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This name for my website developed from a meeting with Anders Ditlev Clausager, secretary of the SAHB (Society of Automotive Historians in Britain) some years ago at the SAH (Society of Automotive Historians) Dinner on the eve of the Retromobile in Paris. I had only recently been elected as the secretary of the AHG (Automobilhistorische Gesellschaft e.V.) so we spoke quite a lot together. We met again at the Techno Classica in Essen in 2015, and it was then that Anders told me about his idea to organise a European meeting for Automotive Historians. I quite liked that idea and I offered my help, which he accepted.
And so we began. He suggested it should be held in Alsace as it is more or less in the centre of Europe. Also in Paris, I had met Richard Keller, the Conservateur en Chef of the Musée National de L'Automobile in Mulhouse, Alsace (the Schlumpf museum). So I asked him, if it would be possible to have such a European conference in his museum. He was absolutely enthusiastic about the idea. Yes of course, and he would help us in any way.
So the location was settled and the next question was the date. After some discussion we agreed on the weekend 26 to 28 May 2017.
From the beginning, both of us were in contact with our own and other similar societies, and we informed fellow historians and colleagues about our plans. Many of them expressed an interest, and volunteered to make presentations.
Anders and I agreed to split responsibilities – he would organise the speeches and put the programme together, and I would make the arrangements with the venue, the hotel, and handle the financial transactions, because they do not use Euros on “the island”.
Anders produced a leaflet in English, I translated it, and we sent it to everyone, whom we thought might be interested in attending the conference.
Very soon we had quite a lot of offers of presentations, enough for two days. From the beginning we thought that we would need at least one and a half days for the conference. I had made contact with Martin Waltz of the Museum Volante in Kirchzarten near Freiburg in Germany. As I looked at the map to see how far it is from Mulhouse, I realised that it is only 65 kilometres (40 miles) away, so I asked Martin Waltz, if it would be possible to have a second part of the conference on the Sunday in his museum. He was delighted and said yes.
So, in the end we had our conference in two locations and in two countries: a real European event.
Because of this, we wanted to feature presentations which would have a common theme of “crossing borders” and be relevant to automotive history in more than one European country. The other idea was to have presentations on subjects which would be of general interest to the discipline of automotive history. And our presenters did not let us down; thank you to all of you.
When we came to the end of May 2017, we found that more than 70 interested people from 10 different countries had booked for the conference, some with partners. We met on Friday evening at the Hotel Bristol in Mulhouse for a dinner.
Over dinner we all got to know each other, the speakers were asked to introduce themselves, and there were many animated exchanges. The next morning saw us at the Cité de l’Automobile where the presentations began.
The first speaker was Richard Keller, our host. He gave a brief history of his museum.
After this introduction, Christopher Balfour from England and member of the SAHB spoke about his personal experiences relating to the decline of the British-owned motor industry
He was followed by Dr Stefan Dierkes from Germany who spoke about “Do we need more science in automotive history research?“ He gave quite a lot of arguments why we need to make our research more rigorous.
His very entertaining and thought-provoking presentation was followed by Dr. Fons Alkemade of CONAM in The Netherlands. His presentation was about the cooperation between Spyker in Holland and Maybach in Germany, in the difficult times after the First World War.
Next was Professore Alessandro Silva from Italy, member of the AISA, with his presentation on European Grand Prix racing after the Second World War. He talked about the earliest post-war motor races.
He was followed by Guy Loveridge, of the SAHB in Britain, with his presentation about the first European Grand Prix at Silverstone. He showed a unique colour film of the inaugural Formula One race held in May 1950
John Barton, also a member of the SAHB, but living in France, spoke about the last Bugattis from Molsheim. He gave us a rare insight into what really happened after the war at Bugatti. Not only that, but he introduced us to a further presentation by the delightfully articulate and still spry 91-year-old René Straub, one of the four engineers at Molsheim selected to work with Colombo on the development of the highly advanced but ill-fated Bugatti Type 251 racing car
The beginnings of Renault in Belgium was the next subject. It was brought to us by Professor Patrick Fridenson from France. He told the story of Renault up to the point when they began to manufacture their cars in Belgium in 1931, as the first Renault plant outside France.
Anthony Heal of the SAHB then spoke about Louis Coatalen, the Breton designer who worked in France and England, with particular regard to Sunbeam and their successful racing cars.
Dr. Gundula Tutt from Germany (AHG) spoke about the history, materials, and technology of car paintwork, 1900 to 1945. She told us about the developments in car painting from the early days when it took 18 days, to the present day of high technology, high speed and environmentally friendly painting.
The next speaker came from Germany, too. Frederick Scherer spoke about producing books. The title of his presentation was “Aesthetics and Design of Motoring Books”. He showed some examples of how to design a book to be functional and look nice, and how not to design a book. Most of the authors in the audience learned quite a bit
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The last presenter on the Saturday was Nebojsa Djordjevic from Serbia. He gave us a short but very welcome introduction to the history and development of “The Society of Motoring Historians in Serbia”.
Between the speeches we had some breaks, including lunch, and afternoon coffee and cakes. Conference delegates showed their books to others, and continued their individual discourse
The presentations ended at 17.00 and then we had two hours, which gave an opportunity to have a look round the museum, before the evening dinner started.
The dinner was a typical Alsatian affair, with lots of different meat and Choucruote (Sauerkraut). Finally, around 23.00 we returned to the hotel.
The next morning saw us leaving by car to Kirchzarten near Freiburg in Germany. There we visited the Museum Volante, which is notable for a collection of cars bodied by the Parisian coachbuilder Van Vooren.
We were welcomed by Martin Waltz, the owner of the museum. We had our final presentations in the conference room and restaurant.
The first speaker was Craig Horner (UK, SAHB). The title of his speech was “Beating Johnny foreigner: SF Edge, motoring and English nationalism to 1914.”
He was followed by Peter Moss (UK, SAHB) who gave us a different perspective on the history of automotive design, showing unusual examples of engines, transmissions, and even braking systems. Under the title “What lies beneath the bonnet” he introduced us to some very interesting vehicles. Peter also acted as our technical mastermind, ensuring that the presentations ran without a hitch on different equipment
Next was the Italian Giuseppe Valenza (AISA) from Palermo. And as Palermo is in Sicilly, he spoke of course about the Targa Florio; in fact about how the first Targa of 1906 came to be run.
The last presentation was from Claus Wulff (Germany, AHG), “Making their marques” was about historic radiator emblems. He showed some gems from his huge collection of badges and told plenty of interesting facts about their history.
After a nice lunch, Martin Waltz gave us a tour through his amazing museum. He even introduced Oliver Heal to a Sunbeam car which had once been owned by a member of the Heal family!
With that the conference ended, but not before we promised to hold another conference in the future. The first discussions about our next event have already taken place.
We shall look forward to seeing you again in the spring of 2019!
The photos are from: Guiseppe Valenza, Hans Peter Selz, Peter Moss, Nebojsa Djordevic and me.