15 December 2011

Louwman Museum showcases the unique and bizarre

The Louwman Museum, located in The Hague, Netherlands, is home to the world’s oldest private collection of motor vehicles. Since its founding in 1934, the collection has grown to more than 230 antique and classic motor cars and is considered one of the finest collections in the world. As the museum’s website proudly proclaims, “Each car has its own story to tell, its own contribution to history.” We selected two to share.

Brooke Swan Car / 1910


Just one glance at the Brooke Swan Car and two things are obvious: 1. It is unlike any automobile you’ve ever seen, and 2. The owner must have really wanted to turn some heads.

The extraordinary vehicle was, according to the Louwman Museum, “the creation of the eccentric and wealthy Robert Nicholl ‘Scotty’ Matthewson, who lived in early 20th century Calcutta, the capital of what was then British India. Matthewson wanted to shock the local elite with his car, and he certainly succeeded in doing so.”

The car was built to look like a swan gliding through the water. To make it “come to life,” there are electric bulbs in the swan’s eyes which can be seen in the dark; an exhaust-driven, eight-tone Gabriel horn is operated by a keyboard at the back of the car; the swan’s beak is linked to the engine’s cooling system and opens wide to allow the driver to spray steam and clear the street ahead; and – believe it or not – there is a valve at the back the car designed to release whitewash or milk whenever the swan really has to, uh, “go.”

Additional features: the rear is adorned with a lotus-flower design finished in gold leaf, an ancient symbol for divine wisdom; a ship’s telegraph is in the back to issue commands to the driver; and brushes were installed to sweep elephant dung off the tires.

According to the Louwman, “The car caused panic and chaos in the streets on its first outing and the police had to intervene.” Matthewson sold the car to the Maharaja of Nabha, whose family owned it for more than 70 years. Discovered years later in poor condition, it came to the Louwman Museum in 1991 and was fully restored. All the gadgets are in working order.

James Bond Aston Martin DB5 / 1964


It’s difficult to envision Sean Connery as secret agent James Bond without also including the first “tricked out” Bond car to appear in the film series: a 1964 Aston Martin DB5. It’s the car that “Q” engineered to help Agent 007 complete his mission in “Goldfinger.”

This Aston Martin, one of four made for the film (and one of three still in existence), includes every gadget a world-saving hero might need:

  • Two Browning machine guns behind the front indicators
  • Hydraulic, extendable bumpers for use as a battering ram
  • Revolving license plates with English, Swiss and French registration
  • A smoke dispenser to screen vehicles in pursuit
  • A rear-mounted oil pump to create a slippery surface for pursuers
  • A mechanism to scatter tire-flattening crow’s feet on the road
  • A bullet-proof screen to protect the rear window
  • A navigation and radar system for tracking cars
  • An ejector seat to get rid of undesirable passengers

Ken Adam, inspired by his experiences in the Royal Air Force when he flew a heavily armed Hawker Typhoon in WWII, created the gadgets for the movie. Modifications were made in the Aston Martin factory, and in the movie Bond was handed the keys in a corner of the factory.

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