I have long claimed that you stand to gain more from a journey if you are exposed, flailing and defenseless, to the harshness, hazards and assorted perils of nature. "Exposed, flailing and defenseless" aptly described the conditions of my daily commute in the week prior to this museum visit. Yes, I read the forecast and no, I'm not a masochist - but it was in the margins of that "60% chance of precipitation" that I saw the opportunity to test my mettle and save some money, so I did. Pedaling furiously against the wind through traffic, vaguely in the direction towards my office, pants soaked, hands numb, face frozen, scarf disintegrating, I have new disdain for the value of a few euros - when in doubt, buy the damn train ticket. While this was a marvelous experience to have had, I was grateful when on Saturday morning, the clouds parted, the snow went back to Canada where it belongs and the sun brought temperatures up to a balmy 40F.
Gotta carpe that diem, and for me that meant going for a bike ride to the world's oldest private car collection - the Louwman Museum.
The journey itself was an adventure, with ferocious wildlife and equestrians testing my resolve at every turn. How do you say "STAY STILL YOU LITTLE QUACK" in Ducktch?
I am not a poultry expert; however, one appears to be black with a white hat on, so that's probably something.
Turn the corner from the new (still under construction) American embassy and you'll find the museum all on its own - a red brick building just off the N44.
The Louwman Museum is beautifully constructed and curated. If you're less interested in the minute details that separate these masterpieces, you could breeze through the whole thing in an hour or two but if you're a car nerd, it would be easy to spend a whole day reading every single description of every single car.
Here I have photos of some that I found particularly interesting, noteworthy or contributory to this post's thesis: What you stand to get out of a journey is often inversely proportionate to how comfortable you are. Today's cars are designed by bean-counters and focus groups full of boring people. Wind tunnels are used to iron out every character wrinkle that might add 0.5% to the operating cost. Some of the older cars I photographed here had no suspension, no antilock brakes (or indeed, hardly any brakes at all), no electric start. They were inherently characterful and involving - not by choice but by technological necessity. They were expressive, borderline artful, probably terrible to actually use and that's something worth missing (in every sense of the word).
To start us off, what better example of those yonder years, back when it was perfectly acceptable to skewer with your hood ornament any pedestrian who dared cross your path? (this Moon Type 6-48):
This may look like a classic 1950s Mercedes, lovingly restored to original condition, but it's actually a Chinese executive car from 1986. Louwman purchased the car direct from the factory - it still has the plastic wrap in the interior. Dat flared wheel arch tho.
You thought Tesla Motors was forward-looking? Stick your nose in this "engine" bay and tell me what you see.
They had some stunning motorcycles as well. I love the big round headlights, the exposed mechanicals, the authentic fluid leaks under the engines and the paint schemes that aren't ugly, unlike literally every motorcycle in production today:
Some of you may recognize this as the imaginatively named "Benz Patent Motor Car", the first patented motorcar. Genesis. Karl Benz's wife, Bertha, once stole the car for a 194km joyride from Mannheim to Pforzheim - the first ever road trip.
Contain your excitement - it's a first generation Corolla! Actually, given the comprehensive equipment and design details on it, I can see how this car would've been cool, once upon a time, before it became completely ubiquitous -
Little bits and bobs.
Don't be fooled. You cannot afford to own any of the cars in the "The Car You Can Afford to Own" section. But when they were new, they were designed to bring cheap motoring to the masses. And today they just look delightful.
That Briggs and Stratton has a fifth wheel (the drive wheel, of course) and no brakes whatsoever, if I'm not mistaken.
Some people just want a lot of wicker in their convertible. Why not? Wicker is fantastic. Fiat's got you covered.
The Kaiser Darrin. Lightweight fiberglass body, sliding door, hood stretching off to the horizon. This was supposed to compete with the Corvette and the Thunderbird, but sales never really took off. I do wish more vehicles had sliding doors though. It's the simplest way to keep insensitive jerks, especially little kids and certain sheriffs, from dinging other people's prized rides in tight parking spaces. (Tesla Model X, are you listening?)
Is it just me or does Sir Winston Churchill's car look a little bit like Sir Winston Churchill?
