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Wednesday 17th August 2011


PH EXPLORES THE LOUWMAN MUSEUM

Hanging out in The Hague? You don't have to be bored...

Some racing cars on display...
Some racing cars on display...
On the face of it, The Hague wouldn't seem to hold much promise for PHers. After you've depleted your mini bar of Toblerones and Pringles, schlepped around the singularly unimpressive Madurodam exhibit of Holland in miniature and been sandblasted at the Scheviningen promenade, you've exhausted most of the possibilities.

...and some Alfas.
...and some Alfas.
Until you pay a visit to what can only be described as a cathedral of automobilia, the Louwman Museum. The collection has been built up by the Louwman family - original importers of Dodge and Chrysler cars - since 1934 and must be one of the most impressive privately-owned vehicle collections anywhere.

With around 240 cars on display it's tough to edit it down to a few PH highlights, but here are my personal picks of the weird and wonderful.

*****

Nearly a Nissan. Built by Yamaha.
Nearly a Nissan. Built by Yamaha.
Toyota 2000 GT
Walk into the museum's vaulted atrium and you'll find a parade of car nations, with Tatras, Corvettes, Jaguars, Citro├źns, Volvos and Mercedes represented but perhaps the most beguiling of the lot is Japan's representative, the Toyota 2000GT. Although it's still best known in its open-topped guise as seen in 'You Only Live Twice', the coupe is even prettier, like a dainty Daytona in profile.

Designed by Count Albrecht Goertz, the same chap who penned the BMW 507, the car was originally commissioned by Nissan until the management rather unwisely got cold feet and palmed the project off to Toyota. With a 150bhp six-cylinder two-litre engine that could top 125mph, independent suspension, disc brakes and a synchromesh gearbox, the 2000GT was actually built by Yamaha, Toyota having no plant capacity to accommodate it. Only 351 were ever built.

Stories behind the cars fascinate, too
Stories behind the cars fascinate, too
Aston Martin Nimrod
The Aston Martin that never was? The Nimrod was the result of a partnership between Aston enthusiast and dealer Robin Hamilton and Victor Gauntlett, chairman of Aston Martin. With a Lola chassis and a Tickford 5.3 V8, it was an Aston Martin in name only, offering the company a cut-price entry to Le Mans. Overweight and mechanically unreliable, the Nimrod achieved a seventh place in 1982 but two crashed in 1984, killing a marshal in the process.

The Louwman Nimrod is part of a sports car exhibit that includes the Kouros Sauber Mercedes C-8, the beautiful Lancia-Abarth LC1 Sport Spider, the Mazda 737C, the McLaren M8F Can-Am and the stunning Toyota TS-010. Of them all, the Nimrod is probably the least successful but sometimes hard luck stories are just more interesting.

Wedge afficionados - don't miss this!
Wedge afficionados - don't miss this!
Sbarro Challenge I
The automotive world would be a greyer place without Franco Sbarro. Okay, so his strike rate seems to be around four or five horrors for every show stopper but his output's certainly never dull. If you like a wedge, the Challenge I is the ultimate treat. In a bid to demonstrate that such a design could generate a low drag coefficient (in this case 0.26) the 1985 Challenge I used a rear view camera rather than door mirrors, projecting left and right images to screens in the doors. Perhaps more famous for incorporating a CD stereo and a video cassette recorder than for the Mercedes 500 engine that powered it, the Challenge I borrowed styling cues from a number of Franco's favourite cars including the Mercedes C111 and the Ford GT40. Less well publicised was the source of the car's transmission; the venerable Jeep Cherokee.

'Make my car longer' thread, anyone?
'Make my car longer' thread, anyone?
Maserati Medici
Giorgetto Giugiaro has racked up some notable successes. Count the original Volkswagen Golf, Alfasud, Audi 80 and Lancia Delta amongst them. The Maserati Medici? Maybe not so much. First shown at the 1974 Turin show as a four-door hatchback designed for official engagements, the Medici didn't generate too many column inches. Undeterred, Giugiaro set to work making it even uglier. The wheelbase was extended and the car converted to a six seater. The car reappeared at the 1976 Paris Show and one order was taken. The customer? The Shah of Iran. History hasn't recorded quite what happened to his vehicle but it would be hard to see the Ayatollah Khomeini being particularly taken by the steel-framed glass roof. This Louwman car was acquired directly from ItalDesign.

