Alfa Museo Storico: closed until further notice (per FIAT)

Museum: A building, place, or institution devoted to the acquisition, conservation, study, exhibition, and educational interpretation of objects having scientific, historical, or artistic value.

I have read that FIAT closed the Alfa Museo Storico in Feb 2011 until further notice.  This fact is attended by rumors of FIAT desiring to sell off the collection and the Italian Government declaring the collection a National Treasure.  It’s an interesting, sad situation that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.

I visited the Museum in 2005 while spending a few days in Milano with friends.  The ‘getting to the museum’ part of it was difficult -a series of trains followed by an extended stay in a parking lot outside a subway station praying a taxi would happen along -one eventually did.  The old Alfa plant grounds were basically deserted except for a few cars and a guard in a shack who kept an eye on our luggage while we went in the museum.  The museum building itself is your basic stylish box, suffering mainly from being too old to be fresh and interesting, and too new to be historic.  Someone from one of the offices eventually took pity on us and came to unlock the front door -leaving my wife and I to our own devices -thankful the lights were on.  This is how you visit the astounding museum collection of arguably the worlds most interesting auto manufacturer… the getting there is the price of admission.

Neat!  This display is typical.  The car in all it’s polished glory, some pictures from the meaningful part of its life, and a simple sign telling you what it is and when it was made.  What is this -an 8C2900 LeMans?

As I walked around the cars, poking my head in open windows, touching controls, reading display cards and just being overwhelmed by the overload of this many cars of this much significance all in the same place, I kept wondering:  where is everyone?

Of course FIAT wants to shut the museum down and sell off the collection -they own Alfa, but have never really nurtured Alfa as a unique brand or internalized the history of the marque -rather they’ve parts-bin engineered some decent looking cars that could just as easily wear a FIAT badge.  It’s like Coca Cola owning San Pellegrino.  Do you think Coke gives a crap about anything except the opportunities for some efficiencies to increase corporate profits?  Me neither.

The question is begged:  If I found a paper bag with a billion dollars in it, was able to buy the collection and do with it what I pleased, what would I do?  (not that I think it’s worth a billion -just read this as A LOT of money -enough to keep myself alive and pursue mischief in a big way).

Wishing I had a better camera when I was there.

What would I do with the collection?  I’d develop it into a destination or destinations.

I’d move it to somewhere accessible, preferably with a racetrack nearby. Milan?  As the ancestral home it makes the most sense.  The collection is large, so it could potentially be divided into two locations -maybe Milan and Turin?  The USA is, in a lot of ways, an important center for Alfa -with a very active national club, lots of local clubs, lots of older Alfa’s still on the road and Y.T.  If they bring Alfa back to the states as they keep promising, a marque museum would be nice way to help rekindle brand awareness.  But where in the US is right for an Alfa museum?  It has to be a destination place, -maybe right here in California.  Milan and San Francisco?  Actually, wherever the headquarters ends up is probably the right place.  But you get my point.  Make it accessible.

I’d create an event space out of it.  It would host auctions, civic functions, high profile weddings etc.  It would have a gallery for visiting exhibitions.  I’d have a cafe and a very good restaurant attached to it.  I’d have a shop with tasteful merchandise.  I know what you’re thinking -exactly!  I’d copy what BMW and Porsche have done with their collections.  Make the collection the center of a viable, profitable business.

The never-was (well, once at least) update on the Sprint Speciale.  Needs a good Italian tune-up I bet -I’ll handle that.

I would grow the collection if the enterprise was successful.  I hear the BAT cars can be had for a mighty song.  I would work out ownership assumption schemes with current owners of important/interesting cars.  Oh, and me being me -I’d make all the cars fully functional and use them occasionally.

Last thing I’d do?  Bank-roll a big budget production movie based on the era of Alfa racing, culminating in the 1935 dramatic punch-line that was Nuvolari’s trouncing of the Nazi’s at the Nurburgring.  The theater would be crying as Tazio pulled a recording of the Italian national anthem for the Germans to play.  Can you imagine the brand awareness and merchandising opportunity that this would create if very well done?  Might spawn a whole series of movies based on the heroic stories that need to be told.

