Collectors fascinate me. They make a serious effort to pursue a hobby and go well beyond scratching the surface. They seek out, restore, catalogue, maintain and display works that celebrate artistic and creative talent, craftsmanship and skill; and eventually build a collection of considerable value and legacy. Now who wouldn’t want to do that?
In Europe, a single family has the distinction of being one of the oldest and largest private collector of automobiles in the world. The Louwman Family’s collection of more than two hundred odd automobiles have been assembled since 1934 over two generations, and is on public display at the Louwman Museum in The Hague, Netherlands. And when I visited the country, a trip to the museum was on top of my bucket list.
The Louwman Museum exhibits a collection of cars, coaches and motorcycles. It all began when Dodge dealer Pieter Louwman purchased a 20 year old Dodge sometime in the 1930s. Over the years, he and his family added existing collections of other collectors to the museum, which is currently owned by his son Evert Louwman, who also happens to be the Dutch importer of Lexus, Suzuki and Toyota.
The museum is located on Den Hague’s Leidsestraatweg, and boasts of beautiful architecture with stunning gardens and a little pond within the establishment. It is spread over three floors and over 10,000 sq. mtrs. of exhibition space, and was designed by American architect Michael Graves. Landscape architect Louis Baljon designed the layout of the park surrounding the building.
The entrance to the museum is through a huge hall which houses only a few rare cars; a 1966 Chevy Corvette 427 Stingray, a 1958 Citroen DS19, a stunning Toyota 2000GT, and a rather strange Art Deco amalgamation of a Lincoln Sedan and a Harley Davidson. The Louwman Museum also houses the extraordinary 1887 De Dion Steam Quadricycle, one of the oldest automobiles in the world. What is truly fascinating is that one gets to see all these glorious automobiles in their pristine form, thanks to the extensive restoration carried out by the owners.
The exhibits also include Hollywood classics. So if you ever wondered where do all those iconic automobiles used in Hollywood movies land up, well, the Louwman Museum is where you are most likely to find them. It has on display cars and bikes that have been engrained in cinematic history over the years. Most impressive is the 1965 Aston Martin DB5 that Sean Connery drove in ‘Goldfinger’. An all time favourite among James Bond fans (moi inclus), the car comes loaded with all gadgetry, including the ejector seat. There are some other classics too, notably the Desoto Taxi and Lincoln V12 used in ‘The Godfather’.
The Louwman Museum also displays vehicles owned by celebrities and historical figures. Sir Winston Churchill’s Humber, Captain Montgomery’s Sunbeam, and a heavily customised Cadillac owned by Elvis Presley find pride of place here. Then there are some truly legendary works of art from the automotive world – cars admired for their astonishing beauty or those known for their eccentricities, this museum has it all. The 1957 Jaguar XKSS, the 1912 Panhard et Lavassor, the 1959 Cadillac Convertible, the 1953 Lancia D23 Spyder Pininfarina, and the desperately good looking 1965 Ferrari 500 Superfast Speciale, which was formerly owned by HRH Prince Bernhard, are just a few.
There is a commendable collection of motorsport heritage on display too, like the overall winner of Le Mans in 1935 and a 1976 Formula 1 car. Then there are the truly eccentric ones like the 1967 Amphicar (which really did work in water), and the 1910 Brooke Swan car, which was a one off created for a wealthy Scotsman.
My personal favorite was the stunning and elegant 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Lagrande Dual Cowl Phaeton. It had a corner all for itself, and the respect given to the vehicle was most deserving.
If metal art is your thing, this one will surely make your heart skip a beat.
The museum also displays a collection of paintings and drawings by artist Frederick Gordon Crosby; the Englishman whose work bridges the divide between illustration and art.
Spending a day at Louwman is an education in itself. It gives you a peak into the vast history of automobiles and makes you realize that these are more than just mere objects of admiration. I personally feel an automobile is art on wheels, they are mobile installations with a purpose. And every car on display here has a story to tell; a story behind its creation and existence. The Louwman tour gently nudges you to explore these fascinating stories.
So if you are an automobile enthusiast, a visit to the Louwman Museum is nothing short of a pilgrimage. And if you’re not one yet, a visit here will surely make you one.
For more information, visit the Louwman Museum website here.