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MANRO Museum – Tracing cultural roots among automotive icons

Nostalgia is a term many motoring enthusiasts can relate to regardless of age. For some, it is the process of diving into their memories, reliving a past that had so much more to offer; even if that was only dreams. For others, it is the need for inspiration and identity, which drives them on a journey to explore the past and connect to it, trying to make sense of the present.

Manfred Rotschne, from Salzburg, Austria is not just a classic car collector. A diverse range of antique items, photography and memorabilia are nicely assorted among beautiful historic vehicles and the visitor of MANRO Museum is offered the experience of an entire era; that of Manfred’s youth.

Located a few hundred meters from the Salzburgring – host of the 1970’s and 1980’s European Touring Car Championship – MANRO Museum stands out by the life-scale Red Bull Alpha Jet on static display, “guarding” the entrance, suggesting this is no ordinary car collection.

Black: Manfred, I know my first question does not relate to cars, but I have to ask…what’s the story behind the Alpha Jet?

MR: Of course it is car related! About ten years ago Mr. Sigi Angerer, Chief Pilot of the Flying Bulls, called us and said “You have a great collection of Italian cars, especially Ferrari, but you do not have a Ferrari 512 BBi. I am selling mine; are you interested”?

The BB has since been part of our collection and this was the start of a lasting friendship. A few years later, Sigi’s initiatives led to the static display of a Hangar 7 Alpha Jet in front of our museum. [Hangar 7 is the home of the Flying Bulls collection]

Black: Did your motoring involvement start with aircraft or cars?

MR: Definitely with cars. My parents were Fiat/Steyr Daimler Puch dealers and had a workshop in Freistadt, Upper Austria. I was “infected” pretty early on, since our entire family life was about cars. I remember visiting the Fiat factory in Turin, when I was still very young and shaking hands with Gianni Agnelli, a man who has inspired me a lot. As my oldest brother inherited the company, I had to move on. I worked for General Motors Austria, Porsche and also run my own car business. Cars and especially classic cars have always been a significant part of my life.

Black: What was the identifiable characteristic of Italian, British and German cars back in the 1960’s and 1970’s? Do you believe these characteristics still exist in modern cars or are boundaries somewhat blurred, with global sourcing of talent?

MR: Clearly not and I think this is the reason why a lot of people like to own and drive classic cars and enjoy the spirit of the ‘old days’. Italian cars were famous for their unique and beautiful design and somehow their lovely imperfection. British cars were fun to drive, sporty, chic, and classy.

But all of the cars and brands had their own characteristic look. In those days, catching glimpse of a car driving down the road, you immediately knew if it was a Jaguar, Fiat, Mercedes or a Corvette. I think nowadays many cars – if not most – are quite similar in many ways. It seems to me that the passion for design and individuality got lost at some point. That’s also what many of our visitors say; that our cars still have “faces” and character, unlike many modern car designs. I mean there are great modern cars out there, but I think the impact of their design can never quite compete with that of a classic car, with some exceptions, of course.

Black: You have lived through the golden era of motoring. How would you describe it to a millennial?

MR: It was a time where so many new things were happening. Changes were technological, social and the music scene was naturally also influenced. It really was a revolutionary and dynamic period! Every boy or young man would dream of being a racing driver. There were many small, yet very famous races taking place in Austria at the time. Like the ‘Haslgraben-Hillclimb’, where I competed with my Fiat 124, along the likes of Gunther Sachs [legendary playboy, son of Willy Sachs of the Fichtel & Sachs automotive empire, maternal grandson of Wilhelm von Opel] and his Ferrari 246 Dino. Back in those days everything was more laid back and not so much regulated. It was the era of real pioneers like Gianni Agnelli, Sergio Pininfarino, Enzo Ferrari, Ferruccio Lamborghini and so many more.

Black: An era of great music creativity too. How were you influenced as a youth?

MR: Of course, music also played a major role during those remarkable times. Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin to name a few,  revolutionized the entire music industry. Youngsters loved their music and most parents, would not let their children listen to it, including my own father. Still, I remember being a DJ and driving to Munich [90 miles or 145 km] to get the latest LP’s.

Black: Music and cars were elements of your revolution then?

I had no time to study for school, since I was also playing in some bands, so I graduated when I was 25. Usually you graduate when you are about 19 or 20. But it was a time I did not want to miss. This explains why we linked the two topics music and cars in our museum. It is just what that period was all about. If you look at old pictures of famous musicians or actors, there were always great sport cars around them.

At this point Manfred takes out a pile of photographs – some of them black and white – of concerts, Tina Turner, himself as the guitarist in a band.

