Car News: Car Museums

A weekly guide to all that sucks about car ownership, plus some good bits


The image above is the amazing Peterson Auto Museum in Los Angeles, amazing inside and out, as it should be residing in the motoring capital of the world.

There’s something inert, lifeless about car museums, even the best of them, especially those that lay out their vehicles in serried ranks. The better ones, such as the Peterson Museum in Los Angeles, create attractive displays and renew them a few times a year, offering information about the culture of the times beyond a car’s brand and date of production. They try to make displays come alive, using clever lighting, back projection, sound effects, or filmed sequences.

Some auto museums set their cars against recreations of old garages, or whole streets with shops and tramways, but even in those mock-ups it’s a bit like visiting a run down movie set. You notice the dust gathering on the mannequins and exhibits. There’s too much to take in. You have to be high on nostalgia to appreciate the time and effort put into the set piece. As an educational exercise it has some value for school parties.


A recreation of Jack Tucker’s garage in the UK’s Beaulieu Museum

Oddly, when you think about it, auto shows are just as dead but we get excitement out of them in anticipation of seeing the latest models and technological innovations.

Annual auto shows are crowded places full of noise and chatter and digitally enhanced moving images of overhead screens of sports cars zipping along completely empty country roads. There’s also snobbery as to who in the crowd the Bentley representative will allow to sit in their latest status symbol. And let’s not forget the distraction of skimpily glad females adorning metal. (When will car manufacturers get wise to their overt misogyny?)

Live shows, such as the Goodwood Revival Show, and the Goodwood Festival of Speed held in the grounds of Goodwood House, West Sussex, make all the difference.

Goodwood brings cars to life and car lovers together. Cars of all eras and nations are actually driven and raced, and you can meet the designer and a famous racing driver or two. Visitors dress up for the occasion in pre-war attire, or attend to gain good ideas on how to improve their classic car for modern driving conditions. The event is an annual pilgrimage for petrolheads and their spouses.


The beautiful Malaga Auto Museum and Art Gallery

I want to draw your attention to one museum I enjoy visiting, though it hardly alters its exhibits one year to the next. This one is fairly new, the Malaga Auto Museum. Oddly it also has an extensive Russian Art Gallery next door, a donation by the St Petersburg Museum. Housed within its third block is a science museum, three venues for the price of one visit.

The museum was created out of a former imposing tobacco factory, Fabrica de Tebacos, renovated only a few years ago to a very high standard, thanks to some EU grants – how we shall miss those – and turned into a resource for adults and children in the city and region. The factory produced snuff tobacco more than cigars.

Getting to Malaga from Scotland is easy and cheap these days, no more than three hours in one airport and out the other, but with the Euro equivalent of £1 sterling purchases, food and clothing, and that stuffed toy donkey, are not the bargain basement they used to be when pasty-faced Brits flocked to sun and beaches to get blotched and scorched.

Malaga offers a great relaxing long weekend of good weather if you have the cash to spare, book a flight early enough to grab discounts, and need a break from winter blues, boring boss, unfaithful lover, or endless Westminster sleaze and slander.


Exhibits are arranged in chronological order, with a room devoted to oddities

Before you make for the Auto Museum a walk around the centre of Malaga tells you that its citizens take care of the place and show pride in it.

The first things that impresses as you enter the city are the marble paving stones free of the dreaded chewing gum. Warm nights and lights illuminate pubs and tapas bars. By far the best tapas bars are found in the Basque region, but there are lots of good one to choose from in Malaga.

The joy is finding one that serves consistently high cuisine one day to the next. Standards fluctuate wildly even within a single restaurant. The best outdoor eatery with indoor tables too is the humorously named (for us) bodega bar El Pimpi next to the Roman amphitheatre, the theatre itself dominated by Alcazaba the 11th century Arab fortress.

You sit under El Pimpi’s large umbrellas and palm trees watching tourists go by, courting couples flirt, youth reminding you of yours, flower sellers trying their luck, and flamenco guitarists seducing a few coins from you, a pleasant way to let life roll by and anxieties wait another day. Those moments remind you how stupefying are Brits who think Europe shouldn’t be run by foreigners.


A 1914 American LaFrance – a racing car built on a fire engine chassis

There’s plenty to do and see, visiting the fabled Picasso Museum a first stop for art lovers, and then his birthplace half a mile away.

There are other art galleries, but the Picasso shows you what a superb painter he was in his youth, and how his ideas were influenced by painters he met, soon developing their ideas from his own boundless imagination. Picasso owned cars but I think he liked dogs more. A lot of photographs of him at work in his studio or relaxing show a dog nearby.


A Renault Coupe de Ville from the Belle Epoch age

The Auto Museum sits on the edge of the city, a twenty minute taxi drive in the rush hour, and a cheap entry ticket. There’s a café in the auto museum, a small one outside in the grounds, and a modest one in the art museum block serving a limited menu.

Both museum and gallery have a gift shop. Even if you have little interest in cars, seeing the old jalopies and vintage motors is a walk through automotive history and social progress since 1890, from high privilege to the car for the common man and woman and back again to car for the very wealthy.


Can’t discuss a Spanish car museum without showing a Spanish car. This is a 1923 Hispano-Suiza, a ‘Barcelona Torpedo Tourer’

As well as in the Spanish language the information attached to each car is often written in hilariously poor English. Even the guide book gets it off-beat and talks of “The Museum exposes an extraordinary private collection of 6,000 square meters.” Of the attendant costume collection – a weird inclusion, the guide adds, “A waste of glamour and elegance” rather than an extravagance.

But the layout is clever, a chronological journey past the design and historical evolution of some European key marques since the end of the nineteenth century exhibited through thirteen thematic rooms.

The cars are restored to the highest level, some valued in hundreds of thousands of pounds, such as Mercedes, Hispano Suiza, Bugatti, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Ferrari.

Seats are upholstered in ostrich and mink fur, precious woods, Lalique mascots on bonnets, mother-of-pearl dashboards, ivory and silver handles, and specially made custom engines, the kind of interior you can order for your Rolls-Royce today


The museum has just as many modern classics as stunning vintage motors

Once you’ve enjoyed the cars its a few yards walk to the Russian Art Museum. In two hours of a leisurely stroll it taught me how advanced were some Russian artists in the 1930s and 40s anticipating  European trends in modern art.

Exhibitions are changed every three months, and all show work rarely seen in the west. As our right-wing journalists once said of the Red Army Ensemble and as they do now of Russian Television today, it’s all horrible propaganda. Well, that’s their loss. One assumes they’re tossing their Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff CDs in the bin.

Anyhow, I hope this essay doesn’t sound too touristy, a tourist manual, or even Manuel, but it makes a change from writing about the political chicanery of the motor industry, as well as reminding us that the stinking rich have always been with us, only now they own 50% of the world’s wealth because we let them have it.



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