As passionate fans of car art, we enjoy visiting (or at least planning to visit) the world`s best car museums. These are places that feature iconic and timeless automotive designs. So here are the fifteen best independent car museums located on five different continents. Independent here stands for museums that are not dedicated or run by a particular automotive brand.
Mullin Museum // California
This is the American home of the French Art Deco. The founder of the museum is Peter W. Mullin. The American businessman and philanthropist believes that French automobiles of the ’20s and the ’30s represent the pinnacle of the twentieth-century art and design. We cannot agree more. Mullin Museum features more than 140 pieces of real-life car art. The core of its collection is focused on the forgotten French coachbuilding art that produced fine cars for Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye, Hispano-Suiza, Avion Voisin and Talbot-Lago. Many of them already won Concourse de Elegance Awards. If we talk about best car museums, this one is among the finest.
Nice to know: You didn’t know the family of Ettore Bugatti is full of artists, did you? Mullin Museum exhibits not just cars but also art furniture, sculptures, paintings and glasswork created by Carlo, Lidia, Roland and Rembrandt Bugatti. You can also enjoy some Rene Lalique glass statuettes.
Cité de l’automobile // France
This is not the world’s most significant car museum, but it has 520 cars from 98 brands. The place can brag with the largest Bugatti collection in the world with 123 vehicles. From seven Bugatti Royale ever created, Cité de l’Atomobile has three of them. The group is divided into three main sections – The Motorcar Experience, Motor Racing where you`ll find pre-war GP cars and Motorcar Masterpieces.
Nice to know: The Schlumpf Collection is the foundation of the museum’s exhibition. It is created by the brothers Hans and Fritz Schlumpf, Italy-born Swiss textile entrepreneurs who are focused on obtaining as many Bugatti vehicles as possible. In the ’70s, Schlumpf brothers are forced to leave France after selling their textile factories. That’s how Schlumpf`s car collection is left behind.
The Petersen Museum // California
Its founders are Robert Petersen and his wife Margie. This is one of the largest car museums. After extensive renovation, now it has 25 galleries displaying about 150 cars.
Petersen Museum is a place where you can find expensive cars, historic roadsters, celebrity vehicles, priceless racers and exquisitely designed automotive machinery. Just like Elvis Presley`s De Tomaso Pantera, BMW art cars, Ford GT 40 Le Mans cars, classic Porsches, etc. We can assure you that you`ll either get lost or lose your mind. Or both.
Nice to know: The Vault collection has special admission arrangments that include an age restriction as well. You might be allowed to take a look at the “secret” part of Petersen’s cars collection whose vehicles are not included in the permanent exposition.
Louwman Museum // Netherlands
This one is among the best and it probably owns the most significant car collection in the Netherlands. But above all this, Louwman Museum has one of the world’s most extensive selection of microcars. If you have a crush on classic quirkiness, this one is for you.
Sure, you`ll be able to enjoy great cars like prewar Lagonda race car, stunning BMW 328 roadster, Lancia Astura Pininfarina (sheer Italian awesomeness), Bugatti, Maserati, Martini-livered Le Mans Lancia-Abarth, 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe hot rod and even Trabant.
Nice to know: This is the oldest private collection of cars, compiled by two generations of the Louwman family. It is established in 1934 with the purchase of the then 20-year old Dodge which now is part of the exposition.
Museo Mille Miglia // Italy
It takes around an hour and a half to enjoy this beautiful automotive museum dedicated to the legendary Mille Miglia competition. The museum is created in 1996 by local Brescia entrepreneurs. They are all united in the Amici Della Mille Miglia foundation. They manage to find the proper location and intriguing cars in partnership with other museums, including the Mercedes-Benz museum.
The Mille Miglia museum is full of Ferrari, Lancia, Maserati, Jaguar, Mercedes, Porsche, FIAT, BMW, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Austin cars, and more. Last but not least, it holds the Archivo Storico with more than 130 000 documents of Renzo Castagneto and other staff of Mille Miglia.
