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  • JULIE WHITE

The Visitor Centre today is ... MAUTO (National Automobile Museum), Turin

Truly one of the best automotive museums, MAUTO is a must-see museum for any car enthusiast.

a white sports car with red painted stripes across the bonnet and roof in front of technical drawings at the National Automobile Museum in Turin Italy

The National Automobile Museum (Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile, or MAUTO) in Turin, Italy, is one of the most prestigious automotive museums in the world, with a rich history dating back to its establishment in the early 20th century.


300,000 visitors make the trip to this museum every year. We came across it quite by chance, as we had planned to visit the Centro Storico Fiat Museum, in what is Fiat's home city, but were disappointed to find it closed until further notice.

It is always good to have a backup plan, and what we stumbled across was a car and design lover's dream.


The museum is run by a non-profit organisation called The Association, that includes the Automobile Club of Italy, the City of Turin, FCA Fiat Chrysler Automobiles S.A. and the Piedmont Region. Even though it is not operated as the face of one individual brand, I was compelled to add this fabulous museum to this website.


The MAUTO collection includes over 200 original cars, motorcycles and engines, hailing from 80 brands from around the world. The vehicles on show are contextualised with multimedia and themed sets, representing the impact on the motor industry of global and national economic, political and societal factors and events.


It turned out to be an exemplary museum experience and one I thoroughly recommend.

A red Fiat 500 car sits on top of a floor display, featuring a map of Turin and the car factories that used tpo be found there

The Museum's history

While Italy may not have the same volume of car production as some other European countries, it has a long and storied history in the automotive industry. Italian car brands, such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, and Lancia, and the design houses of Pininfarina, Bertone, and Italdesign, remain synonymous with luxury, performance and craftsmanship and have created some of the most elegant and aesthetically pleasing cars in history. With a strong presence throughout motorsport history, the country hosts annual races for Formula One, MotoGP, World Touring Car Cup, amongst others.

a black and white image of the rooftop test track at Fiat's Lingotto plant
Fiat Lingotto Factory - Image Monovision

When Italian entrepreneur Giovanni Agnelli opened the first Fiat factory in Turin in 1900, he kickstarted a boom in car making that transformed the city. At one point in the 1910s, there were more than 15 different automobile manufacturers in the city of Turin alone. Fiat opened their famous Lingotto Factory in 1919 (report coming soon), Europe's first custom-built factory for mass car production. However, in the face of challenging financial and political times, many manufacturers were forced to shut up shop or merge to survive.


The National Automobile Museum was founded in 1932 by two pioneers in the Italian automotive industry, Cesare Goria Gatti and Roberto Biscaretti di Ruffia. They were two of the founders of the Turin Automobile Club in 1898, and of Fiat the following year. Their vision was to create a museum that celebrated the history and evolution of the automobile, which was rapidly becoming a significant part of modern society.

Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia sitting amongst his artworks, the founder of the National Automobile Museum of Turin. Picture taken in black and white and in 1933
Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia - Image MAUTO

However, it was Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia, Roberto's son, an aristocratic journalist, industrial and graphic designer, who, in 1933, dedicated his life to conserving Italy's motoring and technological heritage. Carlo had abandoned his law studies at the turn of the century, to dedicate himself to technical drawing, and collaborated with the newly formed automotive companies on designs for vehicles and advertising.

“It is rightly thought that I am the only person capable of attempting the impossible.” (Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia)

Following a successful retrospective exhibition at the 26th Milan Motor Show in 1933, Carlo presented his Automobile Museum ideas to Mussolini, who was behind the idea. However, Fiat's Giovanni Agnelli, a senator at the time, declared that he did not consider Italian automotive technology sufficiently prestigious to dedicate a museum to it. It's a good job Biscaretti disagreed. Although Biscaretti did open a museum in 1939, he never got to see his vision fully realised, as he died in 1959, before his new, purpose-built Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile opened in 1960.


Over the years, MAUTO has developed its collection, acquiring important cars from various eras and countries. The museum houses a vast array of automobiles, including early steam-powered vehicles, classic cars from the early 20th century, iconic Italian sports cars, and concept cars that showcase the industry's innovation.


The museum has always been committed to education and offers educational programs, workshops, and guided tours to engage visitors of all ages and backgrounds in the world of automotive history and technology.


