One of the most famous tourist attractions in Le Mans is the motor racing circuit, home of the famous 24-Hour race. Whatever the weather, high on the list of favourite places for visitors is the Le Mans Motor Museum (Musée Automobile des 24 Heures) which is situated adjacent to the main entrance of the track. Driving through Le Mans, you’ll find the stage is set, so to speak, by the fact that you can actually drive along sections of the circuit on your way to the track and museum – including a spectacular bend or two!
The museum stands on a platform slightly above road level; it is a relatively modern building (with plenty of parking) which replaced the previous home of the collection, an old warehouse on the circuit. The building has over 5000m² of exhibition space, and contains, amongst other things, 120 vehicles including 30 historic racing cars and 10 motorcycles. The earliest exhibit is an 1885 De Dion Bouton et Trepardoux prototype steam driven dog cart (and that’s not something you’ll often see!).
Of course, many visitors come to see the historic racing cars (there are 11 winners of the 24 Hour race on show) but if your passion is vintage cars, there is a wonderful collection on show. The vehicles are beautifully preserved and many have been owned by the rich and famous of yester years.
Some of the vehicles are one-off test prototypes, many are extremely rare, and there is a glass wall for viewing the restoration workshop for a real behind the scenes, up close and personal style visit.
If you have children with you, there’s plenty to keep them interested including memorabilia, working models and animated games. There are also video screens which show films ofthe many important developments in car manufacturing over the years.
There is a café in the museum, which is open from April to September and a shop, which sells a wide variety of items.
The 24-Hour race which is held each June, brings with it great celebrations. Events are held throughout the previous week both in Le Mans and in the surrounding villages. There are many races at the track throughout the year for a variety of vehicles including cars, motorbikes and even lorries!
My personal favourite is the Le Mans Classic. When this event is on, the villages around and about are a magnet for the wonderfully restored cars owned by enthusiasts from throughout Europe. Driven to Le Mans to converge with like-minded passionate collectors, restorers and owners they certainly are crowd-pullers.
So, if you are visiting the area, or, perhaps on your way down south, why not consider stopping off for a break, take a look at the beautiful, historic town of Le Mans, and treat yourself to a visit to the museum.
More information and opening times can be found here www.lemusee24h.com
Susan Keefe is an author and book reviewer.