VINTAGE CARS – La Belle Époque in Malaga


An English friend used to tell me that the best red wines from Rioja never get exported and hardly cross the borders but stay here to be enjoyed locally as well-kept secrets available to just a lucky few… This may be a bit of an exaggeration and is certainly not true when we think about premium vintage car collections.

Last month, I was lucky enough to be taken by my Portuguese friends and fellow classic cars enthusiasts to the Museo Automovilístico de Málaga which is located in the impressive Real Fábrica de Tabacos, an ancient building next to the Russian Museum of Art.

This fabulous collection of almost one hundred cars belongs to a private Portuguese collector Joao Manuel Magalhaes and is rated amongst the top ten collections in the Iberian Peninsula. The collection is beautifully presented starting with the very early days of motoring in what is known as La Belle Époque from the late 19th century to the beginning of World War I in 1914. In these early motoring stages, the motorcar was only just taking the place of its predecessor – the horse-drawn carriage. Like all major changes in history, it took quite some time for people to realize the comfort and better convenience of this new means of transport but in the end, as is often the case, innovation took over and at the end of this period, there were no less than 30,000 vehicles in Paris alone. Some years later, style and comfort features were introduced to meet the new demand of first time customers which were mainly the aristocracy and the upper classes. It was not uncommon to see these beautiful motorcars and their well-presented chauffeurs at the entrance of the best Paris addresses and hôtels particuliers of the Rive Gauche. Some stunning examples of this Belle Époque era are on exhibit. Names like Winner from USA, Buick USA, Richmond USA, Renault France 1911, Barron Acroyd England 1912 are some of the cars from this period.


The following period is known as the Golden Twenties, also known as The Happy Twenties, is the decade of the 1920s in Germany. The era began with the end of World War I and ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, mainly because of the euphoria caused by the end of WWI in 1918 and the relative prosperity that followed for a decade. This period brought the liberalization of fashion and the increasing importance and independence of women in society. Car designs became more elegant and attractive. A unique example of Hispano-Suiza Spain 1917, worth a fortune in these days, followed by names like Nash 1930 USA, Studebaker 1931 USA, Unic France 1920. All concours examples.

The period that followed is known as Art Deco in the 30s and is arguably the golden age of the motorcar. The term Art Deco was first used at the International Exhibition of Modern decorative Arts in Paris. This highly creative period can also be seen in car design and elegant masterpieces can be admired in the museum such as a prime and unique example of a 1937 540K Mercedes Benz, first presented in the 1936 Paris Motor Show, a marvel of technology and elegance of which only some 400 units were manufactured, and worth several million today. A joy to admire in such perfect condition.

Several Rolls Royces and Bentleys from the same period can be admired as well together with a beautiful 1939 Packard USA used by President Roosevelt. A no less impressive 1938 BMW, formerly the property of the fashion icon marquis Emilio Pucci from Italy. Last but by no means least, one can enjoy the great sexy looks of a 1939 Lancia Italia and a very chic Jaguar 1930 plus an interesting example by Renault France inspired in Salvador Dali´s art.

An impressive array of Cadillacs from the 30s up to the 70s can be viewed together with a very rare example of Helicron 2 France (Ready to fly!) of which only two were ever made using an aviation engine. The second example is on exhibit in the Nashville Museum in Tennessee, USA. No less unique is a 1930 Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Belgium winner of the Rally de Montecarlo as well as being the first wheeled vehicle to cross the whole African continent from north to south.

The rest of the museum includes some very attractive cars by Aston Martin of England with several mint examples on display possibly including a James Bond 007 model. A 1948 Jaguar which will make any “amateur in the French sense of the word”  raise his eyebrows, an elegant 1956 Gullwing Mercedes Benz, a stunning looking 1950 Maserati Italia formerly the property of a well-known Roman Prince, an E type Jaguar known in the words of Enzo Ferrari to be “one of the most beautiful sports cars ever made”.

This collection is just under two hours away from Gibraltar and could be the subject of a great day off with a visit to the car museum and the Russian Art museum followed by a pleasant lunch by the sea afterwards. It is without a doubt a must in any enthusiast’s agenda. Happy motoring.