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Caramulo, Portugal, 30 November, 2002

In The Beginning
The town of Caramulo is situated high in the hills at the southern end of the Caramulo mountain range in central Portugal, from which it takes its name. A strange place to find a motor museum perhaps, but there it is! But how did it get there?

Prior to 1920 the town of Caramulo didn’t even exist, but came into being through the dream of Dr Jeronimo Lacerda, who established a tuberculosis sanatorium in the location where the town now sits, which was to become the largest and most successful sanatorium, not just in Portugal, but in the whole Iberian peninsular. The infrastructure to support the sanatorium evolved into the town, and with it came new technology as it developed. By 1938 all the houses had running water, there was a proper sewer system with a treatment plant, and it even had its own hydro-electric power station, all things that we take for granted today, but quite futuristic for a small town in the hills nearly seventy five years ago.

Dr Lacerda had two sons, Abel and Joao, the former became an economist and the latter a doctor, who were both born in the town. After there father died in 1945, and with the advent of new antibiotics that all but eradicated the disease during the fifties, the sanatorium from which the town had evolved was virtually redundant. However, they loved their town and the way of life there, so decided that to maintain its stability something needed to be done to support its economy.

In the mid-fifties they converted some of the facilities to provide accommodation and to encourage ”altitude tourism”. However, the main priority was to dissociate the name of Caramulo from tuberculosis. The elder son, Abel, aided by many national and foreign collectors decided to open a museum of art in a purpose designed building, which only took four years from inception to completion. Unfortunately he died in 1957, two years before his vision was inaugurated. His brother Joao saw the project through to fruition, and as there was some free space in the museum, decided to exhibit some of his personal collection of classic cars. Thus in 1959 Portugal had its first car museum, one of only around ten in Europe at that time.

From Little Acorns……
As the saying goes ”From Little Acorns Mighty Oaks Grow” and this was the case with the museum, it proved so popular over the ensuing years, particularly the automobile display, that he decided to open a new building specifically as a motor museum. This annexe is just across the road to the original building and was inaugurated in September 1970, with one of the guests of honour being Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, whose motor museum is world famous in its own right.

One of the premises of the collection was that all vehicles should be kept in good running order, and be regularly exercised so that they weren’t just static showpieces falling into disrepair. This philosophy continues to this day, and vehicles from the collection are frequently to be seen on international classic car rallies and other events, ranging from the annual London – Brighton veteran car run to the gruelling Rallye de Maroc.

The path of time has not always provided a smooth passage for the museum, but it has won through the adversity, and survives and thrives today. The military coup, that overthrew the right wing dictatorship government in April 1974, was the first of the problems to afflict the museum foundation. Collector friends who had loaned their cars for display withdrew them, as they thought that valuable classic cars would be viewed as capitalist decadence under the left wing military regime. However, towards the end of the decade, as life in Portugal slowly returned to normal with an elected government, the collection was gradually rebuilt.

A new crisis loomed in 1983 when the local council, who owned the shell of the building, wanted to depose the founder, who immediately removed his collection from the premises, as did his friends who had loaned cars, thus the council was left with an empty building, and obviously suffered from the drop in the number of visitors to the town, as Joao Lacerda had closed the art museum, because of the hostile attitude of the council. The council tried to save the situation by handing the motor museum building over to the Portuguese Classic Car Club, but despite extensive local government support over a five year period, they were unable to make it a success. In 1988 the newly formed Regional Tourist Commission opened negotiations with the Abel Lacerda Foundation to seek a resolution. This was achieved, the art museum re-opened with the cream of the car collection displayed on the ground floor, and after a year to restore the ravages of the five year ”occupation” the motor museum re-opened in August 1989.

With equilibrium restored and the Lacerda family cars forming the nucleus of the display, the collectors once again felt comfortable about loaning their cars for display. Thus today it has a well established international reputation, and receives in the order of forty thousand visitors a year. Quite an amazing figure for such a remote location, some distance from major towns and rail connections.

