The Museo Automovilístico de Málaga, opened in 2010, is one of the latest in a series of new cultural offerings in the city. Indeed, cultural, because this tastefully presented collection is not so much a petrol head’s paradise as a museum dedicated to art on wheels.

Why, in a city that also counts the Picasso and Carmen Thyssen museums, would you visit a car museum? Firstly, because it contains one of the finest car collections in all of Europe, and second, because this truly is a place of art and beauty. Indeed, the impressive collection of sumptuous cars spanning many decades and types is enough to make any car lover’s heart beat faster, but Málaga’s Museo Automovilístico offers an experience that lovers of art, design and simply beautiful things will appreciate equally. In practice, and without wanting to stereotype, it means that you can avoid the usual male-female tug of war and approach it with equal anticipation.

Quite fittingly, then, the museum is housed within the elegant contours of the Tabacalera, a grand old tobacco factory that, renovated to its former glory, looks so much more like a city palace than a factory. It is, in fact, hard to imagine where the factory would have fitted into this elegant late 19th-century building yet is easy to picture horse-drawn carriages and early landaulettes and limousines pulling up before its imposing entrance. You can just picture how classic cars would adorn this scene, and indeed, they are brought out for special occasions and important events, but day visitors head past the exhibition of art made from car lamps and chrome work, and into the rooms that bring to life the past 100-plus years as much as they pay homage to the beauty and mechanical genius that mark motoring’s short but eventful history.


Drawn from the stable of lifelong Portuguese collector João Manuel Magalhães, the museum’s 90-odd cars cover the period from the emergence of the motorcar to the present day. In this way it chronicles a changing world in which design and technology evolve before your very eyes until the old-fashioned carriages-with-engines of the Belle Époque no longer bear much resemblance to the sleek, teardrop designs of the 1930s and 50s.

One of the great charms of this museum is the historical and stylistic sensitivity with which the collection has been displayed. As a result, you are not just admiring cars but also get a sense of the times they lived in, for the collections are set in scene, starting with the late 1800s when the horseless carriage first made its appearance and on to the grim days of the First World War.

This is a time of the elaborate Rolls Royce, De Dion Bouton or Panhard Levasseur, but also of makeshift ambulances and the famous Paris taxis that ferried tens of thousands of troops to the hellhole of Verdun. The mood brightens with the onset of the roaring twenties, and the poster art, fashion and contemporary accessories used to dress the era become lighter and more playful.

It is an approach that will make even those without petrol in their veins enjoy this museum, for it displays more than cars alone, taking in also art, furniture and fashion, including an impressive display of classic designer dresses and hats. And yet, at the heart of it all are those sumptuous mechanical beasts that are an art form in their own right. Picture Al Capone in his Packard, an American president in a stately Cadillac, and Lord and Lady so-and-so alighting from their Daimler. An Italian playboy tearing through Monte Carlo in a Ferrari or the European aristocracy taking to the road in Bugattis, Hispano Suizas or Isotta Fraschinis.

All this opulence makes the head spin, but there is time for a little Austin or two before you come to the svelte perfection of the pre-war years, when powerful Auto Unions, magnificent Mercedes limousines and teardrop-styled Delages and Delahayes add to the list of now legendary carmakers. My personal favourite is the 1950s and 1960s, and it takes an effort to remain calm as you admire the Aston Martins, Jaguars, Lancias, Alfa Romeos, Porsches and of course the long, crazy American cars of the Rock ‘n Roll era.

Encompassing a flower power Roller inspired by John Lennon’s famous hand painted limo right up to present day dream cars and the racing and drag cars made by the museum’s team itself, this bewildering collection takes you right up to the present moment. A lighter note is added by unusual but equally stunning concept and demo cars, and an exhibition of powerful engine blocks painted by local and international artists.


With all of these elements in place, Málaga’s Museo Automovilístico is an experience to be savoured by those who love cars, design, craftsmanship and technology, and even those who ordinarily don’t. Its style and setting make it more a museum dedicated to an art form as opposed to a motoring museum alone, and this broadens the appeal considerably.

Sr. Magalhães offered his collection to various cities in Portugal, then Spain, before Málaga realised the potential and offered a suitably sophisticated home for it. In so doing, and building upon its programme of beautification and cultural expansion, the city has been able to attract one of the most important private collections in Europe, winning out over larger centres and bolstering its growing reputation as a centre of art, culture and design.

Images courtesy of Museo Automovilístico de Málaga:

This article was published in Villae International Magazine 9, the official magazine of EREN – The European Real Estate Network. You can also read the online version of the printed Villae International Magazine 9.