Today, the National Automobile Museum in Turin stands as a testament to Italy's rich automotive heritage and the global significance of the automobile industry. It remains a must-visit destination for car enthusiasts, historians, and anyone interested in the cultural and technological impact of the automobile on society.


The Visitor Centre design

MAUTO initially opened in 1939, confined to the outskirts of the city, in small rooms created within the Benito Mussolini Football Stadium. Its collection featured a variety of vintage and contemporary automobiles, and it quickly gained recognition for its historical significance, though not many visitors made the trek out to the stadium, unless it was a match day. After the Second World War, Biscaretti looked again for a more suitable home for the museum and work commenced in 1957 on a purpose-built museum, big enough for the whole collection. Following Biscaretti's death, the new structure was posthumously dedicated to him and opened to the public on 3 November 1960.

black and white photo of the original national Motor museum in Turin from the road, a 3 storey concrete building on a hill

The 3 storey, concrete, landmark building, was built on an artificial hill and was designed by architect Amedeo Albertini. It provided a more suitable environment for showcasing the growing collection of vehicles and memorabilia related to the automotive industry and was a marvel of modern architecture.

black and white image from 1960 of the inside of National Automobile Museum Turin's opening ceremony, showing cars of the time exhibited with people milling round them
Opening ceremony 1960 - Image MAUTO
black and white image from 1960 showing the exterior of the MAUTO building, windows and concrete structure
Mauto in 1960 - Image Piedmont Top News

As the collection expanded, the exhibition halls became saturated. So, in 2007, the museum was redesigned by architect Cino Zucchi (of Museo Lavazza fame - see previous article). The firm masterminded a 4 year long overhaul, which saw the museum grow from 11,000 to 19,000 square metres, with a façade clad in polychromatic glass, at a cost of €16 million.

Image from 2023 of the exterior of the renovated MAUTO in Turin, showing the building's exterior clad in blue and grey glass panels

The museum's exhibition path was designed by Museum & Exhibit designers Confino, who are experts at putting static museum exhibits into context, surrounding them with backdrops, props and audio visuals.


Museum for All initiative

It is the museum's accessibility that, for me, was instantly impressive. Their “A MUSEUM FOR ALL” project aims to address the motor, sensory, and cognitive needs of all visitors and appeared to be implemented seamlessly.

A museum for all display at Mauto in Turin, with details of how visitors can link via QR codes to the museum guide and kid's tour

There are free wheelchairs, wide and well lit circulation spaces and ambient noise controls. I found audio guides translated into multiple languages, including both LIS (Italian Sign Language) and IS (International Sign Language).

a white resin scale model of a horse carriage, with an information sign next to it featuring braille and text and a QR code, which sit on an acrylic stand in front of exhibits in MAUTO

The display panels feature embossed maps, braille text and resin scale models, which anyone can touch and interact with. QR codes and NFC technology provides audio description alongside further information. With the reduction in costs of 3D printing, I am stunned that more museums and visitor experiences don't adopt this effective idea. Children and adults alike were interacting with the models, as they give greater context to the exhibits on show, which are usually kept behind glass or roped off, and certainly too precious to be touched. But there's more. Under many of the exhibits are large mirrors, so guests can see the often hidden mechanics underneath engines and vehicles.


The archive and STEM opportunities

a tour group look onto a table of archive materials and maps in the Documentation Centre at MAUTO Turin
The Society of Automotive Historians 2022

The archive here is vast. A Documentation Center houses over 30,000 original documents relating to all aspects of automotive history, from monographs, editions of 800 global automotive publications and a collection of rare books on the history of mechanics, physics and sciences from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. An Education centre provides opportunities for the next generation to learn about STEM careers and a Congress Centre hosts many speciality conferences and awards each year.


Restoration Center

The new Restoration Center brings together a network of experts and craftspeople who provide conservation and maintenance for the cars in the collection.


Open Garage

In addition to the main halls, there are temporary exhibition spaces and 70 additional vehicles are hidden away in the Open Garage, an underground hall accessible on pre booked guided tours only.


Taking the museum to the people

The museum also takes some of its collection out on the road, to events and open museums, such as this recent one in Lake Como, in partnership with car rally and event specialists FuoriConcorso.

