By Marc Sonnery
The oldest and most important automotive collection in the Netherlands is the Louwman Museum, inaugurated July 2, 2010, by Queen Beatrix, no less.
Evert Louwman of the family responsible for importing Dodge and Toyota to Holland since the 1930s keeps the collection growing, continuing the accumulation initiated by his father Piet in 1934 with a 1914 Dodge. Evert reinvented the museum concept starting with the building's architecture which emphasizes the cars in different ways. Princeton N.J. architect Michael Graves styled a woven-pattern brick building to resemble a coach house with a tall raked slate-tile roof and a main lobby's arched timber ceiling.
But the tour starts in a low, dark, oppressive corridor for the earliest attempts at mechanized transportation. There's an 1887 De Dion-Bouton et Trepardoux, the world's second-oldest surviving automobile, and an 1899 Benz 3.5 hp built in England with Benz parts, which is runs in the London-to-Brighton event.
The German-built 1912 Phänomobil van could be Frankenstein's porta-potty on three wheels, with an air-cooled 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine atop the single front wheel and a tiller to steer. Still, it sold thousands.
The rooms soon lighten up with cars from the early years of transport such as a 1912 Auburn Model 30-L Roadster. Then, there's a walkway high above a Dutch Spyker biplane and Spyker cars. There's also a 1917 Woods Dual-Power hybrid, both fuel and battery power, parked right next to a Toyota Prius.
The newer, smaller cars such as Beetle, 2CV, DAF, Mini and others flank a 1950 Crosley CD four-seater with its 26-hp four-cylinder engine spawned by American magnate Powel Crosley Jr.
The Spyker collection is the finest, from racer to limousine. In a separate octagonal pavilion sits a one-off 1903 60-hp four-wheel-drive race car built for the '03 Paris-to-Madrid race with the first-ever six-cylinder engine, first four-wheel-drive and four-wheel brakes, but it was finished too late and didn't show up until the next year in London.
There's the Fiat 8V Demon Rouge designed by Giovanni Michelotti for Vignale, and Giorgetto Giugiaro's 1974 Maserati Medici, plus Steve McQueen's 1971 Bud Ekins-built beach-buggy, Elvis Presley's Cadillac Fleetwood, and Winston Churchill's 1954 Humber Pullman.
Pebble Beach-type cars include Queen Wilhelmina's 1925 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Van Rijswijk Dual-Cowl Phaeton; a Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi; and several Bugattis, including a 1934 Type 57 roadster Grand Raid by Gangloff.
The automotive art collection may be the world's largest, with silver car statuettes, mascots, bronzes, paintings and literature, plus race cars such as the Grant Piston Ring 1952 Johnny Parsons Ferrari 375 Indianapolis, a Le Mans 1957-winning Jaguar D Type; racing Alfas, including the only remaining 1967 Tipo 33 Periscopa; and Group C cars all the way to a Toyota F1. There is something to please all visiting generations, and the tour ends with a recreated 1930s neighborhood of brick buildings including a cafe and replica of the first Louwman Dodge dealership. There's narration in English and two theaters with rare footage of the earliest days of the automobile. If you go, plan a full day. www.louwmanmuseum.nl