History of the Mahy Collection

The Mahy family, from Ghent in Belgium, specialized in the manufacture of steam boilers. Ghislain Mahy, born in 1907, developed a mechanical aptitude in childhood. At the age of seventeen he built his first car, using a Dixi engine and second-hand parts. "The worst car ever built" he always said. Four years later and after very careful tuning, he managed to sell it for a good price which financed his entry into the motor trade. In 1938, he opened the first car rental agency in Belgium and subsequently became an agent for several big name manufacturers: Nash, Simca and Fiat.

In 1944, Ghislain bought an FN motorcycle (the world's first 4 cylinder) and also a 1921 Ford Model T, both for only 150 Belgian francs. The model T was a car very close to his heart, his father having driven similar car before the war.

During the Second World War he owned only one book about auto mechanics in which there was a chapter that he didn’t fully understand. The chapter was about the gearbox. He dismantled a gearbox in order to understand how it worked, restored the donor car and, after completion, he started acquiring other models, simply to understand how different mechanisms work.

1945 marked Ghislain’s first serious step towards assembling a collection. A taxi driver,  sold him two cars; a 1915 Benz Karpatensieger and a 1921 Fiat Limousine. They joined the original Ford T in the Mahy garage. Then, further acquisitions followed a 1915 Wanderer, a superb Belgian 1906 Fondu, a 1920 Rolls Royce. The collection was growing.

1938 : The Circus building.

These vehicles were stored in the old Winter Circus. This gigantic circular building was a surrealistic place, an architectural masterpiece of 6000 square meters, situated in the centre of Ghent. The ground floor was used for his car dealership, so the five floors and the two underground levels were used for the storage. On every level, dozens of legendary vehicles mouldered, resembling spectators at a phantom show. Others were sleeping quietly in the two underground levels not seeing daylight for more than thirty years.

In October 1953, when Ghislain converted the ancient Winter circus into an auto dealership, he already was the owner of 35 ancient cars. A new opportunity presented itself. At the time of the Korean war, the price of scrap metal rose five-fold and many old cars were fell victim to scrap dealers.

The concept of "collector's car" had yet to develop and therefore Ghislain Mahy could buy these oldtimers for their scrap value. Everybody considered Ghislain  a fool, because he was ‘collecting useless scrap’. But, in the 60’s, interest in historic vehicles grew rapidly , and, as a result Ghislain began searching for a building to house the first Belgium automobile museum; a site he could share his passion with others.

1970: Houthalen, the first car museum in Belgium.

Following thirty years of incessant work, two hundred and fifty cars had been meticulously restored by Ghislain Mahy, helped by friends and volunteers. He opened his first museum in 1970 at Houthalen in Limbourg, south east of Belgium which was, in effect the first Belgian national motor museum.

1986: Autoworld.

In 1986, the Autoworld museum was opened in the grounds of the Cinqauntanire Park in central Brussels. The huge hall, which at one time housed the 1880 Great Exhibition, is now home to more than two hundred and fifty cars and motorcycles, jewels of the Mahy Collection. The collection here is wide-ranging, featuring cars from most countries of the world, including machines from the Unites States and, of course, Belgium itself, represented by the marques: Minerva, Imperia, Nagent, Germain, Fondu, FN, Miesse, Vivinus and Belga-Rise, a wonderful Belgian heritage. There are plenty of early cars as well as fine examples of later classics. Autoworld is the third most attended museum in Belgium but, unfortunately, it cannot hold more than a quarter of the Mahy collection.

However, there remained a rather large problem, were could the Mahy Foundation store and display the other 750 vintage and veteran vehicles? For more than 20 years Ghislain’s oldest son, Ivan, had been searching for a suitable building, large enough, to be used as a car museum.

1997: On the road for new adventure.

In 1997 Ivan Mahy found a redundant textile factory in the town of Leuze-en-Hainaut, close to the motorway between Calais and Brussels. The local council was approached and purchased the building. A new foundation was created, “Mahymobiles” to run the museum.

This heralded the removal of the century. It took about two and a half years to transfer the 750 vehicles, (some of them hadn’t seen the daylight for more than 40 years), and many tons of spare-parts, tools, instructional material (hundreds and hundreds of boxes and containers). Also a very important library (one of the most comprehensive of Europe) estimated at 4 tons. 

2000: Opening of the Museum of Automobile “Mahymobiles”.

Mahymobiles was opened to visitors on 29th September 2000.

Ghislain Mahy's collection has two very unusual aspects. The collection is privately owned but, in March 1978, the Mahy family created a charitable foundation in order to prevent dispersion or compulsory sale following the death of a family member.

The second is the collection's theme. It is probably unique worldwide in containing at least one example of every important aspect of automobile development. The Mahy collection is one of the largest in the world and includes more than nine hundred and fifty cars, sixty motorcycles, a collection of bicycles, children's cars, some horse-drawn carriages and sleighs.

Mahymobiles shows automotive history from it’s humble beginnings at the end of the 19th century to the present day.