3 red, vintage sports cars sit in front on a palace in Lake Como
MAUTO exhibiting at Lake Como - Classic Driver

Entrance

The cavernous entrance is where you start your journey. The hall wets the appetite with a few historic vehicles, such as the gorgeous little blue 1964 Fiat 600 Multipla. When we visited there was an interesting exhibition of supercars that had been impounded by the Police.

the entrance hall of MAUTO Turin showing the internal design and structure in metal cladding

The automobile and the twentieth century

The first exhibition hall covers pioneering vehicles from before the First World War.

historic cars sit in a museum hall in Mauto Turin with a vaulted ceiling

Many are displayed in a garage setting, replicating a mechanic’s workshop.

Mirrors are placed under many exhibits so visitors get to see more of the technology often hidden from show, which is another cost effective exhibition design idea.

A themed set in MAUTO to explain how cars used to be designed. There is a life size male model using a drawing board on which sits car blueprints

You continue to travel through time with immersive, interactive exhibits on the developments in travel, fashion, sport and technology.

The FIAT 3 1/2 HP is the very first car that FIAT made, 3 months after the company was set up. Only 4 of this model have survived.

FIAT 3 1/2 HP, 1899

Highlights include the car in which Prince Scipione Borghese won the Peking to Paris race in 1907 and the car used in the 1950 film “Sunset Boulevard”, starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson in the part of Norma Desmond, whose initials are engraved on the rear doors.

Itala 35/45 HP (Pechino-Parigi), 1907
Isotta Fraschini 8A, 1929

Installations range from military vehicles such as the 1941 US Jeep, through the post-war years and cars of the people from the humble Eastern German Trabant to the campervan.

Ford Jeep, 1941

The little car that became a classic, and brought mass car ownership to the Italians after the First World War, is the Fiat 500, or Topolino (Little Mouse). Over 500 thousand were produced from 1936 to 1955 and it was one of the smallest cars in the world at the time of its production.

Fiat 500 (Topolino), 1936

Cisitalia is another of those brands that are no more. The brand raced from 1946, and the 202 on show was among the first cars that Cisitalia ever manufactured and boasted a stunning body designed by Pininfarina and a diminutive 1.0L engine.

Cistalia 202, 1948

I would be very happy to own the jolly, flat nosed, 6 seater Fiat 600 Multipla from the 1950s.

Fiat 600 Multipla, 1956
Packard Super Eight 1501, 1937

Another little gem was the Autobianchi Bianchina 500 convertible from 1959, the first non-standard automobile to be produced on an industrial level.

Autobianchi Bianchina 500 convertible, 1959
Chevrolet Corvette C1 Cabrio, 1957
Trabant 601, 1987

My husband even found one of his favourites, the legendary Jaguar E-type.

Jaguar E Type, 1969

Man and the Car

The next gallery focuses on the relationship between people and vehicles. Guests can learn about the automotive industry of Turin, to the car production and manufacturing process, the passion for racing, marketing and more.

There is even a short ride, which proved a delight for several visitors we were with, with special needs.

There is a gallery dedicated to engines and tyres, and it is here that the mirrors placed under the exhibits really are an informative addition, giving the visitor a peak at some hidden elements.

And even font lovers like me will have a field day.


Then it's lights out and a large audio visual display showcases racing cars from all ages. There is nothing too complicated here, but it is very memorable none the less.

Cars range from the Ferrari 248 F1 driven by Michael Schumacher from 2006 to the Mercedes-Benz W196 race car with which Manual Fangio won the Formula One World Championship in 1954 and 1955.

This gallery reminded me of the wonderful red room at Haynes Motor Museum, though with the cars here in more context, it was an even better display.

The stunning Lancia D24 from 1953

Lancia D24 (1953)

Another beautiful car is the 2 seater runabout, the 1920 Temperino, from the family run factory in Turin, that had some success in races across Italy and beyond.

Temperino 8/10 HP, 1920

Ascari’s supercharged Alfa Romeo P2 was one of Alfa’s most renowned racers of all time. This supercharged straight-eight managed to hit 175hp and is a little cracker.

Alfa Romeo P2, 1930

The Ferrari F1 car on show was driven by Gilles Villeneuve in 1980, the driver who sadly lost his life in 1982 during the practice runs for the Belgian Grand Prix.

312 T5 - Ferrari, 1980

The Mercedez Benz W 196 was the most innovative Formula 1 car of it's day and carried Fangio to the world title in 1954 and 1955.

