Whoever said that the Costa del Sol offers only sun, golf and nightlife will have to eat their words, for the city of Málaga is fast becoming a cultural centre in its own right. Having undergone an extensive beautification programme in recent years, the capital of the Costa del Sol region is now a sparkling, attractive and increasingly sophisticated city with elegant shopping streets, leafy squares where one can dine al fresco and a fine selection of first class museums and cultural venues.
One of the jewels in the crown is the Museo Automovilistico de Málaga, the automobile museum opened in September last year. Although not situated in the city centre, where most of Málaga’s cultural venues can be found, the museum is housed in the beautiful former tobacco factory, with its classical façade and almost palatial stature. Long neglected, the ‘Tabacalera’ has been restored to its former glory and is once again an attraction in its own right, set close to the seaside boulevard that runs along the beach from the port to the centre of town.
Inland from here is a lively and interesting suburb called Huelin, so you won’t be hard-put to find a café, tapas bar or sun-soaked terrace nearby, or indeed a beach bar, if you plan to make a day of it. Occupying the left wing of the imposing tobacco factory, the museum impresses as soon as you enter it, displaying vehicular artwork in the form of car lights mounted on a chassis to resemble a classic car or some outlandish contraption. Lovers of the real thing will also not be disappointed, for the museum’s collection of almost 90 cars covers the very dawn of the motor car right up to the present day.
Built around the private collection of a Portuguese gentleman João Manuel Magalhães, who added to an initial collection started by his father, the museum’s Panhard Levasseurs, Rolls Royces, Mercedes, Auto Unions, Delahayes, Ferraris, Isotta Fraschinis and Packards, to name a few, are all in immaculate condition. Beautifully presented, this is already more than enough to get the heart of any car lover or nostalgic historian fluttering, but the Málaga car museum is somewhat unusual in how stylishly it depicts the various eras in which the vehicles were conceived and used, employing art, fashion and historical annotations in settings that not only take you on a journey through the past century and a quarter, but actually make you feel like you’re there.
It all starts with the early contraptions of the Victorian era, moves on to the increasingly pretty Renaults, Daimlers and Panhards of the Belle Epoque, and then enters the dynamism and turmoil of 20s and 30s Art Deco, when some of the most beautiful designs were crafted by the likes of Rolls Royce, Duesenberg, Bugatti and Mercedes. Displayed as the works of art that they are, these beauties will have you gasping, but note that amongst them are also more notoriously famous vehicles, such as the Mercedes 540K used by Heinrich Himmler and the Lancia Italia favoured by Mussolini.
This placing of the cars within the context of their times is a particular success of the museum, embellished by posters, artwork, occasional furniture pieces and props such as classic skis, luggage and golf clubs, and even a fashion and luxury hat display that is a fine collection of its own, boasting pieces by all the greats of the day, including Dior, Chanel and Balenciaga.
From the aristocrats, tycoons, gangsters and dictators of the 1930s you move into the post-war era, and a new revolution in design and technology. Slowly the Delages and Armstrong Siddeleys fade into the background, making way for a new generation of Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Alfa Romeos, Aston Martins, Jaguars and Ferraris that were to become the objects of desire in the 1950s and 1960s. From the gloom of war you step into an era of Dolce Vita, a highpoint in design and good living, before the charming design follies of 70s Buicks and Cadillacs bring back a nostalgic note of their own, and before you know it you’re looking at the cars of a modern era that bring you right up to the present moment.
Among the wackier of these are a ‘Flower Power’ Rolls Royce from 1966, inspired by the famous roller of John Lennon, a crazy Excalibur replica sports car such as the ones owned by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, and a 1985 Swarovsky Rolls Royce covered in the kind of bling that would have many a rapper or wag drooling with delight. The tour concludes with a collection of exotic cars and prototypes from throughout the automobile’s history, set alongside a wonderful collection of art in the form of engine blocks masterfully painted to resemble ceramics, steel and a variety of other materials and artistic styles. Before you leave, stop to admire the modern-day hotrods and racing cars designed and made by the skilled team of engineers who also maintain the 90-odd vehicles with such care and attention.
Although it features one of the most important private collections of classic cars in the world, the Málaga car museum is an experience that will appeal to an audience far beyond just those who love cars, fine design and masterful craftsmanship.
Open Tuesday to Sunday (10am to 7pm). Normal tickets €6, €3 for seniors over 65 and children under 6, and €4,50 for students