Black: What was the name of your band?

MR: I played in several bands. One of them was called ‘Love P’ and another one was ‘The Case’. In this one, I was the youngest and musically probably not as advanced as the others, but I really learned a lot in that band. Most of them were formed at school or through other friends and some got professional musicians afterwards. We used to play at balls, cafés or small clubs. With most of the band members, I am still in contact, after all those years.

Black: For a visitor, it becomes evident that you have managed to complement the motoring side of the museum with the musical one, without diluting its character. How did you achieve that?

MR: From the onset, we wanted to create a “time-capsule” for people with an interest in this particular era. In our opinion music and motoring, cars and jukeboxes, just match perfectly. You get the whole experience of that time, in an environment which complements beautiful cars, admired by everyday people, musicians, actors or other celebrities alike, both now and then.

We wanted to create a museum that would attract those who lived in that period or younger people wishing to learn more about it, regardless of their specific interest in cars.

Black: Is there historical value to the musical exhibits too?

MR: Absolutely! We have mannequins of The Beatles on stage, in 1:1 scale, playing their original instruments.

We also present Stevie Wonder’s mannequin on an original Hammond piano; Jimi Hendrix with his Stratocaster and many more unique items.

Black: With this artistic background, how was your transition to full-time employment in the automotive industry?

MR: As I had attended a higher technical school and always had great interest in cars, it was the next logical step for me to work in the automotive industry. My family had a car company, but as my eldest brother had inherited it, there was no space for me and I had to move on. GM was my first job and I learned so many things; more than in school! I was lucky to have really good supervisors, from who I learned a lot, especially regarding the banking sector. This financial know-how later helped a lot in setting up our real estate company.

Black: From music to cars and then on to real estate. You are comfortable with transition then…

There is a wide scope of application for good transferable skills and opportunity in not to be neglected, be it a classic car purchase, a job offer or an investment in real estate. Back in those days, there were no flats with modern heating or bathrooms available, so my wife and I decided to renovate a house I had inherited from my mother and rent it out. That’s how the real estate business started to grow.

Black: …and presumably also supported your vision for a classic car museum.

It was a very intense time for real estate, during which classic cars were always an important part of my life. Growing older, I was increasingly getting the feeling that there must be something more to business. It was matter of time for me and my family to decide the foundation of a classic car museum.

It was high time to put all those beautiful cars, jukeboxes and other memorabilia under one roof and share our admiration for them with visitors from around the world. For us it is almost a wonderland, which is getting increasingly busy and we are very happy for it.

Black: Distancing ourselves from the 60’s and 70’s, I have noticed a visitor’s F355 GTS parked outside…do you believe this is a future classic?

MR: I believe that the 355 GTS is a true modern classic. People like these cars. You can clearly identify it is a Ferrari, but it does not look as aggressive as the newer ones. Mind you, some people find modern designs perhaps too aggressive; at least that’s the feedback I get, interacting with our museum visitors.

Modern Ferrari’s are impressive, unique in their design and the fact that everything is handmade in the factory is just amazing. And I think the myth of Enzo Ferrari is instilled in every Ferrari – it’s a true passion at Maranello. I hope this commitment will keep them from entering ‘mass production’ and remain a limited production brand.

Black: Talking about family, I couldn’t help noticing a photo with a little girl in a Lotus Super Seven…your daughter Therese-Maria has been part of MANRO Museum for a long time now, hasn’t she?

MR: She is part of the MANRO since the doors of the museum opened to the public and is a real car enthusiast, learning more each day. This knowledge and experience is particularly broadened through interaction with many very knowledgeable visitors, who enjoy sharing experience and motoring trivia.

Over the years, our family has participated in numerous classic car rallies and we greatly enjoy our short road trips to museums. I think the first time we visited the Ferrari factory, Therese was 4 years old. When she was born, I bought our Ferrari 328 GTS in Fort Lauderdale and this is the car she grew up with. I remember her standing next to the car one day, when she pointed at the air inlet and said: “This is where he is breathing from”.

Black: Therese, how is attending motoring events important for operations at MANRO Museum?

TMR: I think it is a great opportunity to get to know people and establish a good network, which is so important, when it comes to supporting operations in a classic car museum. That aside, it helps us create awareness regarding our collection and our work.

Last year, MANRO Museum was invited to Goodwood, were we displayed our Maserati Khamsin and had the opportunity to meet so many great people, many of who later visited our museum and shared information, thoughts and ideas. One of them is Charles Morgan, the grandson of the Morgan Company founder.

Black: What was your highlight from last year’s Goodwood?

TMR: Motoring talk with Bernie Ecclestone, Mika Häkkinen and other motoring legends is truly an awesome experience.

