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Museums in Switzerland

by Derek Rayner

Before venturing into Switzerland I had taken the opportunity of visiting the Swiss Travel Centre in New Coventry Street, London and acquiring a copy of their excellent publication "Out-of-the-ordinary Swiss Museums".  This, as its name implies, lists not only the major museums but also some of the more obscure ones - indeed, just the sorts of places where one would be likely to find cyclemotors.  Armed with this fine little book and a little bit of homework done prior to the visit, I established that there were three likely locations for investigation.  One additional place near Zürich was discounted as a result of the aforementioned homework since this was a private toy and motor cycle museum but the motor cycle part had been dispersed some two or three years previously - the guide was obviously old or out of date.

We were hence left with Gossau, Luzern and Winterthur to visit.  The Technorama Museum at Winterthur was a collection of all things technical - a science museum - and most interesting from a general point of view.  It was disappointing with regard to our specific interest since it revealed nothing of cyclemotor or autocycle style at all.  There was a display of old cars and also a collection of motor cycles on loan from the Hilti Museum at Gossau - which we were to visit later in the day - but as far as cyclemotors were concerned we drew a complete blank.

Our homework was necessary in so far as the Hilti Museum at Gossau was concerned since it was only open on Saturdays and Sundays but it was closed on the first Sunday in the month - and it was the first weekend of the month when we were there.  So we arrived after lunch on Saturday and found the place - to all intents and purposes a private house - only a few minutes away from the station, and appearing to be decidedly closed.  Notices displayed around indicated that it should have been open, so we banged on the door and eventually an upstairs window opened - it was a house integral with the museum - and the lady who spoke no English muttered at us from above.  We gained entrance, paid the fee and signed the visitors' book.  Then I noticed a sign indicating photographs were prohibited and, almost at the same time, a Cyclemaster, so I knew our visit was not in vain.  It was, it transpired, one man's collection and a somewhat large one it turned out to be.  Not only was the ground floor (above which were the living quarters) crammed with motor cycles and other memorabilia, but it turned out that there was another upstairs room, a downstairs garage and yet another room at the back also housing both motor cycles and also gramophones, model trains, acetylene lamps, guns and toy motor cycles as well.  It also transpired that there was another shed or garage some two kilometres distant with more machines, but we didn't have time to go there.

Some of the more well known motor cycle names were Moto Guzzi, Bennelli, Sarolea, FN, Condor, Ariel, Norton, Clement and BSA whilst Switzerland was represented by the firms of Zehnder and Motosacoche.  There were a couple of para-bikes - neither a Corgi! - one Italian, the other USA-made, plus a Belgian FN three-wheeler stretcher-carrying motor cycle.  Another unusual machine was a Sidemotor with a vee-twin engine located where one would expect to find the sidecar - and two saddles, one behind the other.  There were also four miniature (child-size) reproductions of Harley Davidsons, obviously produced commercially.

Cyclemotor interest revolved around the Cyclemaster already mentioned, in grey and black and fitted with an early style carburettor and an exhaust silencer on which the front unbolts, presumably for ease of cleaning.  Because this was hung from the rafters it was easy to note the number of the engine - B01584.  There was a further Cyclemaster, this one in the same grey and black (seemingly standard Continental colours - I'd seen the same colours on one in Germany) and fitted to a somewhat nondescript cycle.  This was at the rear of other motor cycles and hence difficult to see.  Also noted was a Honda P50 moped with the engine in the rear wheel and finally, on a window sill and mounted on stands, two Mosquitos, one being a 38B, looking obviously brand new and neither of which appeared to have been fitted to cycles.

Gossau is the terminus of one of the many interesting Swiss private railways, the Appenzellerbahn, and so it was that we returned to the station and enjoyed a ride to the terminus at Wasserauen, returning down the rack section to St Gallen with its trams and trolleybuses for more variations on the Swiss transport theme.

Out third port of call, after sampling a narrow gauge mountain railway, the Arth Rigi Bahn, was Luzern.  A short trolleybus ride from the main station took us to the huge Swiss Transport Museum (Verkehrshaus) where transport enthusiasts flock by the thousand to feast on the delights to be found there.  Naturally, there is much of railway interest as well as aircraft, lake steamers, cable cars and postal transport to keep one occupied but it was to the road transport section that we headed first.  On this occasion, we were not to be disappointed, as at Winterthur.

We found a VéloSoleX type 330 - a 45cc model with the early 'pepperpot' engine, loop frame and no clutch.  This had been made in Genève, under licence, by Hispano Suiza (Suisse) SA in 1952.  The notice adjacent indicated that the marque was in production in the country for some 30 years.  This machine was in fair condition, although by no means to a grade 1 museum exhibit standard.

From the same era was an AMAG mini-scooter, made by AMI, Zürich in 1952, fitted with a Sachs 98cc motor.  A couple of post-war microcars also took the eye, one being a 1956 Messerschmitt KR200 cabin cruiser (an almost standard and obligatory find in a museum).  The other was a more local product, made by Dietikon Rapid Co, Zürich in 1946.  It was a Rapid, fitted with a 4-stroke opposed-piston 350 cc engine, the car being virtually totally made from aluminium.  The project was part of the post-war Swiss relief work operation and, contrary to expectations, when the economic situation improved the Canton of Zürich withdrew its support, as a result of which very few cars were actually produced.  It had three forward speeds, one reverse and was capable of 70km/hr (45mph).

Also here were a couple of other items of interest, one a Condor pedal cycle of 1935, a very heavy and expensive looking cycle with the three-speed mechanism mounted in the bottom bracket rather than Sturmey-Archer style in the rear hub.  The other was a cyclemotor from the "Between the wars" era, a German built DKW of 1921.  The name was derived from the firms earlier production of steam lorries (Dampf Kraft Wagen).  This was motor number 5777 and was mounted on a 1925 Raleigh cycle.  It seemingly was a very popular auxiliary motor for it was said that by the end of 1922 there were over 25,000 in operation.  Interestingly, the petrol tank was embossed during the manufacturing pressing operation with the name of the production company "Zschopover Maschinenfabrik D.K.W. J.S.Rasmussen".  The popularity of this little machine, mounted as it was Mini-Motor style over the rear wheel and belt driven, was such that it became known as "The Little Marvel" - an interesting play on the maker's initials since this, when translated into German, becomes "Das Kleine Wunder"!

In all, a short holiday with much of transport interest to keep us occupied, with some cyclemotor interest as well and the added bonus of a VéloSoleX repair agency and spares shop in Luzern - a place where certainly the VéloSoleX is to be found in abundance.

Go there and enjoy it!

First published in two parts - October & December 1991

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