2023 Spring: Bulgarian Classic Car Experts Tour Spanish and Portuguese Museums
Tour de Europe 9 – Spain and Portugal
This ninth edition of the format took place between March 26 and April 4, 2023. Tour de Europe is an initiative held since 2011, with the main objective being organized visits to exhibitions and museums for historic vehicles in Europe. Its ideologist, creator and main organizer is Nikolay Koruderliev.
The Tour of the Iberian Peninsula began its planning in November 2017, after the seventh edition or the so-called Scandinavian Tour. The route, including all of Spain and Portugal, was planned and ready for realization in 2018. Unfortunately, due to the large period of 12 days and the many long crossings of 900 km per day, there were no takers for its realization for several years. In the late autumn of 2022, the first enthusiasts for the realization of the route were found. After optimizing it both in terms of time and geography, the new route covered only northern Spain and northern Portugal, within 8 days. The southern parts of both countries remained for another edition of the Tour de Europe, if all goes well.
On March 26, we started from Sofia with a flight to Barcelona. From there we rented a car and headed west. Sunny and warm weather accompanied us. Our first museum stop was MUSEU DE L'AUTOMOCIÓ RODA RODA DE LLEIDA. Nestled in an old industrial hall, with a small sign next to the door for visitors, it presents a rather interesting selection of transport equipment. The latter can be viewed freely, without an entrance fee. We were greeted by an extremely friendly gentleman who, in addition to welcoming us, explained the rules for staying in the museum and informed us about the other visitors already inside. In the lobby we were "welcomed" by fire trucks, police motorcycles and a Bulldog tractor. In the main part of the exhibition, you can see pre-war cars from the following brands: Delage, BMW, Fiat, Chevrolet, Ford, Renault, Citroen, Peugeot, Hispano Suiza, Chrysler, Essex, Berliet, DeDion Bouton and others. Among them, engines and workbenches are exhibited. Next to the rich collection of motorcycles are the showcases with diecast models. The already mentioned gentleman sent us away as kindly as he welcomed us with the agreement that I would send him issues of the oldtimerBulgaria magazine when the article about the museum comes out. After spending nearly 90 minutes here, we headed to Valladolid.
The next morning we proceed to our second position on the plan, namely the Museo de Historia de la Automocion de Salamanca. Located in the central part of the city, in a separate building, it welcomed us with a surprise: Buses and mopeds can park in the parking lot in front of the museum, but not cars. The exhibition is spread over three floors. Before entering it, we were greeted by the busts of Demetrio Gomez Planche, the founder of the museum, and his wife. In the exhibition area, the first car is a Hispano Suiza 30/40 HP from 1910. Followed by a fire engine and a three-wheeled solution by a local mechanic with a Benz engine. Bicycles from the 19th century are also present in the exposition. In the pre-war car sector, on the underground floor, we enjoyed representatives of brands such as: Delahaye, Victoria, Schneider, Ford, Rolls-Royce, Daimler, Chevrolet, DKW, Amilcar and others. On the last, third floor, among the many exhibits from the 1950s to the 21st century, you can see Renault cars that participated in the WRC and F1 cars. We ended this visit with a short coffee break and exchange of impressions and thoughts from the museum, as well as plans for the rest of the trip.
After a short trip we crossed the border between Spain and Portugal and we were pleasantly surprised by the time difference between the two countries, which in turn gave us an extra hour to indulge in the Museu Do Caramulo. Located high up in the mountain, perhaps at its peak, it was actually our first big surprise. We were informed at the reception that, in addition to the museum, we could also visit the place where cars were restored, known as the Experience center Caramulo. In the lobby of the museum, four pre-war Bugatti cars welcomed us. This institution is of a mixed thematic nature related to the history of the host town. The main part of the cars are located in a separate building, with a second mezzanine. Once again we had the opportunity to enjoy exhibits from the brands already mentioned above, as well as Abadal, Packard, Autocar, Unic and Darracq. An exceptional selection presented in perhaps the best way possible. A 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III with an interesting history made an impression. It was purchased by Prince Berard and Queen Elizabeth II in 1957, General Eisenhower in 1960, Pope Paul IV in 1967 and Pope John Paul II in 1982 were welcomed with this car. The car restoration center is located 1 km from the museum. It turned out to be even higher up the mountain on a winding paved street. We expected a workshop with 4-5-6 jobs, but the surprise was complete. A huge building on two floors with an exhibition hall, a presentation hall, work rooms, rest areas and with free access to everything. Extremely friendly staff, communication with whom was a pleasure. At least 15 cars were being worked on at the same time. We saw how engines are repaired, how a body is prepared for paint, how parts are ordered and, of course, how the already prepared cars are assembled. There was also the merchandising center characteristic of every museum or just a shop for souvenirs and branded items.
