Behind Closed Doors

A foiled museum visit leaves DTW’s temporary Continental Correspondent in a philosophical frame of mind.

Citromuseum 01

My recent attempt to visit Citromuseum in Castellane in the French Alps was foiled by its rather short opening hours. Arriving in the morning, I found that, except for July and August, it only opens in the afternoon and, unfortunately, by that particular afternoon I needed to be somewhere else.

Personally, I’m not sure how much I missed. With no disrespect to the museum itself, which I believe contains a comprehensive collection of low-mileage Citroens in original condition and is run by an energetic, enthusiastic and good-natured curator, I tend to agree with Richard Herriott, who wrote a piece on this site about car museums early last year.

For me, however good, unless you can touch, sit in and, ultimately, drive the cars, a museum gives you but a superficial overview. Of course that is an impractical desire but, though I can walk round a stately home and resist the temptation to jump on the beds and use the water closet, a visit to a car museum ends up being a tantalisingly frustrating experience for me.

Citromuseum 03

So, in a way, my view over the fence at the large selection of rejects, donors or potential restoration projects that sit out the back, was just as satisfying. Imagining the well-kept examples that I assumed lived inside, behind the museum’s locked doors, I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’. Whilst the protagonist stays endlessly youthful, an oil-painting of him sits in the attic showing all the horrific effects of age and corruption.

The scrapyard is always a salutary reminder of the car’s mortality, as well as an opportunity to take a few arty pictures for your Pinterest page or, even, that proposed coffee table book. Unfortunately the chance to just wander into a big disorganised scrappy and climb around among the wrecks with your toolbox has long disappeared, in the UK at least, as scrap became salvage and health and safety legislation kicked in.

This does give me the idea for a display of individual models, with the near-pristine example placed side-by-side with its decrepit, rusty, scrapyard twin. The images in ‘classic car’ magazines of barn find restorations, where the movie of decay is put into reverse and a rusty wreck becomes pristine again, hold endless fascination for me though, as most anyone who has been involved with a restoration will tell you, it is also a road to endless frustration with details that are never quite right. Even cars can’t deny nature.

Citromuseum 02

Citromuseum website

12 thoughts on “Behind Closed Doors”

  1. Whilst I respect your view and Richard’s regarding car museums, I am resolutely pro-Museum and showroom. I’ve had a chance to ‘meet’ cars I’d never have a chance to see in New Zealand at museums overseas. I didn’t need to drive them any more than I need to pick up a paintbrush or chisel and finish off the exhibits at an art gallery.

    You should call up the Citroen conservatoire – you could look up details of your car in the archives and stroll around the collection. Members of the public can visit now – just call first to arrange a time.

    On junkyards – don’t you have pick a part yards in the UK? I find junkyards morbid but for $2 entry fee I could go in with tools and strip the remains of a dead car to my heart’s content, with a provided pricelist to keep my scavenging within budget.

    1. Mark. I certainly don’t think that people who enjoy museums are wrong. It’s a personal thing with me – maybe it suggests a lack of imagination on my part, an inability to picture the car beyond the piece of metal standing in front of me.

      Yes, the Conservatoire and other museums that have prototypes on display do have more appeal. And, as with my visit to Turin, I’ll admit that viewing a car that you don’t normally see in three dimensions is a step up from looking at flat photos in books and magazines. But, generally, when I come across such cars I’m underwhelmed. Possibly more imaginative presentation (say accompanying with video footage of archive film and/or that particular car being driven) would satisfy my curiosity better.

      You might still be able to find a pick a part junkyard in the UK backwoods, but generally they seem to have been legislated out of existence. Years ago I went looking for a rear axle for a Bedford van. Once I’d located it the owner came over, clamped the roof of the van in his crane, lifted it off the pile, walked underneath with an acetylene torch, cut through the leaf springs, let the axle fall to the ground, pocketed my £5 and left me to drag it away. Callow youth that I still was, I felt I’d had a small introduction to the world of manliness.

    2. That’s fair enough – I just felt the need to leap to the defence of museums, if anything because I’ve invested in visiting so many of them over the years. Perhaps what is needed is a motoring museum by a test track where the cars are regularly exercised, much as there are aviation museums based at airfields like IWM Duxford. Likelihood of being able to drive one of the exhibits remains as likely as being able to take a museum warbird for a solo flight – but passenger rides might be possible.

  2. Museums are adequate but seldom satisfying. It can better to see a car on a plinth than not at all. The collections are never curated to my taste or to a more objectively satisfactory standard (my museum would have strange choices and huge omissions). That said, I’d have given the museum in this article a look.

  3. I happen to have visited this museum a couple of years ago. I can tell it is worth paying a visit: with each of the cars, there is a sign (or a folder I don’t remember completely) with its story; who owned it, where did they find it, why was it never used… Most of these stories were amusing and remarkable.

    About car museums in general. I’ve visited many and there are two that I really enjoyed.
    The one on top of my list is the Peugeot museum. It is full of character! Very hard to explain.
    The complete opposite of the German approach.

    The renovated Alfa-Romeo museum is a close second. Probably one of the most beautiful collections, displayed with perfect lighting. You think you will spend 2 hours, but you end up spending 6.

    For a general overview, I think the Louwman museum in Holland is one of most interesting collections to visit.

    If you everhappen to be in Turin, the large car museum here also has a nice collection. But make sure not to miss the small Fiat museum, open only on sunday.

    To end with, the best ‘experience’ you can find in Goodwood every year. But it requires substantial financial effort to go there.

    1. Your Reader … Thanks for that. Being honest, I was using my (non) visit to Citromuseum to make a general comment about car museums. I was actually a bit disappointed not to get in and, from what I’ve read since, it does sound as though it’s run by a true enthusiast with a bit of imagination.

      Your own ‘local’ museum I visited soon after it re-opened. It is certainly worth a visit though, for me, it demonstrates the good and the bad of car museums – the Fiat 500 display that was in place when I visited was particularly crass.

      Louwman is one of the museums that I have thought would be worth visiting.

      I must admit that, much as I admire Peugeot’s history (if not present), I probably assumed their museum would be a bit commonplace. Apparently not. Next time I’m near, I’ll try to take your recommendation.

      As you suggest, Goodwood, where you can see and hear them run, is more my idea of an ideal ‘museum’.

    2. That’s a good short-list. I really ought to see the Alfa museum. Did they include the also-rans like the 90 and Arna? It might be expecting too much but a really nice thing would be for a firm to acknowledge their never-greens as well as the ever-greens.

    3. No 90 or Arna in the Alfa museum… fortunately.

      Also, nice to know: appartently the classic car club here in Turin has apparently acquired the remainings of the Bertone collection (many cars, but not including the Stratos Zero and some other important cars that were allready auctioned some years ago). Maybe we’ll get another museum here. Not to mention the Lancia collection that is sitting in an airconditioned building somewhere.

    1. I went to the Peugeot museum in 2010. Whilst I won’t presume to know Your Reader from Torino’s specific reasons for ranking it so highly I can reflect on my own experience and I certainly agree it was full of character (in a good way) and made a contrast with the big German manufacturer museums. I can’t decide on a best museum, they’ve all yielded good stories to tell or had at least one exhibit that made the visit worthwhile.

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