Mercedes Benz W 196, 1954

Under construction

It's a running joke that whenever I visit anywhere, something is either behind closed doors being built or hidden by scaffolding. We therefore were too early for the special exhibition on The Golden Age Of Rallying.

Opening just days after our visit, and running until May 2023, 19 of the most successful rally cars, a Mini Cooper, a Lotus Cortina, an Escort, a Porsche 911, an Audi Quattro and more are displayed with information on the drivers, navigators and mechanics.


Pagani “25 years of Heart, Hands and Passion”

Hot on the heels of the rally exhibition, was a temporary exhibition on the history and design of Pagani hypercars, which will remain open until January 14, 2024. The three legendary cars that established the brand, the Zonda, Huayra, and Utopia all feature.


Drive Different

Another temporary exhibition which we just missed was Drive Different, running until April 2024, which highlights the technological advances and ideas that are powering the future of mobility. There is a focus on sustainability, new and emerging fuels, environmental factors and cost effectiveness and the exhibition, from multinational automotive manufacturing corporation Stellantis, draws from their archive, and current and future products and services.


Retail space

The shop here is small and features items from just a few brands. There is branded merchandise and clothing, but alas no Christmas baubles, my favourite carry on suitcase friendly purchase.

There are a few chairs and tables guests can sit at but no dedicated guest canteen, so your food and beverage choices are restricted to a vending machine. This is perhaps a missed opportunity that the museum might address in the future.


Anything else worth mentioning

MAUTO was not the only car museum in the city. Until the pandemic, car enthusiasts could visit the Pininfarina Museum (sadly closed until further notice). Casa 500, a small Fiat museum, was being renovated when I visited, though the focus here is really the rooftop garden and walkway at the historic Lingotto factory. Centro Storico Fiat is still closed until further notice and when Bertone went bust in 2013, the Museo Bertone sold off most of its innovative concept car collection.


Milan, an hour by train from Turin, has the Alpha Romeo Museum (report coming soon), but most car fans head to Modena in Emilia-Romagna, the home of tours and museums for Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati, which I hope to revisit soon.


In conclusion

This exemplary museum is a leading example of how accessibility can appear seamless and beneficial for all. The wide variety of vehicles are exhibited in a way that redresses the downsides of static displays. Each exhibit has enough information to be interesting without overwhelming, with more detail for those that want it. Sets that put the vehicles into context, be it historical or societal, have been expertly envisaged and the rotating exhibitions keep the museum fresh and provide new experiences for repeat visitors.

The themed sets are also a terrific resources for reminiscence therapy.

The museum should be a reason to visit often overlooked Turin, and certainly should be a stop on any European car museum tour.

This is a museum that I recommend to everyone, car enthusiasts, design fans, engineering students to history lovers. There is something for everyone.


How long was the visit?

MAUTO recommend a visit should last about 2 hours. We were there for four hours.


How much are tickets?

We paid for our own tickets and this was not part of any advertising.

Admission to the main museum galleries:

Adult tickets are € 16,00 Senior tickets are € 13,00 Student tickets are € 13,00 Child tickets (6-17 years) € 6,00 Under 5's FREE


The simulator experience is an additional € 16,00 per adult


Audio guides, in English, French or Italian, from €4, which can be downloaded directly onto smartphones.


If you cannot make it to Turin, the collection is all available online, via the MAUTO website.


You can choose between a self-guided or guided tour, with tour guides that speak 11 different languages.


Opening times

It's always worth checking with the museum for their current opening times, as they can vary.

When we visited the museum was open on Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.


The archive is open via appointment Monday to Friday at the following times:

Monday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m, Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m and from 2 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.


Address

Corso Unità d'Italia 40 10126 Torino Tel. 011 677666



 

Where we stayed:

We were based in Turin for 5 nights at a fabulous hotel found through Booking.com called the Opera 35 Suite & Studio in a standard room. It beat the 5-star hotel we stayed at in Milan.

The staff were friendly and gave us some great recommendations for dinner and for things to see. The hotel is in a restored neoclassical, Belle Epoque mansion, and near the river, which made it much quieter than staying in the main tourist area, yet it was only a 15 minute walk to the main tourist squares.

I booked it as it had some outdoor space, a large courtyard which has some seating in it, a respite from the heat. Even in October, we were in T-shirts as it was still really warm.

