The motorcycle route ‘Drilling in the Borinage’ in the September issue of Motorcyclist it is no coincidence that you pass Mahymobiles in Leuze-en-Hainaut. Anyone with a bit of an interest in motorcycles and cars should pay a visit to the Musée de l’Auto at some point.
The history of the car collection of the Ghent Mahy family did not immediately go smoothly. The passion for collecting of the car-mad family not only resulted in a collection that is unparalleled in Europe, but at the same time there was constant concern about the space needed to display the cars to the public and the sky-high maintenance and restoration costs. Michel Mahy – now the third generation of Mahy’s to look into the collection – has developed a clear vision of the future of Mahymobiles from the Musée de l’Auto in Leuze-en-Hainaut.
Ghislain Mahy, his son Ivan and the rest of the Mahy family are a real household name in Ghent, they had a whole series of car concessions in the Artevelde city. “In the 1970s, 15% of the cars driving around in Ghent were bought in a Mahy garage”, explains Michel Mahy when he receives us at the Musée de l’Auto on the day we canned the route ‘Drilling in the Borinage’ . Michel enjoys telling the story of the impressive car collection that the family has built up over the decades. A passion that grew into a car collection that in 2015 simply counted 1,136 cars. Supplemented with tons of archive footage and truckloads of parts and memorabilia. After a particularly turbulent history with several relocations, in the year 2000 the Mahys finally found a permanent home for the collection in a former textile factory in Leuze-en-Hainaut. The Autoworld car museum in Brussels contains about two hundred cars from the Mahy collection, the rest can be found in Leuze-en-Hainaut.
When Mahymobiles opened its doors in Leuze-en-Hainaut in 2000, the collection attracted a solid 13,000 visitors in its first year. Fifteen years later, that number of visitors had fallen to three thousand. Something had to be done. “When my grandfather Ghislain’s health deteriorated, it was decided to set up a non-profit organization to safeguard the future of the collection. My father Ivan has moved heaven and earth from that non-profit organization to find suitable accommodation for the collection. He visited all former factory buildings of more than ten thousand square meters in Flanders and Wallonia, but there was always something wrong. Until the building in Leuze-en-Hainaut appeared on the radar and the local authorities also saw the project.”
“My father helped organize the move of the collection to Leuze, but he had a very conservative view of the operation of the museum. The collection continued to grow, often with cars that added only a very limited value to the whole. At the same time, hardly any budget was made available to restore cars and the entire museum was run with minimal resources. That led to serious discussions between me and my father. In 2015 I was asked by the board of the non-profit organization to take on the day-to-day management of the museum”, says Michel Mahy about the reason why so much has changed in the Musée de l’Auto in recent years.
And ‘a lot’ in this case really is ‘a lot’, because anyone who visited the museum a few years ago and now enters it again will not believe their eyes. The large hall with the collection of vintage cars is still recognizable, but everything around it is new. A special collection of motorcycles is neatly displayed in newly furnished halls, the old bicycles are displayed as they should be and a completely new hall puts the youngtimers in the spotlight. “We have to tell the story with the old-timers from the main hall. There we have to explain why a particular car has been so important in the history of the automobile. When the people in the room with the youngtimers enter, they tell the stories themselves. Many visitors have driven one of these youngtimers themselves and that ensures a very nice interaction with the public”, says Michel as we walk between the Opels, Nissans and Peugeots.
In order to realize these rooms, Michel had to free up space. And that was only possible by selling a number of cars. In 2018, Mahy organized a public sale of 148 cars. All valuable cars, of course, but less valuable within the Mahymobiles collection because they were doubles or near-doubles.
The fact that Michel Mahy wants to run the museum in a more modern way is not only apparent from the fact that the focus is now more on the quality of the collection than on the quantity. For example, a beautiful museum shop has already been developed and Mahy will soon also be taking the museum on the farm. “From September 9 to the end of October, we are organizing a pop-up museum at the Vynckier site in Ghent in which we tell the stories of forty unrestored cars. The Ghent photographer Wouter Rawoens built a photo studio in the museum in Leuze to be able to photograph a number of cars with a special story in the best conditions. With large prints of those fantastic photos we will make an exhibition in Ghent where we will also tell all those stories. At the same time we present the book ‘Mahy. A family of cars’ for. That book was published by Lannoo and links Rawoens’ photos to the stories about the cars.
With all these initiatives, we want to make the collection better known in order to attract more people to the Musée de l’Auto in Leuze. We also want to organize even more car-related events in the museum itself, and with the collection we want to place particular emphasis on Belgian car brands and cars assembled in Belgium,” concludes Michel Mahy.
More info: Mahymobiles – Musée de l’auto
More info about the book ‘Mahy – A family of Cars’ can be found hereYou can also order it via the link
Text Bart Bart De Schampheleire Photography Peter Naessens