The world of vintage motor cars is full of names that evoke a bygone time, when motoring was something more than hours spent on motorways or in traffic jams. A time before ticket machines and traffic wardens. It is an era redolent of leather caps and waxed mustaches. Even for someone who hasn’t owned a car for 15 years, there is a romance to the people and vehicles of the pre-modern motoring age.
The Louwman Museum is jam-packed with cars that look as exotic as their names sound. Where else could you find the De Dion Bouton et Trepardoux Steam Quadricycle, the Holsman Runabout Highwheeler and the White Model C Steam Car Demi Limousine?
Not to mention the Georges Roy 12hp Touring Sport Torpedo, Detroit Electric Clear Vision Brougham, Hispano Suiza H6B Million Guiet Dual Cowl Phaeton, Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupe Saoutchik or the Cord 812 Supercharged Beverly Sedan.
Seriously, what happened to car manufacturers? When did they stop giving their cars such fascinating names – names that had personality? It simply isn’t possible to compare the Messerschmitt KR200 Cabin Scooter Bubble Top or the Frisky Family Three with today’s focus group tested, marketing driven car names. Anyone for a Ford Focus? Thought not.
The Louwman Museum opens a door to another world, a bygone era where tail fins stood proud and you could never have too much chrome. There are so many highlights – and I never thought I’d hear myself say that of a car museum – that it is difficult to pick out a few of my favourites, but there were some cars too interesting not to mention.
Who would have thought that Elvis’ 1976 Cadillac, with its 8.2 litre engine, would be the ugliest car in the whole building? Or that following World War II the shortage of steel in Germany forced car designers to build a car using plywood covered with imitation leather? Yet those are the materials from which the Lloyd LP 300 was cobbled together, earning it the nickname, the Band-Aid Bomber.
The car associated with Adolf Hitler, the much loved Volkswagen Beetle, sits next to a large photo of the world’s most notorious mass murderer. Hitler commissioned Ferdinand Porsche to build the car, but it was Josef Ganz, a Jewish engineer and car designer, who was the brains behind the Volkswagen Beetle. Ganz fled Germany and survived the war, but the designer of one of the world’s most famous cars died in obscurity in Australia in 1967.
Reading stories like the one behind the Volkswagen Beetle, it occurred to me that a car museum is essentially the history of humanity from the late 19th Century onwards. It also struck me that many of these cars seemed familiar…we decided this was because of cinema. The car and cinema arrived into the world at around the same time, so it seems natural that they would have an intimate relationship.
That isn’t just because the museum has cars like the Aston Martin DB5 from James Bond films, the Spyker 12 16hp Double Phaetonor from the classic English film, Genevieve, or the DeSoto taxi from Coppola’s The Godfather. The automobile and cinema go hand-in-hand, and as we strolled around it felt like we were extras in a movie.