A couple of months back I wrote about the unexpected pleasure of finding an excellent classic car show while on holiday in Nova Scotia – on the first day, no less. I hadn’t expected to experience another just a few days later as we headed along Route 1 towards the delightful coastal town of Kennebunkport, Maine. But what a delight it turned out to be!
You know how it is when you’re cruising along, not really focused on your surroundings, but thinking more of your destination? We’d been on the road for over three hours and looking forward to getting to our hotel and tucking into a decent lunch, when I suddenly realised there was a row of classic cars that we’d just passed by on my right. Fortunately, I was able to pull over just a hundred metres or so further on and turned the rental around, still not really sure what I’d spotted, even when I drove into the parking lot. As it transpired, this stop was going to unveil its treasures in three stages…
Climbing out of the Nissan we were confronted with several rows of classics, in various states of repair – indeed, a couple looked to be almost beyond repair. There were a couple of Euro-classics in among the rows of American metal, but I thought I’d focus on the home country classics as I think we’ve all seen enough BMW 7-series, W107 Mercedes-Benz and Volvo 1800ES’s…
So what was it that I’d initially seen out of the corner of my eye that made me stop and turn around?
Well, in the front row of the lot were a red and white 1957 Ford Ranchero pick-up, a Carnival Red 1965 Mercury Comet Cyclone, a pale metallic blue 1966 Lincoln Continental and a blue 1957 Chevy Bel Air saloon for starters.
Buried a little further back, a third-generation bronze metallic 1971 Pontiac Luxury Le Mans dwarfed a red Citroen BX, a hefty red with white soft-top 1969 Mercury Monterey, and very unexpectedly, among all the heavy metal, a silver and black 1954 Triumph Renown on British plates. And the surprises didn’t stop there…but before that, two major restoration projects caught my eye.
Both were Packard Hawks – one a very tatty blue example, the other an even scruffier rust brown one. These sported the most extravagant tail-light design, straight out of the space race. I found out later that the rust brown one was on its way to Nigeria to be restored, it’s soon-to-be-owner living between Philadelphia and Lagos, and restoration costs in Nigeria are significantly lower than in Philly or indeed Maine, with apparently excellent results.
Looking to the right of this delightful cornucopia of classics (all of which were for sale as it turned out) I spotted a couple of station wagons – I couldn’t work out what the smaller brown Woody was (perhaps ViaRETRO readers can help?), alongside a huge Edsel Villager, which led me to a sign that said Maine Classic Auto Museum… I was being reeled in like a fish, and the bait was very tasty indeed…
I handed over $20 for Carolyn and I to enter the museum, and the first thing your eyes are drawn to is a tiny Honda N600 “Woody” (I have to say that the wood panelling does nothing for the car, except probably add several seconds to its already humble 0-60mph time). Then you look up, and it’s just “WOW!”
Where to start? How about the 1971 Amphicar, an innovative attempt to combine road and water transport abilities in one vehicle, though it proved to be good at neither. To the side, a pair of Mercedes-Benz cabrios; a black and red 170V from 1937, and a superb 1952 220B. Then you catch sight of the first blockbuster exhibit – a glorious black 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Berlinetta, one of just six remaining. That $10 per person entry fee has already paid for itself, but there’s more… so much more…
Behind this fabulous Alfa Romeo was an even more fantastical machine, if that’s possible – a two-tone purple 1947 Delahaye 135M, with dark pink leather upholstery. Next to that, a 1964 Ferrari 330GT in Desert Gold (otherwise known as a shade of brown), and behind this exquisite Ferrari – yes, a 330GT looks great even in brown – glory be, a Tucker! Built by Preston Tucker to challenge the might of the “Big 3” American car giants, it all ended in tears, but what a glorious failure!
Known originally as the Tucker Torpedo, later changed to the Tucker 48, I’d never seen one before – hardly surprising as only 51 were built. Huge and imposing, with great presence, this 1948 example is one of 47 known to survive and cost the museum $1.8m earlier this year. It would take too long to recount the story of this astonishing car with its directional “cyclops” headlight here, but seeing one has reminded me that I must get around to watching the film “Tucker: The Man and his Dream”, with a period soundtrack from the genius that is Joe Jackson.