McQueen's 'sweet machine'
McQueen's 'sweet machine'
Baja Boot
There are a few former celebrity owned vehicles on display at the Louwman museum. Elvis' Presley's Cadillac Fleetwood has a certain kitschy appeal, Sir Winston Churchill's Humber Pullman was ordered with an extra-large ashtray and Kaiser Wilhelm II's Mercedes-Benz Type Nurburg 500 featured a communication system whereby the rear seat passenger could signal such directives as fast, slow, left, right, turn, and home to the driver via buttons and lights.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch is Steve McQueen's 'Baja Boot' designed to enter the 1,000 mile race along the Baja California peninsula in the mid-1960s. McQueen managed to convince General Motors to build a race vehicle to his specification, with a tubular spaceframe chassis designed and built by NASA, a huge backwards-mounted Chevrolet 350ci V8 providing the motive power. In McQueen's own words, "I've lined me up a sweet machine for this one. Called the 'Baja Boot.' Chevy powered. Four hundred and fifty horses under the bonnet. Space frame construction. Four-wheel drive. Independent suspension. And smooth. I can notch close to a hundred over a sand wash and you better believe that's moving!"

No matron, I said 'gold' finger...
No matron, I said 'gold' finger...
Aston Martin DB5 James Bond
I once talked my way into the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. The palace was closed for the day but after a stroll around the lawns, I nipped into the back to avail myself of the facilities only to open the door to the gents and find myself face to face with Michael Jackson. I got the same surreal sense of star-struck giddiness walking around a corner at the Louwman Museum and happening upon Sean Connery's iconic Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger. Except without the smell of Toilet Duck.

In fact, this is one of four cars that were built for the film, devised by Ken Adam. The scene where the car is handed over to Bond was originally due to be filmed at Pinewood, but a lack of time meant that a corner of the Newport Pagnell factory had to serve as an impromptu set.

Royal Ferrari 'speziale' with V8
Royal Ferrari 'speziale' with V8
Ferrari 500 Superfast Speziale
By all accounts HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was a bit of a card. He had a scandalous relationship with a young French lady by the improbable name of Poussy Grinda and he contracted pleurisy which required the removal of six pieces of rib, leaving a hole in his back which allowed him to smoke a cigarette and exhale through the rear lining of his jacket. He distinguished himself in battle during the Second World War but was disgraced in the Seventies when he was caught trying to bribe millions of pounds from Lockheed over a Starfighter contract. A colourful character needs a car to suit and this Ferrari 500 Superfast Speziale is just the ticket.

Good friends with Enzo Ferrari, Prince Bernhard, had the standard 5.0-litre V12 engine swapped for a V8, had custom window frames and lights designed and had it painted in a unique Verde Pinto finish. That's legacy enough for me.

Airflow knock-off was used for ploughing
Airflow knock-off was used for ploughing
Toyota AA
In many respects, the scruffiest and possibly the least PH car in the whole Louwman collection might also have the most intriguing backstory. This rather weather beaten facsimile of the Chrysler Airflow is in fact the oldest - and only pre-war - Toyota in existence.

Spotted in 2008 in the Russian city of Vladivostok, this Toyota AA saloon had been owned by a Siberian farmer for ploughing duties since the end of the war. The grandson of the original owner agreed to sell the car to the Louwman Museum and thus began a seven month odyssey that required assent from the Russian Ministry of Culture. The car was driven the 10,000 kilometres from Vladivostok to Moscow and was then transported to the Netherlands by truck.

Evert: 'My garage is bigger than yowse!'
Evert: 'My garage is bigger than yowse!'
*****

Leaving out cars like the Plymouth Superbird, the Lamborghini 350 GT, the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/2 Daytona Coupe, the Auburn Speedster, the March 240/771 F1 and the Talbot Lago Saoutchik were hard. There are plenty more you'll love.

And if Evert Louwman is reading this, sign up now. It's time to end that 'PH's best garage' thread once and for all...



Author: Turbo Harry