From the very start, automobiles have attracted great interest among human beings, given their hunger to create, improve, be independent, and move around swiftly. The early 20th century marked the appearance of cars on our streets: the same vehicles that, over the years, would acquire a great cultural level and are stored at museums and collected by enthusiasts. It is thanks to their great historical value, as well as their quality and rarity, that they are compared to true works of art.
This was the philosophy behind the birth of the MAUTO – the national automobile museum of Turin – in 1933. The structure boasts one of the rarest and most interesting collections in its field, with over 200 original vehicles and 80 international brands. The most ancient core of the collection is related to the history of its founder, Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia, who enthusiastically and perseveringly brought the cars, frames, and engines together. The automobiles exhibited represent creativity, technical excellence, and manufacturing know-how, but each piece is also the protagonist of historical, sporting, social, or cultural triumphs, each with its related stories.
The heart of the museum is its Documentation Center, which contains the documents, accounts, and photographs proving the uniqueness and authenticity of the extraordinary artifacts. The Center was inaugurated in the 1960s, just after the MAUTO moved to Corso Unità d’Italia, and includes a Library, an “Emeroteque” (book and magazine library), and an Archive, which form one of the greatest book and document collections on the history of 1900s motoring in Europe.
The latest section of the museum – the Restoration Center – was born in 2016. Its goal is to preserve, store, and promote the museum’s precious historical/scientific heritage. Its greatest achievements include the functional restorations of a 1907 Fiat 130 HP, an 1891 Pecori steam tricycle, and a 1907 Itala 35/45 HP “Pechino-Parigi”, as well as the aesthetic restorations of an 1898 De Dion-Bouton 1¼ HP motorized tricycle and a 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 R.
MAUTO’s Restoration Center combines traditional vintage car restoration techniques with the most innovative art restoration systems. The strength of such systems is the initial phase: the observation and analysis performed in close collaboration with the MAUTO Documentation Center.
Before the vehicle is touched, it is examined in the slightest detail. The historical archive is searched for documents, articles, pictures, and original technical drawings. Subsequently, the vehicle undergoes multispectral imaging and scientific analyses to determine materials and construction techniques. Previous restoration operations that help define the vehicle’s history are also identified in this stage.
A suitable restoration may only be planned upon this initial observation and analysis phase. It is important to define, from the beginning, the expected type of operation – whether only aesthetic or even functional. This choice is made upon considering different parameters: vehicle originality; how many times it has undergone restoration; when the engine was last started; and so on.
In the case of aesthetic restoration, the specialists follow the same basic rules used for cultural heritage: recognizability, use of reversible and compatible materials, and minimum intervention. The aim is to restore the vehicle’s suitable preservation conditions, preserve the vehicle’s authenticity, and facilitate the aesthetic interpretation of the most jeopardized materials, being careful not to erase the traces of the vehicle’s passage in time.
Functional restoration, on the other hand, is done to put the vehicle back on the road, giving back to it the feature that has defined it as a moving object throughout its lifetime. In a functional restoration, it is important to protect the artifact and sometimes replace a few mechanical elements: one part that works incorrectly may damage other parts, thus it is recommended to replace it. This operation must be documented and shall occur, only if required, with full consideration of the originality, materials, and assembly technique. Once again, this form of restoration follows the same fundamental principles of art restoration, and every original part must be stored to make the operation reversible. The authenticity and history of the vehicle shall be preserved also in the scope of conveyance to future generations.
Along with the ordinary work activity, the MAUTO Documentation and Restoration centers perform education and training activities to spread the scientific method and make professional skills more accessible in the fields of research, restoration, and scientific analysis.