"Restoring classic cars is an adventure that calls for the right partners"

Interview (published in E-journal 1/2013)


As the world’s largest car museum, the French national car museum Cité de l’Automobile – Collection Schlumpf in Mulhouse, Alsace, contains over 500 historic luxury and racing cars. Within the scope of a cooperation, Glasurit®, BASF’s premium paint brand, is supporting the museum with the restoration of the vehicles. Glasurit brand manager Ignacio Cabrera shares a passion for classic cars with Richard Keller , head curator of the Cité de l’Automobile.


Mr. Keller, what is your ­responsibility as the head curator of the museum?

Keller: Together with our restorers, I decide how we can best conserve our vintage cars. As a museum, we are bound to observe a certain set of ethics. It is crucial for us that our exhibits remain historically authentic. For this reason, the most important thing in my profession involves revealing the restoration history of the individual objects.


What does that mean?

Keller: For each car, we have to individually decide how we wish to proceed: Should we conserve the finish in its present condition, or should we re-​create the original condition by means of restoration? In most cases, the questions outweigh the answers during this process.


So the main objective is not to restore all cars to their original state?

Keller: No, not at all. Take the Schlumpf brothers, for instance. They reworked a number of cars in their collection to reflect their own ideas and, in so doing, put their very personal touch on them. This “Schlumpfization” is now part of the car’s identity, and we want to retain it.


What role does Glasurit play in this process?

Keller: Restoring classic cars is an adventure that calls for the right partners, people who match our requirements and understand our high expectations. In order to conserve a vintage car, you need much more than just a supplier for the right paint; you need specialists with a great deal of expertise you can talk to about the background questions.


Cabrera: Glasurit is a long-established BASF brand. We have been working with the automotive industry for a long time. Glasurit has decades of experience, expertise and comprehensive databases for Classic Car Colors. This allows us to restore the visual appearance of the original coating exactly – and even improve the color.


What do you mean?

Cabrera: Our modern coatings are often significantly more robust than the original colors and protect the body better from rust and other environmental impacts. So we ensure that restored cars can be conserved for the future at the same time.      


How did the cooperation between Glasurit and Collection Schlumpf come about?

Cabrera: We owe our contact to the colleagues at Glasurit in France and their good connections in the restoration scene. For the 100th anniversary of Bugatti in 2009, the Cité de l‘Automobile wanted to restore several prototypes, but they had trouble finding the right color. The restoration expert involved in the project recommended Glasurit. The cooperation developed from this work together.


Keller: As part of the partnership, we are also planning to be involved in 2013 – together with Glasurit – in the “Sleeping Beauties of Former Times” exhibition in Kassel, Germany. Around 40 non-restored rare classic cars from the museum’s collection, previously unseen by the public, will be exhibited to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of the city of Kassel. 


Mr. Cabrera, why are classic cars an interesting market for Glasurit?

Cabrera: The topic of sustainability plays a major role for us and, in the broadest sense, that’s exactly the focus of the classic cars: preserving values and traditions. Many premium car manufacturers are represented in the classic car sector, and for us, it’s a unique opportunity to help our customers find the right solution for their car and create history together with these brands.


What does the “right” color mean for a classic car aficionado?

Keller: The color tells the history of the car. The patina that forms over the years lends the car its identity. However, in contrast to the body, for example, the finish is much more exposed to damage and changes. All it takes is a brush and a can of paint to do damage through unprofessional paint application.


How do you explain the ­fascination we continue to have with classic cars?

Keller: These cars are an integral part of our history, and not just because they exemplify technical refinement. They stand for a certain historic moment, the ideas and visions of the society in which they were built.


Cabrera: That’s right. That’s why we connect classic cars with certain associations and emotions, and it’s important to maintain this connection.


Do you own any classic cars yourself, Mr. Keller?

Keller: No, I don’t. As a curator, I have excellent connections to the classic car sector and, as such, have a lot of insider knowledge about good prices. It wouldn’t be right to exploit this professional advantage for my personal plea-​sure. But that’s really okay, since during my day job, I actually have 600 vintage cars (laughs)!   



Richard Keller

Richard Keller (55) has turned his passion into his profession: After having finished his studies in history of technology, he has been working as a curator for museums of technology and industry.


As the head curator, he has been responsible for preserving the extensive vintage car collection of the Cité de l’Automobile in Mulhouse as a cultural heritage since 2000.

Ignacio Cabrera Cantera

Ignacio Cabrera Cantera (43) hails from Uruguay and has worked for BASF since 2000. As brand manager for Glasurit, he has also been responsible for Glasurit Classic Car Colors since 2011.

Cité de l'Automobile - Collection Schlumpf

The Cité de l’Automobile is based on an extensive collection of vintage cars belonging to two French textile factory owners: in the 1950s and 1960s, the brothers Fritz and Hans Schlumpf collected some 500 historic cars. In 1966, they founded their “Musée Schlumpf”, for which they had parts of their textile factory in the Alsatian city of Mulhouse remodeled into a large exhibition hall with historic streetlights and avenues.


Today, the museum houses around 600 classic cars, including 125 Bugattis, on an exhibition area of 25,000 m2. In addition to the vintage cars, the Cité de l’Automobile contains an exhibition about the restoration of cars and collections of hood ornaments or toy cars, in order to place the phenomenon of the “automobile” in its context.


Cité l'Automobile