Le Mans, France, June 20, 2001
Until 1991 the Le Mans museum was housed in what was basically a warehouse
within the confines of the racing circuit, with the exhibits displayed in uninspiring
rows behind rope barriers. This all changed in that year, with the opening of a new
purpose built museum building adjacent to the main entrance to the circuit. The
architectural design of the structure is intended to convey a sense of speed and
motion, and the project was a joint venture between the regional council and the
Automobile Club de l'Ouest, organisers of the world famous 24 Hour Race. Apart
from the museum halls there is also a separate conference hall, a restaurant with a
panoramic view over part of the circuit, an 80 seater cinema, and administration
offices, all under the direction of Francis Piquera, the Executive Manager.
The high ceilinged mainly glass walled entrance foyer and assembly area are a
stark contrast to the museum halls, which are dimly lit and devoid of natural light, the
exhibits being picked out by carefully located spotlamps, so that the view is
concentrated on them rather than any peripheral trappings. Around the perimeter
walls are inset illuminated display cabinets containing a wide variety of memorabilia
and models, relative to the both the history of the automobile, and the Le Mans race,
which obviously is an important part of the museum displays. The total floor display
area is over 5000 square metres, and contains 120 vehicles, including 10
motorcycles and 30 historic racing cars, of which 11 are actual winners of the 24
Hour Race. Other features are educational working models to show how various
parts of a car work, constant video screen footage of important phases in the
development of automobile technology, and a glass walled museum workshop,
where visitors can see exhibits being prepared or repaired by the museums
The range of vehicles on display is very broad, the earliest being an 1885 De Dion
Bouton et Trepardoux prototype steam driven dog cart, with an armada of French
cars (understandably) of all ages from the invention of the automobile up to the
present day, some interesting examples of the American automobile art form, like a
1957 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado Brougham, quite a mouthful of a model name, a
Ford Thunderbird from the same era, plus the original Ferrari Dino 206 GT
prototype, and examples of many European manufacturers products over the years.
A number of these general displays tend to be a little overcrowded, so that it is
difficult to objectively view one car, as invariably another impinges on your view.
However, more space is afforded to each of the racing exhibits, and this shows
where the love of the museum lies.
A number of cars over the years have been specifically designed for the Le Mans
race, starting with the 1925 Chenard & Walcker Tank Competition, an example of
which is on display, they are often rarely seen in public elsewhere, even during their
competition lifespan. Thus a visit to the Le Mans museum provides one with the
opportunity to see some of these rare birds, like the 1974 Matra 670B, the 1983
Rondeau M 482, the 1998 Jaguar XJR9, the Mazda 787 B, the four rotor Wankel
engined car that won in 1991, and the 1992 winning Peugeot 905 B. There are also
examples of better known cars like the Ferrari 166 MM barchetta from 1949, the
1956 Lotus XI, the 1964 Porsche 904 GTS, the mid sixties Ford GT40, and the all
conquering Porsche 917 from the early seventies. The majority of the cars in the
museum are on loan from the collection of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, or from
those of private individuals, so there is always the possibility that there is a change
of vehicles on view at any one time.
The foyer contains a boutique and bookshop with a wide range of items on offer,
many of which are specifically made for the museum, and cannot be obtained
elsewhere, including specially commissioned postcards, prints, posters, small
souvenir items like pens and keyrings, and a range of leisure wear.
If you are at Le Mans for the race, or passing through on holiday, then you will find
the museum a very interesting diversion, at a very reasonable price. Incidentally, on
race weekend holders of race tickets receive a reduction in the entry ticket price, so
remember to take them with you.
How to find it
Situated adjacent to the main entrance to the Le Mans race circuit in Place Luigi
Chinetti, south of the town of Le Mans, signposted from the town, close to the N23
road to Angers, and N138 road to Tours.
The museum is about 5 miles from Le Mans centre, 50 miles from Tours, and 125
miles from Paris.