Selling off the collection is the last thing FIAT should do!

What would you do if the collection was yours?

Another take on the subject here.

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15 thoughts on “Alfa Museo Storico: closed until further notice (per FIAT)

  1. This is a collection that must remain as a whole and not as a part. This is a living document to the history of a century old automobile company that came from being a very small hand made car to a car that is sold by the hundreds, to a particular breed of owner. There is no museum like it.
    Having had the opportunity to spend 3 days in the museum on one of Fred DiMatteo’s Italian tours, I was blessed to have the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Sr. Luigi Fusi himself showing you around the museum.
    When you can stand next to a running racing car that carried the likes of Nuvolari, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, and Fangio, how do you replace that? You can’t.
    Passion for racing and building cars with style that evoke emotion are all housed in one building. To see this collection parted out would be almost a sacrilege to the man Luigi Fusi (curator) and the men who restored these cars for everyone to see. In the building is vision of building the best, the fastest and the most beautiful cars in the world.
    My passion and the love for the marque are in this building. You can read books about the drivers and cars, but when you are in the building, where you can see, touch and smell history, it paints a different picture all together.
    The museum is a national art treasure for the Italians and the world. The museum needs to be promoted, put on tours, and advertised.
    Build a track next to the museum where it resides. Open a movie theater that tells the history of the company and the racing history. Show movies of the cars, drivers, movie stars and have drivers for the museum demonstrate the cars for the public to see. There is nothing like the sound of a F-1, GTA or a Alfetta GP car winding out through the gears. A great culmination to a tour through the great Alfa Romeo Museo Storico.

  2. Great idea if it could be kept out of hands of FIAT. They have so far destroyed so much. (Although the Fiat people I know say that they have saved Alfa Romeo! yeah, right, like the stepmother in sleeping beauty!)
    First of all, the museum must stay in Italy. Thats where the roots are. Good location would be Ballocco track. (buy that too! it was also Alfa Romeo property and has a lot of history with the 105 series and after) (ie the Italian Goodwood)
    Create a nice building that gives space and atmosphere to the collection (such as the Louwman Museum as the big example http://www.louwmanmuseum.nl/asp/appmain.asp?appactie=museum
    )
    Then combine the cars in the current museum with the ones were in the basement of the current museum. See the nice book from collector Gippo Salvetti Alfavelate (http://www.autonetcarbooks.com/alfavelate-p-431594.html) There are some treasures there that would make the collection even more interesting.
    Then ensure you have a good reception for all fans and driversclubs in the word to come over and celebrate the brand both in club gatherings, in club races and museum car drives (so we need to see the museum cars drive for real!!)

    You will also inherit the Alfa Storice team with all official documentation of the factory. Keep these guys at work, preserve all paper documents, digitise them for modern information distribution, to make them easily accessible for global usage..

    Guess that such a plan would keep you busy the coming years!

  3. Good article. I have visited the museum a couple of times over the past decade and have to smile at our common trials and tribulations of getting to and in the Arese complex. Too me it adds to the experience. There is such a forlorn feeling and ambivalence about the collection from the guards and skeleton staff. The feeling is much like walking into the world’s best barn-find…not many people know its there and seemingly fewer care very much.

    There has always been this frustrating disconnect with the Italians..they don’t understand some of the parts of their own culture that the rest of the world cherishes. They think “who wants to see a bunch of old cars??”.As sacrilegious as it sounds, they really need a German or American museum director who can bring a stricter archival respect to the collection, and be enough of an entrepreneur to make it turn a profit.

    I love the building it’s in. Relative to other marques (Maserati, Lancia) this collection is easy to access!Once those cars break the threshold of the museum doors it’s over. They’ll be divided up and scattered around the world.

  4. “the bankruptcy of Saab has resulted in the entire Saab Museum collection of 120 cars being offered for sale by the liquidators. The final demise of Saab has meant much heartache for Saab’s employees, and lovers of the marque around the world, as more than 60 years of Saab’s history is consigned to the remnants bin – and that even includes Saab’s museum collection of cars, chronicling the history of Saab from 1946 to date…..” this what happens when the bean-counters are in charge….