But the same motoring passion can be found across demographic groups and geographies. So, we spend quite a lot of time attending classic car rally events in Austria. I believe it is a great way to appreciate the cars, driving through beautiful scenery, as well as make new friends, who share the same passion.

Black: With many classic cars being sold privately, do auctions rank high on your priorities list?

TMR: Absolutely! Auctions are a great opportunity to enjoy the sight of some very rare classic cars, learn more about them and the era they represent, as well as stay up to date concerning prices, offer and demand. Still, most of the items in our collection have come directly from our network. Some of our cars we have known for many years – in some cases more than 20 – when the owner decides to sell.

Black: Many interesting stories about the cars then! How has the current reputation of MANRO assisted your efforts in preparing the ground for the next day?

TMR: I think our museum has a very personal character and this has been widely acknowledged.

We place a lot of value in our visitors and our interaction with them is always a good ground for new ideas to flourish. This helps us grow; both in terms of our collection and our scope. We are committed to preserving motoring values and inspiration, through our classic cars and the stories behind them and relay this experience to the next generations.

Black: It seems your name comes up frequently on classic rally event rosters. Is this business or pleasure?

TMR: It is both, but definitely more pleasure than anything else. You only know a car when you have driven it over a diverse range of surfaces and conditions. Even different serial numbers of the same model, with exactly the same specifications, react in the different way. The throttle, clutch, steering, brakes, all provide a notable difference in their feedback and exploring these differences is an endeavor by itself.

We never wanted to be a museum, where the cars are just placed in the showroom and never used again. We make sure that our cars are not just running, but are frequently driven. Classic car rallies provide the perfect surrounding and company for this purpose. However, this is not always easy, since it is impossible to drive them for half of the year, due to the weather conditions in Austria.

Black: Are we likely to see you race one of them on the track?

TMR: I used to drive on tracks, but to be honest I prefer classic rallies, where you cruise through nice scenery.

I also don’t want to get our cars ‘hurt’ and racing is only fun if you push it to the limits, which entails some risk. I truly admire people pushing hard on their vintage cars at classic car racing events like Goodwood and Monte Carlo.

Black: Austria is home to some of the most scenic locations in the world. Do you have a favourite route?

TMR: Well, our museum is located in the lake district of Austria called ‘Salzkammergut’ [a 30km by 50km area with lakes, mountains and evergreen valleys] so a lot of people visit our region to enjoy driving their vintage cars.

I consider myself lucky. I just pop out of the museum and the next magnificent lake is just 5 minutes away. All you have to do is follow the road in pretty much any direction and unravel the unique Alpine scenery adorned by beautiful lakes and mountains.

Black: And what’s your favourite ride for this journey?

Pretty much any classic roadster. Last summer it was mostly the first item in the MANRO collection; the MG A, which is in fact a first hand car.

Black: What did you think of your dad’s interest in collecting cars when you were growing up and what do you think of it now?

TMR: As a child I found it interesting to be surrounded by a collection of items, whose owners preceded me and to some extent I was learning things about my parents’ lives through them. So, it struck me as odd that some people would sell their dad’s vintage car. Mind you, I am grateful they did, because it helped our museum grow!

In retrospect, I believe I have always been a petrol head, but little girls can hide things like that. Growing older I became increasingly interested in anything related to motoring and now I have a strong admiration for my dad and his legacy in preserving motoring beauty.

Black: Talking of legacy…Manfred, I saw a Woodstock 1969 LP on your shelf. What was the sentiment at the time and what is the Woodstock legacy as 2018 comes to an end?

MR: It was a revolution against the establishment; the music was great and so powerful. Women started wearing mini-skirts; so many “rules” were broken. Nowadays, the danger is that people, especially the youth, are more into their virtual lives than their real ones. Back in those days you just had to go somewhere, meet people and come together.

There was a bit of a sting to Manfred’s last words. I was recently involved in a debate on the extent to which social media connect devices and not people – even in the motoring world. A cataclysmic flow of anonymous reposted content from all parts of the world threatens both senders and recipients, as they become interlocked in a “like-dependent” situation, with no real communication or relationship building at any stage.

This was a very involving motoring experience. Leaving MANRO Museum there is a sense of gratitude and an overwhelming feeling of genuine happiness; the one you get when you have just made new friends. Following Therese’s advice I head north towards Attersee lake thinking that in the years to come Manfred’s legacy is bound to become ever more current, as people of all ages will want to meet up in an environment that will enable them to trace cultural roots and appreciate automotive brilliance.

In the words of John Lennon: “Come together, right now…”

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