What’s On Offer?
The art museum building still houses what they consider to be the cream of the collection on the ground floor, where there is also a boutique, selling souvenirs relative to both the art and motor aspects of the museum, incorporating a refreshment bar. At the entrance to the museum gallery there is a 1946 statue of the ”Virgin of Fatima” with subtle backlighting, which lends an air of serenity, almost as if one were about to enter a temple. In a way you are, one that is dedicated to the automobile in its many forms. Entering the U shaped gallery that forms the ground floor display area the first vehicle on display is a beautifully crafted replica of an 1886 Benz, the first petrol driven automobile, although there is some dispute from French historians on this point. The display also includes a superb 1924 Hispano Suiza with coachwork by Kellener of Paris, but it is when you turn the bend in the U to reach the second alley of the gallery that you see the real gems, a line-up of six Bugattis including Types 35A and 35B, together with a Type 52 child’s car, made with as much artistry and loving care as its full size relatives. Before leaving the building to cross the road to the second building, it is worth a visit to the first floor art gallery, where you will find an eclectic range of paintings, sculpture, furniture and other artefacts.

The second building houses the bulk of the motoring exhibits on two levels, the upper level being a gallery covering half the floor space of the lower level, so that many exhibits can be viewed from above. At the base of the stairway to the upper level is an interesting display of three camshafts from different periods and different capacity engines. The one from the 1914 Model ”T” Ford weighs in at a modest 7.5kg, compared to the 1924 Hispano Suiza at a massive 47.5kg, with the 1950 Ferrari one being the middleweight at 18.5kg. An interesting feature is that all the balustrade supports are made out of camshafts and crankshafts. On the upper level can be found the smaller cars in the collection, like an MG TC roadster, and also a collection of motorcycles ranging from pre-war Harley Davidson to fifties BSA.

The car exhibits are very diverse both in type and age, and some have some interesting histories. An example is the 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III that was used by Queen Elisabeth II in 1957, by General Eisenhower in 1960, by Pope Paul VI in 1967 and Pope John Paul II in 1982, an illustrious list of passengers! Another is a rare bullet-proof 1937 Mercedes Benz W-07 Pullman Limousine that was built for Portuguese President Oliviera Salazar. Then there are the more modern sporting orientated models, like the Ford Mustang GT 350, the Lamborghinis in the form of Miura SV and Countach LP 400S, with Ferrari represented by an F40, chassis # 85251, and an elegant duo-tone blue and grey 195 Inter Vignale Coupe, chassis # 0103S.

40,000 visitors a year can’t be wrong, so if you are in the region a visit would be well worthwhile.

General Information

From the main Lisbon to Porto A1 motorway, coming from the north take the IP5 road east in the direction of Viseu, from where Caramulo is signposted, and lies about 25 km south of the junction. From the south on the A1 motorway take the exit for the IP3 east in the direction of Tondela. From Tondela follow the signs north-west to Caramulo.

Opening Times


10.00 – 13.00 & 14.00 - 18.00


10.00 – 13.00 & 14.00 - 17.00

Open 365 Days a Year.

Admission Prices 2002


6 Euros

Child under 6


Child 6 – 12

3 Euros

Senior Citizen

4 Euros

Groups 15+

4 Euros


Keith Bluemel

1924 Kellener bodied Hispano Suiza
1930 Bugatti Type 35B
1936 Bugatti Type 57
1938 Bugatti Type 57C
Ferrari 195 Inter Vignale Coupe s/n 0103S
Ferrari 195 Inter Vignale Coupe s/n 0103S
Ferrari 195 Inter Vignale Coupe s/n 0103S
Ford Mustang GT 350
Lamborghini Miura SV
Part of display including Lamborghini Countach & Miura
Replica of 1886 Benz
1955 Alfa Romeo 1900cc Super Sprint
1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III
Created with StudioLine

Museu Do Caramulo

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