UNIQUE DISPLAY OF HISTORICAL VEHICLES ON THE VERGE OF CLOSURE

Auto museum struggles to survive

JUST as a new chapter in the history of Slovak motor manufacturing is opening, another may be about to close.
The Nitra City Museum of Historical Vehicles has exhibits tracing the history of motor transport, both in Slovakia and abroad, from the beginning of the 20th century. However, now it looks as though the collection may be scattered, as the museum struggles with financial problems.
Despite international acclaim, the museum is under severe financial pressure. It received grants worth Sk37,000 (€900) from the Nitra City Council last year under the previous administration, but this year it has not received anything and has to rely on other sponsors.


FOREIGN cars in the collection include this 1940 French-built Fiat Simka.
photo: Conrad Toft

JUST as a new chapter in the history of Slovak motor manufacturing is opening, another may be about to close.

The Nitra City Museum of Historical Vehicles has exhibits tracing the history of motor transport, both in Slovakia and abroad, from the beginning of the 20th century. However, now it looks as though the collection may be scattered, as the museum struggles with financial problems.

Despite international acclaim, the museum is under severe financial pressure. It received grants worth Sk37,000 (€900) from the Nitra City Council last year under the previous administration, but this year it has not received anything and has to rely on other sponsors.

"Unfortunately I have to say that [the museum] has not reached agreement with the new management in the city council since [last December's] elections," said Ján Blix, chairman of the vintage automobile club whose volunteers run the museum.

The building housing the museum is rented from the council, but there are plans to find a more commercial use for it, such as establishing a pool hall there, according to museum officials.

Although the building lies on one of the main streets through the western Slovak city of Nitra, it is easy to miss, wedged between furniture showrooms, and does not receive many visitors.


A 1957 Slovak-built Velorex 560.
photo: Conrad Toft

"People have to learn what we have here. They walk past for maybe four or five years and when they finally come in they're surprised by what we actually have. They think we have may be 10 or 15 motorcycles here," said Blix.

In fact, the Nitra City Museum of Historical Vehicles has managed to build up a collection of over 90 exhibits since opening in 1997 with just 30 motorcycles.

The collection is constantly changing as club members take their exhibits to other museums and work on repairs. The oldest motorcycle in the collection at the moment is a German DKW 250, built in 1927, although the museum normally also contains a British Triumph motorcycle from 1914.

In pride of place on the first floor of the museum is a collection of Slovak-manufactured motorbikes and mopeds. It includes one of the first Slovak motorbikes, a two-stroke Manet M90, first manufactured in the northern Slovak town of Považká Bystrica in 1947.

All of the exhibits are owned by individual members of the vintage auto club, who have restored the vehicles themselves. While the vehicles are valuable because of their age and condition, it is impossible to put a price on the cost of the renovations, as time is the biggest factor, said museum representatives.

"A complete renovation doesn't take months, it takes years. If you want to just give it a nice new coat, that will only take a week, to repair the bodywork might take two weeks, but the whole car would take a year or two, definitely," said Blix.

The main reason for the time taken is that the enthusiasts only use original parts and these can be very difficult to get hold of.

Blix explained: "You have to travel and visit many places, and when you eventually find some small part [you need] you're happy for days!"

Although the museum struggles to attract local interest, it is well known abroad, and since 2000 has been included in a prestigious list of the most important transport museums in Europe prepared by the International Historical Commission of the International Automobile Federation.

"Half of our visitors come from abroad. The foreigners are surprised that this collection is here. They're particularly interested in the Jawas," said Blix.

"We had someone here two years ago from the British Motorcycle Federation. He had planned to be here for an hour and a half, but he stayed for three hours - we couldn't get him out," he added.

"There was one Austrian here who has his own private museum with 360 modern and vintage motorbikes. I told him that our collection couldn't compare to his, but he said, 'I'm 67 years old and you've got motorbikes here that I'm seeing for the first time in my life'. It was a real compliment for us," said Blix.

As well as the permanent exhibits in the museum building, the club also holds outdoor events in the town, starting at the beginning of spring, when enthusiasts can show off their winter restoration work, and continuing through to the autumn. If the museum closes, these will also move elsewhere.

"It's a shame. We have had offers from other towns but we feel that Nitra, as the 'mother of Slovak towns', should be first in something," said Blix.

Offers to house the museum have come from the southern town of Komárno and the western spa town Topoľčany, but Blix does not expect the collection to stay together if the museum is forced to move from Nitra.

"If the museum were to close, everyone would want to take their machines back, and no one would be able to amass the collection again," said Blix.

"Some owners don't have the space for them and would try to sell the vehicles. Maybe then we would have to go to England to see them," he said.

The Nitra City Museum of Historical Vehicles at Štúrova 33, Nitra, is open from 11:00-18:00, Thursday to Sunday. Admission is Sk20. For further information call 037/7412-054. Call in advance for foreign-language tour guides.

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