Next was Porto, the second largest city in Portugal. So from the Balearic Sea we reached the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to the two defensive facilities of the medieval city, we also planned visits to two interesting museums, or more precisely, the Museu do Carro Eléctrico and one of the expositions of the Museu dos Transportes e Comunicações, namely O Motor da Republica. Porto's Electric Transport Museum is housed in an original tram depot. In one way or another, it turned out to be the most suitable for hosting its exhibits. An extremely spacious and bright building representing an era in the most authentic way possible. We were greeted by the predecessors of the electric tram, namely those drawn by horse carts. A variety of open and closed coaches in fresh colors. Among them transport and repair tramcars are also presented, as well as a repair car for the electrical network from the Hansa Lloyd brand and two of the first trolleybuses in Portugal. On the second floor of the building the transformers, current converters, electrical machines and the dispatcher's office for controlling the city's old electric tram network have been preserved. Counterpoint to all this is the modern reception and lobby of the museum.
After a 1300m crossing and a short lunch on the Duero River, we were at the O Motor da Republica exhibition. It is housed on the second floor of the Museum of Transport and Communications, as I already mentioned. Quite modest amount of exhibits. Representing the carriages of the royal family, to the limousines that served Salazar's era. Among them are: Packard Super Eight 1939, Rolls-Royce Phantom V 1960 and Vanden Plas Princess 1967. From what we have seen, after 1968 Antonio Spinola and Francisco Costa Gomes used two cars: Mercedes-Benz W100 600s from 1966 and Mercedes-Benz 280 SEL from 1970. After the overthrow of the military dictatorship follow the cars of the Democratic Republic. The first of them is the Citroen CX 25 Pallas from 1986. The small number of exhibits is in contrast to the huge amount of history, luxury, personalities and destinies woven into them. With that we left Porto behind and headed northeast back into Spain.
We reached Bilbao in the early afternoon. And for the first time, we went in the wrong direction, which cost us a 13 km detour and going through the same tunnel twice. Time was no longer on our side here. It became rainy and foggy. A very interesting mountain town cut by the Nervion and Ibaizabal rivers. Combining many tunnels, bridges and viaducts. Here was our starting point for the last museum in our plan, only number 6. Day seven, Sunday. We headed high up in the mountains to the MUSEO COCHES CLÁSICOS TORRE LOIZAGA COLECCIÓN MIGUEL DE LA VÍA. After a short wander around the outer ramparts, we reached the correct gate. Once again, a pleasant surprise awaited us – not 2 or 3, but as many as 6 rooms with cars. The medieval castle that houses these examples of engineering thought is a unique host. The bad and cold weather was forgotten in the first minutes. This was the exhibition that we actually spent the most time on. Although only one historical room is part of the exposition, the rest complement the overall concept well and fit into the general landscape. The moment we bought our tickets, we realized that this museum was being promoted as: Collection Rolls Royce. But that in no way prepared us for what we saw. 3 halls with cars of the already mentioned brand. Two of them with dozens of pre-war exhibits. Something like the Rolls Royce heaven. I would compare it to the Rolls-Royce Museum - Dornbirn. There were also representatives of the brands Lamborghini, Isotta Fraschini, Gladiator, MG and Jaguar. The oldest exhibit was from 1903 of the Peugeot brand. All of them prepared with exceptional attention to detail, and the overall exhibition with a well-thought and implemented concept.
We left the 'icing on the cake' and the misty wet mountains and headed back to Barcelona hoping for a sunny coast. With our VW Golf 8 we drove 2,650 km through Catalonia, Castile, Portugal and the Basque Country. And now an almost 3-hour flight back to Bulgaria awaited us.
In conclusion or as a balance, I can conclude that splitting the route into two was a reasonable and functional decision. The originally planned 10-12 museums to visit, but actually reduced to 6, due to inconvenient working hours or lack of communication with the owner, were a high goal. I believe that the realization on the territory of two countries, combined land and air transport, the visited 8 cities with their 4* hotels, restaurants, sights, nature, hospitality, the realized cultural and culinary exchange and the perfect timing form the mark “SUCCESSFUL” for Tour de Europe 9.