Monaco is an assault on the senses.
A tiny principality on the Côte d’Azur, Monaco is a true paradise for the rich and famous. From the breathtaking harbour, chock full of yachts that would put most militaries to shame, to the beautifully architecture full of luxury shops and high-end goods, the air of wealth is nearly as strong as the warm breeze rolling in from the sea. To walk the streets is an experience in how the other half live, and every small lane and densely populated roadway seems chock-full of exotic automotive metal.
With a day to kill before heading north, Monte Carlo seemed like an ideal location. In full tourist mode, it was a case of camera out and walking shoes on. The Formula 1 street circuit, so synonymous with the area, is the obvious route to take, all the while stopping to grasp the severity of the inclines and hidden surrounds rarely portrayed on television and the internet. The climb from Sainte Devote; the bump before Mirabeau; the tunnel entrance and the sweep out of Rascasse – they’re all points to stop and experience. But hidden away, less than 10 minutes’ walk, is another true Monegasque automotive gem.
The ‘Collection de Voitures Anciennes’ is an incredible sight, and one happened upon by pure fluke.
A billboard sign had caught my eye, and cogs whirled at the thought of a car museum nearby. A bit of Googling had a location found, but it was the other side of the country – all of 20 minutes’ drive. Quick blast through the hills, parked up and phone out, a rapid search began for what at that point was an unknown outcome. Through wrong turns, back alleys, an underpass and a bridge, Maps brought me to a pretty nondescript-looking shopping complex. On the second floor, a small sign marked the entrance.
Entry fee paid, my phone read 5.10pm. “We close at 5.30,” said the burly security guard. My response, said mid-way round the corner to the main display, “Ya, that’s fuuuuuu…”
Holy Moly! Full blown assault on the senses right there and then. Rows upon rows of some the most expensive, exclusive and historic cars ever all stretching before my eyes. The location name included ‘collection’ rather than ‘museum’ in the title for good reason, as this was a private collection. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it takes huge resources to pull something like this together, but when you rule the nation I suppose it helps.
Started by Prince Rainier III in the 1950s, the collection has soared over time, and everywhere you look now there is a visual treat. Porsche 917? Check. Gullwing Mercedes? Check. Bugatti Type 35? Check.
Rounding one corner simply leads to further amazement. A line of Formula 1 Cars, no surprise really considering the region I’m in, stretch along a back wall. The brutish lines of the McLaren MP4/16 or the more sculpted Jordan 193, the differences so noticeable up close. The madness that was the 1991 season Lamborghini 291 sits at the end, its curvaceous side pods a reminder of how form can at time outweigh function.
Across from them sit the rally legends, three icons of the hallowed Group B days. Each a triumph of sheer-minded desire to push technological boundaries in their own way, each with a differing story to be told in the sporting annals. The box arches of a Metro 6R4, always seemingly excessive when studied alone, seem almost subtle when sat next to a Renault 5 Turbo 2. Both bear little if any resemblance to their road-going counterparts.
The trio is completed with one of my favorite race cars of all time. I take a moment to take this in, not that I have many to spare, and just soak up the lines, the ducts, that slant-nose front and those evocative Peugeot Sport stripes. It’s gone 5.20pm though, and for all the time I’d happily spend with the white Peugeot, there are quite a few red ponies that deserve a look.
Although the poster that tweaked my attention did mention a Ferrari display, I was not expecting anything on this scale. The centre rows were strictly race cars, everything from historic F1 through touring cars, Can-Am and a lone 308 GTB rally car. The distinctive Jolly Club livery and with a flurry or spot lamps, it sticks out from the pack.
Along the other side sit the road cars, each and every one something special. The F40 and F50 represent specific high-water marks for Ferrari, celebrations of a certain time and place. The legends continue along the line: LaFerrari, 288 GTO, 599 GTO and the absolute pinnacle of the collector car world, the 250 GTO.
And with that, the clock struck 5.30pm and time was up. The security guard gave a friendly nod and I made my way to the exit, walking backwards to take in the sight one final time.
The collection is truly special, and well worth a visit should you find yourself passing time in the South of France. As of next year, it will be relocated right into the heart of Monte Carlo with a new venue in the harbour to make it even easier. A hidden gem or a crowning glory?
Cutting Room Floor