And there was still more… a maroon 1937 (!) Cord 810, revolutionary back then, the first front-wheel-drive American car, and the first anywhere with retractable headlights. It should have been a success, but like the Tucker, it also failed, though less spectacularly, with 3,000 examples sold.
Two more cars that had elements of the revolutionary failure about them were a 1963 Studebaker Avanti, and a 1954 Kaiser Darrin, this one in shades of pastel green. Designed by Raymond Loewy, the Avanti was supposed to elevate Studebaker’s image but despite excellent reviews, the company sold only 1,200 of their 20,000 target. The Kaiser, with its unique sliding door-closing mechanism, didn’t even manage that, with just 441 built in a three-year run. In both cases, could it be that the styling was a little too different to gain wider acceptance from a conservative buying market?
Since I seem to be on a theme of glorious failure, here’s one more – an exquisite 1953 Nash Healey, America’s first sports car, built in Wisconsin. Despite its obvious fabulousness, this was another sales disappointment, and only 162 were sold, not least because it’s asking price was more or less 50% higher than that of a Corvette. Amazingly, I saw one on the road just a day later in Kennebunkport!
Perhaps the single most unusual car on show was the streamlined 1950 Ultramatic, designed by a trio that included George Barris, future designer of the original Batmobile among many other famous custom cars. Intended as a possible alternative to the Corvette or Thunderbird, it remained a one-off.
Other gems around the museum included a row of micro-cars from BMW Isetta, Messerschmitt and FIAT, a handful of Hudsons including the Hornet (more recently made famous to a wider audience of children both young and old in “Cars”), and a stunning bright yellow 1936 Super 8 Series 64 Convertible, one of just five known to exist. Oh, and I have to mention a beautiful Bentley 4 ½ litre built by Gurney Nutting in 1936, one of only two in this design – so many wonderful cars, all in incredible condition.
The final part of this exhilarating but sadly all too brief visit – my better half was getting both hungry and impatient – was hidden in a sizeable warehouse at the back of the site. There was only light from one end, the cars were parked very close together and I had just a few minutes, but there were even more treasures hiding in the darkness, many of which were for sale, while others were customer cars for restoration or for exhibition in the museum at a later date.
Those few minutes in the dimly lit building uncovered all manner of classic delights, including a few major surprises. While it might have been reasonable to anticipate finding a 1962 Chrysler Imperial Crown or a 1963 Oldsmobile Starfire, and maybe even the red Studebaker Lark Convertible, I did not expect to come across a Panhard PL17 or two Iron Curtain classics – a 1988 GAZ Volga 24-10 along side a 1980 Moskvitch 412, the last two being available for $19,500 and $16,800 respectively.
Most astonishingly, I did not expect to stumble (almost literally, in the darkness) across a very patinated two-door coupé that had a Talbot badge on the front and Lago Baby on the back. Now I’ve seen a Talbot Lago Baby before and it looked nothing like this, so some subsequent digging around the interweb was required. That digging uncovered an advert featuring this very car, which it transpires is a 1955 Talbot Lago Baby T15, and as I was unable to take decent photographs of the car, I’ve borrowed a couple from the advert. This Lago Baby hidden away in a corner of Maine is in fact a one-off car bodied by the French coachbuilder Barou. As the museum already features some extraordinarily rare cars, I’m sure that this unique Talbot will form part of the rotating display – it deserves to be seen.
I could have easily spent half the day here – besides the cars, the museum also has collections of vintage postcards, antique automobile advertising, antique fuel pumps and filling station signs, a collection of antique toy Pez dispensers (remember those?), Matchbox cars, and more related memorabilia.
What a serendipitous find this place was! The super little museum has only been open since the beginning of July and is run by the same team that manage Motorland, which is the sales and restoration side of the business. The museum cars are part of a private collection of some 160 cars owned by Tim Stentiford – one of the co-owners of Motorland – and are regularly rotated so that you could visit several times a year and see different cars on display. Sadly, Arundel is too far away, but if I lived within a hundred miles of it, I’d be there every few weeks for sure!