The room was simply furnished, with a frescoed ceiling, but it was all we needed. An added bonus was that when we booked we got a free car pickup from the airport to the hotel, in a very nice Mercedes and a fabulous driver called Walter, who sped through the city streets and deposited us and our luggage at the door. No need for a hire car this time. We didn't have breakfast included so grabbed this when out and about in the city.

Top Tip - Not many places are open for dinner on a Sunday, or even a Monday for that matter. It's a post-pandemic issue in many places we travel to now.


For dinner on two nights we were recommended the excellent Pastificio Defilippis, which has been family run since 1872. It makes pasta, which you can buy in their beautiful store. We sat outside and had two amazing meals, that were authentic and just like Mamma used to make! Pasta never tasted so good and the wine was pretty darned good too. Save room for the enormous Tiramisu. It's to die for.


Getting here:

The airport (Aeroporto di Torino) is 21km from the MAUTO.


A Taxi from the airport to the city centre costs about €30 and takes about 30 minutes. There is an official taxi rank outside the Arrival Hall. We struck lucky and got a private taxi included in our hotel booking.


For travellers on a budget, a great alternative is to take the Arriva bus No. 268. The bus is direct from Turin airport, taking 40 minutes to reach the city centre and costs €4. You can purchase your tickets at the airport vending machines or directly from the bus driver with a €1 supplement. However, you will have to find your way to your Turin hotel, which can be difficult when travelling with heavy luggage.


Turin Airport Train Station can be found a few metres away facing the main terminal. sfMA railway links the airport to Turin's Stazione Dora Railway Station in just over 20 minutes, every working day from 5:04 am to 9:03 pm.


The city is served by 2 main train stations, one of which we used to travel to Milan from, on a high-speed bullet train, a journey that lasted less than an hour. The trains we found to be very good indeed, so consider using them to venture further afield.


Once in the city, we bought a 5-day travel pass, which you need to pick up at a local tobacconist shop. The bus and tram network is great around town and we used it to get to the furthest reaches of their network without any bother, though it can take a little while to get there. Google Maps helped enormously with planning our routes.


But the joy for us was the trams. There are modern trams in the city, but if you're in town on a weekend, try to ride the free historic tram Route 7, which departs every 30 min from Piazza Castello. On the day we travelled, we got a free tour guide on board (all in Italian) who handed out a book on the tram's restoration.


What else is there to see close by:

Turin is Italy’s fourth largest city and one of the most underrated holiday destinations in the country. We loved our 5 day visit.

There are suggestions for what to do in our post on Museo Lavazza, but if you need a few more ideas, here are some worth investigating.


The Royal Palace of Venaria, located just outside of Turin, is one of the most impressive royal residences in Europe. Built in the 17th century, the palace features stunning Baroque architecture, beautiful gardens, and a vast collection of art and artifacts. Perhaps even bigger and more impressive than the Palace of Versailles, it is quite incredible how hardly anyone outside of Italy has even heard of this palace. Currently, most of the nearly one million tourists who visit the palace each year come from Italy.


Chocolate, coffee and cars, are this city’s lifeblood and family-run chocolate makers have been hard at work in Turin for centuries. Bicerin, the city’s signature cream-topped chocolate-coffee hot drink, had us rush to the famous Caffè Al Bicerin and it was well worth it. Turin’s favourite contemporary chocolatier, Guido Gobino, makes his classic gianduiotto (triangular chocolates made from gianduja – Turin's hazelnut paste). And if you want more, then don’t miss Turin’s 10-day chocolate festival in November.

The Juventus Museum and Tour (report coming soon) tells the story of the highs and lows of football legend Juventus, through technology, multimedia displays and iconic memorabilia. In addition to the Museum visit, you can visit the Allianz Stadium on their stadium tour, where you will see the dressing room, media area, and more. Just book for the stadium tour at the same time as you buy your museum ticket, or, like us, you'll find it sold out.


And if you are in need of a little aperitif, then why not hop on the train and head to Casa Martini in Pessione (report coming soon), home of 150 years of Aperitivo history? You can even take part in a mixology class to make your own classic Martini.


Please do visit this underrated city.


Visited: October 2022

Photographs: ©Julie White unless noted otherwise


Disclaimer - The views and opinions expressed are solely my own. I paid for the tours in full and any comments reflect my personal experiences on that day. Please drink responsibly. Please visit and garner your own thoughts and feel free to research the brand and the visitor centre in question.



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