Supercharged fact: The museum is settled in an ancient monastery built in 1008 (yes, a thousand years ago) by the Bishop of Brescia. During this period a lot of things happen at the monastic complex of S. Eufemia but today it is the fortress of living automobile legends. And we are thankful for that.
Donington Grand Prix Collection // United Kingdom
If you find yourself in Leicestershire, England, do not miss the Donnington Grand Prix Exhibition. This car museum is stored within the homonymous racetrack facilities and is nested in five halls. It contains cars from many open-wheel, single-seat racing series, but the primary focus is Formula 1 machinery.
It offers the world’s single complete collection of Vanwall cars and a near-complete McLaren F1 cars collection. You can also see the Stirling Moss`s winning Lotus. You will find exhibited other racing cars driven by legends like Fangio, Graham Hill, Nigel Mansell, James Hunt, Fernando Alonso, Schumacher, Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna.
Nice to know: The Donington Park Collections includes quite a few of World War II military vehicles.
Autoworld // Belgium
This is one of the very few automotive museums located in the historic downtown of a big city. Autoworld holds a varied collection of over 250 vintage European and American cars from the late XIX century until the ’70s. You probably don’t know that Belgians have their own and pretty good car manufacturers like Belga Rise, Minerva, and FN. Autoworld is an excellent opportunity to meet this extinct automotive culture, for sure.
Autoworld is full of epic classics and it offers a fantastic overview on automobile history. It has Alfa Romeo 8C, Dodge Viper SRT, Porsche Slant Nose, Amphicar, Ferrari Testarossa, BMW 3000 CS, Lotus Elan. Here are also a few concept cars like the Nasca Aztec and the concept car that later turns into Audi A2.
Nice to know: The museum shop offers more than 3000 scale car models. Leaving it with just a single purchase is super tough.
National Car Museum // Iran
Iran might be not the most attractive place for tourists but it preserves the Persian culture. This itself is pretty exciting. Thanks to the exiled Shah of Iran’s passion for great automobiles, the Islamic Revolution surprisingly becomes an owner of an epic automotive collection full of Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz cars. The legend says that the Shah loves to drive his unique cars on the night streets of Teheran. Unfortunately, he has to abandon a collection of around 1200 cars. 200 of them are now displayed at the National Car Museum, the rest are stored in the museum warehouse.
Tiriac Collection // Romania
Who would suppose that Eastern Europe has to offer a spectacular car museum? Well, if you ever wonder what it is like to peek at a millionaire’s garage, Tiriac Collection can give you the experience. Ion Tiriac is named after the world’s richest retired athlete whose car collection is pretty inspiring.
The Tiriac Collection holds more than 250 cars and motorcycles. The oldest one is manufactured in 1899 which is pretty spectacular. The collection holds vehicles of more than 30 brands, including Rolls Royce, Cadillac, Ford, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Harley-Davidson, Indian Scout, Jaguar, etc. It is the only private collection featuring all the Rolls Royce Phantoms created before 1972. If you are a muscle cars fan, you will not be disappointed.
Nice to know: Tiriac Collection is the first Romanian private museum open to the public.
Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile // Italy
Located in Turin, Northern Italy, this independent car museum has a collection of almost 200 cars by 80 automotive brands. It is full of Italian beauties with an accent on racing cars. Expect a lot of Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Cisitalia, FIAT, Lamborghini, Maserati, Isotta Fraschini, Autobianchi, and Ferrari vehicles.
Also, it is pretty close to Lingotto where the main production facilities of FIAT are located. You can almost hear the roar of the Italian cars tested on the rooftop racetrack of the Lingotto factory.
Nice to know: This is a place where you can see a replica of Nicolas Cugnot`s steam car. Believe it or not, it is created in 1769 and is the first working self-propelled mechanical vehicle, also known as the automobile.
Monaco Top Cars Collection // Monaco
We love royalties because of their impeccable automotive taste. Prince Rainier III of Monaco is not an exception. This is obvious at Monaco Top Cars Collection which is full of incredible vehicles restored to mint condition. The full collection is displayed on the five levels of a specially tailored exhibit space overlooking the Terrasses de Fontvieille.
