Monaco, motors and meA few years ago I was in Monaco to report on its latest MICE facilities. The Monaco Government Tourist Office was kind enough to present me with a pass that permitted me to enter any museum or Government visitor attraction free of charge. I was keen to see the Prince of Monaco’s Collection of Classic Cars. I got up early one morning and went to the world renowned museum. There was no sign of life when I reached the main entrance. The doors were locked.
He was obviously expected and so the mechanic allowed us both into the Museum, obviously assuming we were together. I followed them through the building to a large workshop where several engineers were busy maintaining classic cars.
‘They’ve come for the Bugatti’, explained the mechanic in French. A few of the men went over to one of the cars in that area and together they pushed it towards a large set of doors that led to the outside world. I got behind the car and pushed it with them.
If I remember correctly (and my colour memory is usually at fault) it was a green vehicle of a cylindrical shape, probably a 1929 racer.
There was a big van waiting outside with the back open and ramps in position ready to receive the Bugatti. I helped to push the car up the ramps and saw it strapped snugly into position before the van doors were closed.
Then we walked back into the museum, where the other visitor had to sign some papers. He then walked back to the van and drove off. The large doors were closed and all the engineers and mechanics went back to their workstations and carried on with maintaining the classic collection. Nobody asked who I was or what I was doing there.
This left me totally alone with about 100 of the world’s most valuable vintage cars. I wandered leisurely through all the aisles on all the floors, reading the notes alongside every exhibit.
There were not only Formula One racing cars and famous rally cars, but all manner of vehicles of special interest. One that comes to mind was a massive Rolls Royce that had belonged to the Emperor of Japan. Then a small room to one side attracted my attention and I went in to investigate. I found myself in a sanctuary dedicated to the memory of Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian Formula One World Champion who lived in Monaco and who had died when his car had smashed head-on into a concrete wall whilst leading in San Marino in 1994.
There was a burning flame enclosed in glass. On a pedestal were Ayrton’s driving gloves and his helmet. It was a very simple memorial but very effective. Standing there alone in the vastness of the car museum, looking at the helmet and gloves, tears came to my eyes. I had no personal connection with Ayrton Senna but the simplicity and sincerity of that memorial were very moving.
After my private tour, with some difficulty I found my way back to the workshops so I could ask the engineers to let me out. They duly unlocked the doors and still no one asked who I was or what I was doing.
I suppose they imagined that in a place with so much security a bloke wandering around must have had official permission from someone.
When you are in Monaco, make the Collection of Classic Cars a ‘must see’ – but be sure to check the times it’s open to the public.