Museo MATT: A Sublime Collection Of Mexico’s Best

Images: Gautam Sen

Until very recently I hadn’t even heard of the town of Tampico, in Northern Mexico, some 440km northeast of Mexico City. Located at the mouth of the Río Pánuco, Tampico is the main city of the state of Tamaulipas (northern Mexico), and the essential economic centre for the Gulf of Mexico.

Although a major oil refining centre—and the refineries are the first thing that you notice as the AeroMexico Embraer aircraft begins its descent into the international airport of the city (with direct connection to several cities in the US, including Houston)—Tampico is also the country's second largest exporting port, through which silver, copper, lumber, wool and other agricultural products find their way to the rest of the world.

The view through the glass lift provides a glimpse of the very first car acquired: a Graham shark nose

Established in 1532 by a Franciscan priest, Andrés d'Olmos, and initially called San Luis de Tampico, the population was displaced in 1684 to the south of the Panuco River, due to attacks by pirates. As for the name Tampico, it is of Huastec origin, with tam-piko meaning a ‘place for otters’: the city is surrounded by rivers and lagoons, which was home to many otters in the past.

With a population of around 400,000—in an agglomeration of a million inhabitants—Tampico apparently features an eclectic mix of architectural styles which reflects the city's growth during the Porfiriato (the period of President Porfirio Diaz) years, with considerable influence of New Orleans.

An excellent graphic representation of the history of the automobile starting appropriately with Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's Fardier à vapeur, from 1769

Sadly, we didn’t have time for a visit to downtown Tampico, and instead were driven to the subject of our story here—a gem of an automotive museum, the Museo MATT.

A replica of the Daimler Motorized Carriage, a 1907 Oldsmobile racer, and a 1915 Ford Model T

MATT is the acronym for Museo del Automóvil y el Transporte de Tampico, or the museum for automobile and transportation at Tampico. Located in a building which has been specifically built to serve as a museum, Museo MATT was inaugurated on 26th February 2022.

The Ford section with several Model Ts and later models

Hosted by the Instituto de Ciencias y Estudios Superiores de Tamaulipas, A.C. (ICEST), or the institute of science and higher studies of Tamaulipas, the museum is the brainchild of educationist and historic vehicle enthusiast Carlos Lisandro Dorantes Del Rosal.

Recreating the scene for the 1934 Ford with which Bonnie and Clyde terrorized America

Dorantes Del Rosal, a native of Tampico, has built up an education ‘empire’ of ten institutions—from schools to universities and medical schools—across 36 campuses over Mexico. But beyond his lifelong passion for imparting education of the highest level for the people of his country, Dorantes Del Rosal also started collecting cars, since 1985, with a shark-nosed Graham Model 97 (from 1938) as the first one that caught his fancy.

Since then, he has built of a collection of more than 180 automobiles, with 117 on display at Museo MATT. Another 60 are on display in Brownsville Texas, where Dorantes Del Rosal lived for a few years. The latter is more of a private museum, accessible on request, whereas Museo MATT is open to the public.

The many Rally Maya trophies won by Carlos Dorantes Del Rosal

Although the oldest vehicle on display is an Oldsmobile from 1907, there is also a replica of the Daimler Motorized Carriage from 1886 (and not the India-made Benz Patent Wagon, which is to be seen at most museums).

The display is in a very systematic format, divided broadly into veterans, vintages, classics and more recent cars, several of which have important historic significance, specifically in the Mexican context—a couple of ex-Presidential cars, as well as the car that was used by revolutionary Mexican hero, Pancho Villa.

Capturing the fabulous Fifties and the American way of life with this Nash Metropolitan

Most of the displays of the cars are contextualized by the period and are surrounded by decorations that reflect the time or situation, so visitors can relive those moments.

Carlos Lisandro Dorantes Del Rosal’s ultimate passion is motorsport, and that shows in the restaurant (which serves arguably the finest gourmet food that I have ever eaten in any museum), in the way the lamps are designed (in the shape of F1 circuits such as Imola, Monza, Monaco, and else), the audiovisual room is in honor of Ayrton Senna, and there are also a couple of F1 simulators; even the lockers at the entry have names of F1 stars, past and present.

Amongst the non-Americans were these two Europeans: two Mexico-made VWs, a Citroen 2CV, and a beautiful Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider Touring

Museo MATT may not be one of the biggest or the most astounding of collections in the world, but it is extremely well thought out and conceived, carefully curated, and beautifully described and displayed.

A real testament to Carlos Lisandro Dorantes Del Rosal’s passion for the automobile, Museo MATT deserves greater recognition, as much as FIVA has recognized the Dorantes Del Rosal’s contribution to the promoting and preserving the cultural heritage of the automobile by inducting him into its Heritage Hall of Fame.

How could one miss out on General Patton posing atop a WWII Willys Jeep.

This was done in a beautiful event on Sunday, the 3rd of December, in Mexico City. FIVA's authorized national federation (ANF) in Mexico, FEMAAC, celebrated its 25th anniversary with a sumptuous lunch at Mexico City's military club, interspersed with music and dancing, and the awarding of several trophies to the movers and shakers of Mexico's burgeoning historic vehicle movement.

With a fascinating line up of historic vehicles outside, the big hall—accommodating as many as 480 club members and their families—was also the venue for the most important event of the day: the induction of Carlos Lisandro Dorantes Del Rosal into FIVA's Heritage Hall of Fame.

And a big Thank You to Gaby, one of the staffers at Museo MATT, for shooting all the images where yours truly figures

To do the honours, I was there as FIVA's VP Communication. The superb event was put together by FEMAAC's President Gerardo García and his brilliant team consisting of José Servín, Javier González Egea, Miguel del Valle, Alejandro Cortés Jesús Palomino, Cristóbal Camero, Pedro Sardá, Carmen González and Raquel Jiménez.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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