This car museum is a must-see because it gives you a chance to contemplate Bugatti Type 35 driven by William Grover-Williams. This car wins the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix in 1929. On the opposite corner is the Citroen DS3 WRC which leads Sebastien Loeb to the victory of 2013 Monte Carlo Rally. You will also find an impressive gathering of motorless carriages, luxury limousines, racing cars and pure automotive beauties by extinct brands.
Nice to know: Visiting this automotive museum will cost you just 6 EUR. Bottle of water at Café de Paris in Monte Carlo will cost you more.
Museo Juan Manuel Fangio // Argentina
Juan Manuel Fangio is without a doubt one of the greatest legends in motorsports. This museum is dedicated to his exceptional achievements and fascinating story. It is located in Balcarce, Buenos Aires, just a few blocks apart from the place where Fangio is born.
The museum opens in 1986 in the presence of Fangio, and it holds a collection of over 50 cars, trophies, photographs and other memorabilia. Visiting this venue will give you the chance to enjoy McLaren MP4/3B which is the first McLaren chassis powered by Honda. Speaking of McLarens, you cannot miss the MP4/10 driven by Hakkinen in season 1995. Make sure you see also Mercedes-Benz W196, Maserati 250F, Lancia-Ferrari D50, Alfa Romeo Tipo 308 and Mercedes C111.
Nice to know: This place is visited by racing legends like Sir Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Phil Hill, Caroll Shelby, Clay Regazzoni, etc.
National Motor Museum // Australia
Aussies are proud of their own automotive culture which is preserved by the National Motor Museum in Birdwood, South Australia. It is established in 1964 as a private collection that is purchased by the South Australian Government a decade later.
A visit there will surprise you with a Shearer Steam Carriage from 1899 and a couple of years older Peugeot Type 17. Automotive connoisseurs are able to enjoy cars like the ancient De Dion-Button, 1910 Daimler Landaulette, 1914 Dixi R12, 1919 Lincoln Six Tourer, 1925 Rolls Royce with Vanvooren bodywork, 1956 Land Rover S1, 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air, naturally a bunch of Holdens, Ford Falcons, etc.
Nice to know: National Motor Museum in Australia pleases its visitors not only cars but also motorbikes. Its collection includes the classic Harley Davidson, Indian Scout, Minerva, Mazda Three Wheeler, Honda, BMW, Kawasaki, Benelli, etc.
Automuseum Prototyp Hamburg // Germany
Focused mainly on postwar German racing cars, Automuseum Prototyp in Hamburg is full of motor treasures. It is located in Hamburg`s Speicherstadt district and is open since 2008.
It is a place where you can see the Porsche Type 64, an ancestor of the beloved 356. Only three Type 64 are built, and they are used for the Nazi propaganda race from Berlin to Rome. The car on display is one of the two that survive. You can enjoy the first F1 racer driven by Michael Schumacher – Jordan F1 191 and a genuine Porsche 356 driving simulator.
Automuseum Prototype also offers in-depth coverage of the career and private life of Otto Mathe and Wolfgang von Trips. Beyond the cars, there is an interesting photo-exhibition and a wind tunnel on a scale that explains how aerodynamics works.
Nice to know: The museum also holds a gallery with the original drafts of Volkswagen`s ad graphics. They are nothing but iconic.
Museum of the 24 Hours of Le Mans // France
The highest level of motorcar competition deserves its museum and you can find it within Circuit de la Sarthe. Le Mans history is intriguingly presented and is well-illustrated by a significant amount of phenomenal vehicles. You will not be disappointed if you visit the place.
The great experience comes from a lot of French racers that dominate the competition in the early ’20s and ’30s like Chenard & Walker, Lorrain Dietrich, Bugatti, Delahaye, Talbot Lago and many more. Modern days endurance racing cars like Audi R18 e-tron Quattro are also on display. So is the rotary Mazda 787B, the Porsche 917 LH, the original Bentley 3L Sport Torpedo Vanden Plas which wins the competition in 1924 and a Ferrari 166MM identical to the winner of the 1949 race.
Nice to know: Make sure that after your museum visit you have a few free hours to spend at the karting track run by Alain Prost. If you are lucky enough maybe you will meet him in person.