29 June 2009

Every shining bonnet…

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1952 Studebaker Champion

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Sometimes I just can't function
My heart's spaghetti junction
Every shining bonnet
Makes me think of my back on it

(Elastica, ‘Car Song’)

Okay, so maybe I don’t get anywhere near as excited about cars as the delightfully louche Justine Frischmann of Elastica, who penned the above motoring-inspired ditty, but certainly my first trip to the Southward Car Museum yesterday with Catherine and Alastair proved to be a rewarding experience.  

The museum is located just north of Paraparaumu on the Kapiti Coast, and opened in 1979 to display the collection of Sir Len Southward.  These days it offers a rare chance to see an impressive range of vintage vehicles, from the workaday to the exotic.  Its collection of vastly rare early automobiles such as the 1895 Benz Velo and a 1904 Wolseley Tourer are doubtlessly extremely valuable as well as being of considerable historical importance, but the museum is at its strongest from the inter-war period to about 1960.  In this timeframe it offers dozens of cars, from the grand swoop of a 1934 Cadillac Town Cabriolet that was originally owned by Marlene Dietrich, with its bat-winged bonnet hiked into the air as if the huge car was about to lift into space, to the simplicity of a 1948 Austin 8 in a particularly un-fetching shade of postwar brown (similar to my grandad’s first car).

Aside from Dietrich there’s plenty of glamour on display, from the Back To The Future stalwart, the stainless steel DMC DeLorean, made at ruinous expense in Northern Ireland with a huge UK government subsidy, to the beautiful streamlining of a silver Mercedes-Benz Gullwing, a design that has yet to be surpassed for graceful sophistication.  But the museum sensibly also provides a more realistic overview of twentieth century motoring, and its in this respect that most motorists can enjoy the museum, because within its massive hangar (and downstairs in the newer basement display area) there’s a multitude of vehicles that all will remember from previous generations: cars that belonged to uncles, grandfathers and aunts.  It’s the Anglias, Morris Minors, Austins and Volkswagens that connect the Southward collection with the real world of everyday driving, and the museum is much stronger for their presence.

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Marlene Dietrich’s 1934 Cadillac Town Cabriolet

Austin 8

1948 Austin 8

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1904 Wolseley Tourer

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One corner of the main car hangar at Southward

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