I like museums as much as the next guy. Yes, even the ones with paintings of people who are most likely dead now and dinosaur skeletons. It’s a glimpse into artifacts from a bygone era and usually one of the few opportunities to see rare and exciting things. Sometimes they can be quite surprising, and also indicative of the people who run them.
After doing the main car museums in Italy last year, and after the unexpectedly good visit to the Alfa Romeo museum, I had a look around some other museums in the area. A friend recommended a place called the Umberto Panini Collection in Modena after hearing good things about it. Since I was already going to be around the Modena it went straight to the “must visit” list.
I contacted someone from the museum to show me around and give an explanation of the museum as it had quite and interesting backstory. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the agreed-upon time no one was there. In true Italian fashion it was probably siesta time. Regardless, I had a look around the museum and was in for a shock.
This is probably the only classic car museum in the world that’s located next to a dairy farm. There must’ve been at least 30 classics cars on display, including 19 vintage Maseratis, plus bikes, engines, and other automotive memorabilia. But more than anything though it was a shrine to the Trident brand.
The story goes that in 1965 the Orsi family, then owners of Maserati, decided to open up a car collection in part of their factory in Modena as a museum type collection. Since its opening on October 27 of that year, the collection has expanded and improved through the restoration of cars already in the collection. The goal of “passing on the value of the history of Maserati to generations to come” never changed though.
When Fiat bought Maserati from De Tomaso Group in 1993, there was a bit of contention over who the museum belonged to. While still technically located in the factory premises, the owner of the collection was still under O.A.M. s.r.l, not Maserati SpA. In July 1996 De Tomaso demanded the cars and engines from the museum be returned to them. Maserati agreed but had already purchased part of the collection that remained in their factory.
Italian officials scrambled to find a way of keeping these historic cars in Modena. That’s where Umberto Panini comes in. Using their fortunes from parmesan cheese, the Panini family stepped in and helped keep these cars right where they belong: in Modena.
Today, the Panini Collection is located within the Panini family’s Hombre organic farm where they’re still producing cheese. It’s the closest thing to a Maserati museum in Modena. The Maserati factory only has a showroom but that mainly has their newer models in it. No one wants to see a Levante in a museum.
There are some seriously cool and significant Maserati cars in here. You’ve got the usual highlights such as a Bora, Merak, Ghibli Spyder (before the Ghibli was a $499/month lease sedan), Mistral, 250F Formula One car, and of course the very beautiful A6GCS by Pininfarina. Not the catchiest name in the world but one of the prettiest cars to bear the Trident badge.
Next to these pinup models were some obscure ones. One was the Simun, which was presented at the 1968 Turin Motor Show but Maserati ended up going with the Vignale design, which later became known as the Indy. Next to the Simun was an unnamed prototype coupe was known as the 124. Upstairs was where the weirdest of the bunch were hiding.
Called the Chubasco, it’s a bit like the chili sauce to go with your Panini experience. First shown in the 1990, it was supposed to go into production in 1992 but only ever remained a design and engineering exercise. It introduced a central beam type chassis to improve cooling to the major components and its twin-turbo 3.2-liter V8 engine.
This was supposed to be a ’90s 430 horsepower supercar set to take on Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche. But Maserati then realized it would’ve cost too much and scrapped the plan. They did use what they learnt from this exercise with the Barchetta project. I see a lot of similarities between this and Bugatti’s early ’90s supercar, the EB110.
The Panini collection was a proper surprise. The quality of cars in the collection and the condition they were in was a true testament to how much these cars mean to the Panini family and to the people of Modena. I wish someone had been there to explain it better, but that’s Italy for you.
While in the area, I visited one more museum. Last year I ticked off the Ferrari museum in Modena off my list, this year it was the turn for the Ferrari museum in Maranello. Yes, only Ferrari would have two museums within 20 minutes of each other. Anything for a quick buck, right?
Entrance is 16 euros each or 25 euros for entry to both.
I wouldn’t recommend paying a single euro for it. When I went it looked unfinished. I’m not sure if they were still building the actual museum or if it was under renovation but a heads up at the ticket desk would’ve been appreciated. There were some displays missing entirely—the plaque for the SP12 Eric Clapton was still on the ground but the car wasn’t there.
You can see from the background of my photos from the Ferrari museum there’s unfinished walls and people putting up exhibits. It was just a mess. Yet there were still tour groups and plenty of visitors roaming around because it was a “Ferrari museum.”
If you want to see a tourist trap this is it. If you want to see a proper car museum, go visit the Alfa Romeo or Panini museums.
Okay, to be fair there were some nice cars in the museum but none that made it worth the visit. The bigger museum is a better way to spend money and time, simply because they usually have some cool themed exhibits there. If there was a cool car, like the 250 SWB or 275 GTB, there were usually a busload of tourists around it. The lighting wasn’t also ideal for photos.
But perhaps the most shocking thing I saw at the Ferrari museum wasn’t actually Ferrari’s fault. A random man thought it’d be a good idea to open the door of the 275 on display. Because it’s an older car it needed to be slammed. He didn’t know this and tried to discreetly close the door, but obviously when someone is trying to shut the door of a $1 million car in a crowded museum people are going to notice.
One of the guides actually had to step away from her tour and tell the man to not touch the exhibits or he would be removed from the museum. He simply walked away from the car after that. It’s not behavior I condone, but it was the most interesting thing I saw at the museum.
I took that as my cue to leave and wished I had spent 16 euros on going back to the Alfa museum and a coffee instead.
Correction: An earlier version of this post listed this Ferrari museum as the one in Modena. It is actually in Maranello.