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April 13, 2007

Displaying Two-Ton Objects

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Saturday, right before the flu nailed me, I finally got around to visiting the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in Danville, southeast of San Francisco.

Blackhawk Automotive Museum

This car museum is luxurious, unlike many. I visited Bill Harrah's famous collection in Sparks, Nevada back in the 70s where most of the cars were lined up in rows in warehouses.

So how does a museum go about displaying automobiles? They can weigh two or more tons apiece and require at a minimum roughly a 10x20 foot area to occupy. And if they're valuable (as is mostly the case), there has to be some form of separation from spectators; can't have people hopping in, trying the driving position and perhaps snitching an item, as happens at automobile shows.

As mentioned, the Harrah collection was mostly pretty basic. To accommodate the cars, they were lined up side-to-side and 90 degrees to the aisle. Museums with a little more spare space sometimes choose to echelon the cars. Sometimes cars are positioned nose to tail. And there are other possibilities, as I'll show below.

The ideal, in my judgment, is to have cars well-separated so that spectators can do a walk-around. But most museums don't have the space to allow this. The result is that it can be hard to fully appreciate what's being seen.


Schlumpf Collection - Mulhouse, France
I've never visited this fancy museum, but would like to. Note all the Bugattis in the photo. Also note the fancy "street-lighting" and the lack of velvet ropes or other visitor barriers -- hard to believe that's museum policy. The cars are in rows, however.

National Automobile Museum, Reno
This is a fairly typical display area in the successor to the Harrah Collection. Cars are nose-to-tail, but to the right (hidden by the Tucker) they face the visitor track.

National Automobile Museum, Reno
Outside the display halls are faux streets, one to an automotive era. No viewer barriers, but the cars displayed in the "streets" weren't the most valuable in the collection. A nice aspect of this sort of display is that cars are in a "natural environment.

Talbot-Lago at Blackhawk Museum
The Blackhawk Museum chooses to display cars as art-objects. The walls and ceilings of the display halls are black, as is the stone floor, while the cars are spot-lighted. The effect is akin to a Cartier window display.

Bucciali TAV- 8, 1930
The Blackhawk Museum tends to display rare, valuable cars, often previous winners of the Pebble Beach Concours. This Bucciali is rare indeed. The chassis to the right is that of the 16-cylinder model that was never built. The motor is a gorgeous mock-up.



posted by Donald at April 13, 2007


Wow, that is like a jewelry-store window. Fun to see cars glammed-up like that. Love that Talbot-Lago. Never heard of the brand before. But what a looker.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 13, 2007 3:32 PM

Thanks for sharing; I can drool in the privacy of my home.

Posted by: susan on April 14, 2007 7:22 AM

Talk about objects of desire!

Do these museums post much information on wall placards (I don't see any in the photos) or in brochures, about the cars on display? It would enhance the experience beyond the visual to know something about the historic significance - mechanical, from the design standpoint and sociological - of each car.

I thought the Reno museum looked tacky relative to both the French museum and the Blackhawk.

Posted by: ricpic on April 14, 2007 11:06 AM

Lovely. In both England and NZ I've enjoyed watching rallies where the owners of such old beauts take them out for a pootle so that the rest of us can enjoy seeing them in motion. If you're really lucky, the drivers and passengers will dress up in period costumes.

Posted by: dearieme on April 14, 2007 11:51 AM

Keeping people away from the cars by means of rope barriers or otherwise must distract from the car-museum experience by making it difficult to look at the cars' interiors.

Posted by: Peter on April 14, 2007 12:04 PM

*dearieme, if you like them in motion, you must come to see Woodward Avenue Cruise.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 14, 2007 4:30 PM

ricpic -- Yes, there normally are info plaques someplace. (Isabella Stuart Gardner's museum of art in Boston is the only one I can think of that doesn't post info, and that is only selective. The concept is that one might not appreciate the art if info might muddle the experience.)

As I noted, I've never visited the Schlumpf. But the Blackhawk does have information -- it might not be visible in the posted pictures because I shagged them from the official site, and they were probably specially posed.

I took the Reno pictures, and you can see (through the dark and murk) info plates on stands in the one showing the Tucker.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 14, 2007 6:51 PM

Wow. I'd love to visit but no way am I going to Kalifornia :P

Posted by: The Cynical Libertarian on April 15, 2007 12:08 PM

Or you could display the cars like this!

Posted by: Noumenon on April 24, 2007 10:09 AM

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