    Read more: http://www.carsuk.net/saab-museum-cars-for-sale/#ixzz1oXIbQ0ow

    • Be aware that the full collection has been bought by the city of Trollhättan, Saab AB and the Wallenberg Foundation. Swedes do care about heritage!
      They have seen the importance of heritage and the value of the collection for the region. A region that will have a strong economic blow due to the demise of the SAAB cars operations gone down.
      So for Alfa there is hope, ofcourse, however its not helped by the state of economy the county is in at the moment.

  5. Don’t want to be argumentative, but allow me to offer a different perspective.

    There is irony that some of those who find an emotional attachment to old Italian cars because of their variety, idiosyncrasies and mysteries (including myself) would seek to institutionalize and preserve such ineffable qualities in a museum. It’s like biological collections that can function only by killing what they seek to preserve. That which interests me about Ferrari has certainly not been enhanced by the company’s current highly commercialized brand management.

    It’s sad and highly dangerous that in modern society people instinctively seem to feel that centralized control is the best way to address all difficult challenges. My view is that enthusiasts generally would benefit from dispersal of the Alfa museum collection into the hands of private owners who would generally more highly value, improve, more widely show and utilize the cars.

    Alfa had some glorious periods in its history, but obviously so did many other now defunct or near-defunct marques. But automobiles are now beginning to change more rapidly than most people imagine, and the commercial relevance of such history is diminishing just as rapidly.

    These historical cars are among the greatest artworks of a past century. The open question for our future is how to best honor and preserve objects with mechanical and kinetic properties quite different from traditional art works. Perhaps it will be like antique musical instruments, e.g. harpsichords. There are dead lumps in museums, but the best ones are lovingly preserved and still making music in private hands. As some such instruments are inscribed, sic transit gloria mundi . . .

    • Don,

      I thought the way you describe at first, and part of me still feels this way. The problem I have is the Ralph Lauren’s of the world would take these into hiding and the public would never see them -I know, how is that different? Well, if my museum were open, I could go see some of all. My last caveat was that they would be made functional and used for the reasons you cite as reasons to break the collection up -they are kinetic art and deserve to be enjoyed as such. How boring would a Calder mobile be if part of it’s preservation was to protect it from the wind? My schema for the museum would include tours, track days etc, where the cars are regularly exercised. Maybe a mandate would be that any piece in the collection should be capable of gassing up and going on a moments notice.

      It is an interesting, challenging problem.

      Matt

      • Matt,

        Any enthusiast would endorse the ideal you describe. Unfortunately it is unsupportable by any financially or pragmatically viable means of corporate or public engagement.

        Ralph Lauren’s cars have been shown around the world, most recently in Paris. The new Mullin museum is terrific, and some of its best cars were just shown at Retromobile. Ever been to one of the Simeone museum’s demonstration days ?

        In Italy the Panini and Righini collections are unfortunately somewhat less accessible, but Maranello Rosso and other private museums are easily visited.

        The purpose of business corporations is to create value for their owners, and like people they are created, prosper for a while and then die. Alfa was non-viable by the 1970s, and there are no guarantees that Fiat will survive much longer. Heritage adds nothing to the marketability of the new types of cars we are already seeing.

        The collection is simply a distraction to current management, absorbing capital that could otherwise be employed to create better products and more jobs. Put these works of art into the hands of private, sometimes non-profit hands where they belong. Your perfect job is available as a volunteer at most of these private collections.

        Don

  6. Has anyone actually attempted to visit the museum since the reported closure. From the stories I have heard, it may still be possible to get in.

    I will be in Italy in June and would love to add this to my trip, but I would hate to be turned away.

    • …if matt’s suggestion that you email them brings no reply…and no one else knows for sure if the museum is accessible, you let me know and i will make a point of swinging by for you, as i am planning on spectating the mille miglia this year in late may..and pre-running the route in april….i was at the museum last year in late january, and is was as described – a walk from the front gate to the museum building, after leaving my passport with the guard , i think,.. a very disinterested staff member was at the front desk, and no one kept an eye on me or paid any attention to me the whole time i was in there…

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