DAY OF RECKONING
The issue would simmer for most of another decade even as acquisition and restoration of automobiles and work on the museum continued. The brothers bought the best hotel in Mulhouse, the Hotel du Parc, to host expected museum visitors.
Another workers’ strike in 1971 led to an impasse that would never be resolved. Confrontations took place at both the mills and the estate in Malmerspach. The brothers fled to Switzerland, while the regional government became involved to protect more than 2,000 jobs. An awkward agreement was reached, but the brothers refused to deal directly with their workers any longer. This outcome was eerily similar to Ettore Bugatti’s exile from Molsheim to Paris following a 1936 strike.
Affairs went from bad to worse, hastened by inexpensive textile imports from the Far East that undermined French mills in spite of government support. In June 1976 the Schlumpfs placed their mills in receivership, a form of bankruptcy. This was followed within months by criminal warrants issued for both brothers’ arrests on charges of embezzlement.
The French government refused further subsidies and ordered all Schlumpf assets—including the museum—to be seized. Then, on March 7, 1977 a group of 15 workers approached the darkened Schlumpf mill in Mulhouse. After being refused entry by a single, resolute guard they scaled a ledge and entered the mill through an unlocked window.
Readers of publications around the world—both automotive and other—were astonished by accounts of what the intruders found.
“It would take the workers some hours merely to count the cars spread over the equivalent of more than three football fields,” wrote Jenkinson and his co-author Peter Verstappen. “When they finished, their tally would be 427 automobiles, virtually all in showroom condition and the majority in superb working order. But while the workers were looking at a completed museum, they were not looking at all the cars. Another 150 were stashed away in the workshops.”
Throughout the day, buses began arriving carrying workers from other Schlumpf factories to see what was declared to be the Workers’ Museum.
Beyond the sheer number of automobiles, the variety and rarity of some examples exceeded any collection ever seen. Over 120 Bugattis alone included examples of virtually every type and multiple examples of many types. Two-dozen examples of Bugatti Grand Prix cars enjoyed pride of place. Twenty-two Type 57s with various body styles were arranged nearby. Two of the six Bugatti Royales, the Coupe Napolean (41.110) which had been the personal car of Ettore Bugatti and the Limousine Park Ward (41.131), were included in the collection as well as another surprising discovery—a recreation of a third Royale, the Esders Roadster, sitting incomplete on stands. A Type 56 battery powered carriage built for the personal use of Ettore Bugatti to travel about the Molsheim works was one of many unique Bugattis. These cars—and others—remain in the collection today, freshened once again and accessible to the visitors the Schlumpfs once planned for.
Other Bugattis in the Schlumpf Collection include examples of lesser-known cars like the Type 40, represented in various body styles including a cut-down Type 40 truck built for a French expedition crossing the Sahara desert. Others represent Type 44, Type 46, Type 49 and Type 50 Bubastis, including one rather clumsy white Type 46 roadster that offers proof that not even every Bugatti was a beautiful automobile.