And now the famous Ford Edsel Pacer. Historians disagree as to why the Edsel program failed. Was it because of poor marketing, bad manufacturing or something else? Ford lost $350m ($2.8bn in 2016 dollars), and I can't think of a modern example of so much money spent on a commercial venture that failed so spectacularly once it actually hit consumers. It's a reminder that simply surveying public opinion is no way to design a car.
Contrast with a beautifully simple and elegant Porsche 356 of roughly the same time period -
Look, a GT40! Sadly just a scale model.
We think of the DeLorean from "Back to the Future" as futuristic - but if you ask me, it looks like it borrowed heavily from this Giugiaro-designed 1974 Maserati Medici show car:
For those unfamiliar with Group B rally cars: They rounded corners faster than drivers' eyes could refocus, down narrow dirt roads with no barriers between them and spectators. Group B was canceled after just a few short years, and leftover Group B cars are extremely rare.
This is the first production Lamborghini car, built by an angry tractor manufacturer who had just been blown off by Enzo Ferrari. Apparently Ferruccio Lamborghini complained to Enzo that his Ferrari had mechanical problems, and Enzo told him to literally mind his own business and stick to building tractors. That led to the creation of the 350 GT - a stunning, powerful grand tourer that established Lamborghini as a serious player in the high-end Italian auto scene. The two brands are rivals to this day.
Plenty of other, redder Italian exotica on display as well. Fun fact: Ferrari is now headquartered in The Netherlands.
The actual Aston Martin DB5 used in Goldfinger. Complete with machine guns, hydraulic battering-ram bumpers, revolving license plates, hub knives, smoke dispenser, oil-slick dispenser, crow's feet dispenser, bullet-proof glass, radar/navigation and of course an argument-winning passenger ejection seat. (all of which is standard on a base Civic these days, but back then it was considered very innovative)
I'm New York banker Hugh McDonald from the early 1930s, and I'm certainly not going to take a train from Long Island to New York. No sir - someone else can drive me and I'll be in the back enjoying my refrigerator, lavatory with flushing toilet and aviation-inspired cockpit complete with compass, barometer, altimeter, speedometer and floodlights.
Functional Swan fountain cars. By "functional" I mean they drive and water comes out the swan's mouth.
I was a fool and didn't bring any lenses wider than 50mm - which makes cramming cars into the frame a challenge. Especially these ultra-long Mercedes, Bugatti and associated mammoths. You really have to see them in person to get an idea of scale and magnificence.
Here is the oldest known Toyota, situated right next to Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda's desk. Hallowed ground indeed for anyone interested in the history of manufacturing. Alas I couldn't get a clear shot of it, but to be perfectly honest, it's in a bit of a tragic state anyway. But it's a Toyota, so it probably still runs like a top.
And now something truly special - the Toyota 2000GT. In my mind, the first in a proud line of supercars from Japan. Designed and manufactured by Yamaha! Daniel Craig's favorite Bond car, driven by Akiko Wakabayashi in You Only Live Twice. Carroll Shelby, yes CARROLL SHELBY built and raced at least 2 of these for the 1968 C-Production SCCA racing circuit. It's not unusual for them to fetch $1-2m at auctions. And don't act surprised. I mean, just look at it - it's perfect.
The crown jewel of perhaps the entire museum was this 1903 Spyker 60hp four-wheel drive racing car:
Think of all the cars you know with six-cylinder engines. Honda Odyssey, BMW 3 series, Porsche 911...it's just sort of a magic number that balances performance and character with compactness and practicality. Now consider all the all-wheel-drive Subarus, Range Rovers, Jeeps, pickup trucks and finally - every car you've ever been in that's had all-wheel brakes. This Dutch Spyker had all these things before anyone else, making it one of the most important automobiles ever made. And let's not discount the fact that 60HP was an incredible amount of power back in those days. This one is a real pearl for sure - it's just a shame the car wasn't finished in time to partake in the 1903 Paris to Milan race for which it was commissioned.
To sum up: In our modern world, where the iPhone 6 is strictly better than the iPhone 5, it's easy to write off old stuff as obsolete, pointless, or perhaps only useful for satisfying an occasional itch for nostalgia. But there's something about these cars that is so colorful, so delightfully out of the ordinary...it's hard to describe, but to me, the Louwman Museum didn't feel like a museum at all. Walking these halls was less like reading a history book and more like peeking into the future. Having a hard time explaining why - I guess a more fleshed out explanation will just have to wait for a later post. (and yep, I'll leave it at that)