Many decades in the making
Demonstrating formidable foresight, Dodge importer Pieter Louwman decided in 1934 to preserve the very best cars that were traded in when his customers bought a brand new car. Up until that point, also thanks to the rapid technological development, old cars were mainly considered obsolete tools not worth preserving. The first car Pieter Louwman decided to save for future generations was a 20-year-old Dodge, equipped with every available option. This 1914 Dodge would form the basis for what has grown out to become the oldest and largest private collection of automobiles currently open to the public. The current custodian of the Louwman Collection is Pieter's son Evert, who has provided the impetus for the consistent growth of the collection itself and the recent relocation to a new museum in The Hague. This purpose-built facility opened its doors in April of 2010 and offers visitors an evocative history lesson from the dawn of motoring all the way through to the latest hybrid vehicles.
We took a tour through the Louwman Museum, resulting in this 180-shot gallery
, which also includes a special Martini display.
A purpose built museum
For many years, the Louwman Museum was located in Raamsdonkveer, next to one of the Louwman Group's main offices. Over the years and as the collection grew, the building was expanded but the location never quite did the cars on display justice. This was more than rectified with the construction of a purpose built museum in The Hague. Designed by American architect Michael Graves, the purpose-built museum not only offers plenty of room for the vast collection but also houses a small theatre and several conference rooms. Combining traditional Dutch design cues with modern touches, the exterior is covered in orange brick with grey slate roofs. The entrance is particularly impressive with the three story tall 'Great Hall' with a beautiful wooden vaulted roof. The collection is lined up in a particular order and the visitors are invited to follow the route. The result is a true journey through history, which starts with some of the earliest surviving horseless carriages through to modern competition cars like the 2009 Toyota Formula 1 car. The new Louwman Museum was officially opened in 2010 by its new neighbour, the then Queen of the Netherlands.
Progressing from building carriages, including the famous 'Golden Carriage' still used by the Dutch Royal Family to this day, Spyker was one of the automotive pioneers and arguably the most famous of all Dutch manufacturers. Sadly, of the around 2,000 cars built between 1900 and 1926 only very few have survived. A majority of these are part of the Louwman Collection and are displayed in a separate hall of the museum. One of the walls boasts an impression of the original Spyker factory, including the actual gate, which was located on the Trompenburg in Amsterdam. Housed in a separate extension of the museum is the most famous of all Spykers; the 60 hp first shown at the Crystal Palace motor show back in 1903. This was the first car ever powered by a six-cylinder engine, and it was also the first petrol-engined car equipped with all-wheel drive and four-wheel brakes. The show car was subsequently re-bodied and was eventually restored over a five year period after it was acquired by Louwman in 1993. In addition to the Spykers, the Louwman Collection also includes the only surviving example of fellow Dutch manufacturer Eysink. It was this car that the Queen crank-started to officially open the Museum.
With 100s of cars to choose from in this particularly eclectic collection, it is difficult to pick a few star cars. Literally speaking this label certainly applies to the ex-Elvis Presley Cadillac, the DeSoto Taxicab used in The Godfather movies and one of the Aston Martin DB5s used by James Bond in the movie Goldfinger. Not nearly as shiny is the Toyota AA retrieved from Wladiwostok in 2008. This, however, is the oldest surviving Toyota and the sole example of this type in existence. Before the car was discovered, Toyota even built a replica as they believed none had survived. Also very interesting is the line-up of alternative engined cars, which include electric, steam and even hybrid powered machines from the early 1900s. The Louwman Collection also boasts a number of very significant competition cars. Among them is the Lagonda that won Le Mans in 1935 and the ex-Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar D-Type, which clinched the outright victory in the 24-hour race in 1956. Also particularly hard to miss, due to its sheer size and the bright 'papaya' orange finish is the ex-works McLaren M8F, which was driven to 1971 Can-Am championship by Peter Revson.
While the Great Hall usually houses a selection of cars from around the world, ranging from a Chinese Shanghai SH760 to a DAF 600 and a Jaguar XK120 Fixed Head Coupe, it can also be used for special displays. Early in 2014, the vaulted hall was filled with a fabulous selection of Martini liveried machines. Generally considered one of the most evocative of all sponsorship liveries, it has been successfully used in endurance races, rallying and Formula 1. While the Louwman Museum housed the Martini Racing, the new Martini title sponsorship of Williams F1 was announced. The cars on display were sourced from several private collections and also the Lancia, Porsche and Alfa Romeo museums. Flanked by an LC2 and Beta Monte Carlo, the Louwman Museum's own Lancia LC1 was also included. Of particular significance was the Porsche 911 RSR Turbo, which was driven to second at Le Mans in 1974 by Dutchman Gijs van Lennep and Herbert Müller. Every generation of Lancia's rally cars were also brought including the 037, Delta S4 and the subsequent Group A Delta. The Lancia Museum also wheeled out the stillborn ECV2 Group S rally car, which was built around a carbon-fibre composite chassis and featured a tri-flux turbo engine.
Boasting a unique collection in a fabulous backdrop, the Louwman Museum is a must-visit not only for every automobile enthusiast but also for people with a casual interest in our recent history. The museum is also a perfect location for a business conference. It is open to the public from Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm with the exception of Christmas and New Year's day. The Martini display runs through to May 5th.