonder how anyone made this head-count in such chaos.
Look further and a semblance of order appears, with, for instance, a Mercedes-Benz hall, the noses of many models hanging from the walls. There are also large collections of Opels and BMWs. Did you know that Mercedes-Benz made typewriters? Or that gun-maker Mauser made cars? Examples of both are here. And if you’re a fan of Adler, Borgward, Fulda, Hanomag, Maico, Villard or Zundapp, this is the place for you.
There is plenty for enthusiasts of American autos, too: Model A and T Fords (Germans called the ‘Tin Lizzie’ the ‘Tin Donkey’), 1949 Plymouth Coupe, Ford Thunderbird, Tri-Chevy, Chevrolet Corvette and Studebaker.
Surprises abound, from rows of old pedal cars on the backs of trucks to creepy mannequins peering at you from the shadows. If motorcycles are your thing, there are rows and rows of them, some immaculate, but most in as-found condition, which suits them well. There are myriad makers that non-aficionados have never heard of, and the smell of oil and old leather is wonderful. Of particular interest is the Megola motorcycle, with a five-cylinder radial engine inside the front wheel. Those motorcycle manufacturers tried everything, in many different ways. There is even a motorcycle with the sidecar in the front.
Downstairs, in the cold basement, are French cars of all kinds, including a couple of Citroën Kegresse half-tracks, Citroën saloons and a fine old Renault police car, with more old car noses hanging on the walls. Some of them are in pristine condition, perhaps the remains of ‘rear-enders’.
There is more than just auto-related material at Marxzell. There are musical instruments, stuffed animals, costumes, furniture, office equipment and much more, including numerous model cars and aircraft and diverse advertising signs. Clearly, Herr Reichart never threw anything away.
As my group was leaving, Hubert Reichart beckoned us behind his desk into a small cinema, where he cranked up an elderly film projector and showed us part of a hilarious WC Fields film, in which the actor was involved in all sorts of automotive difficulties as he raced to hospital. Then, the owner sat at an auto-player piano that gave renditions of Deutschland Uber Alles and God Save The Queen. Unforgettable.
A tip: take a torch. There are some dark corners here and you never know what you might find in the shadows.
Words and photography: Barry Wiseman