You can read more about the museum’s history here. My brief overview is that the collection dates back to the 50s but was gathered together under one roof in 1980. Since then it has moved to a dedicated building near Ole Sommer’s former dealership. The Sommer collection is made up of a mix of Swedish, Italian and British cars, reflecting Sommer’s commercial activities as well as personal interests. The Italian section includes Lancias, Maseratis and Alfa Romeos. The Swedish part has some old friends such as the P1200, PV 44, and 164 as well as a 1984 780 prototype, for goodness’ sake. The Jaguars alone amount to 33 cars, culminating in a 1978 XJ-6. Across the way from that is a fascinating rarity, a 1962 Lagonda Rapide with a Superleggera body by Touring. It stands close to a 1956 Riley Pathfinder, a car of which I was not previously aware.
The staff welcomed me very warmly and I had a chance to discuss some of the details of a few exhibits and to gain privileged access to the interior of the 780 so I could check out the ashtray.
Now I will take a canter through some of the exhibits that caught my attention. I tend to get very quickly overwhelmed by rooms filled with cars so the bias of my collection doesn’t do much justice to the full scope of what is to be seen. Ideally one would have four or five hours to wander around such a place with a good lunch break during that time to allow one to rest one’s visual senses and feet.
I started in the Italian corner, striding past the Aston Martin DB Mk 3 we featured here the other day. The sight of so many Lancias gathered together could not be resisted. These cars are well documented so I have chosen to look at the details. To anyone looking at my activity I must have resembled a worshipper at a mysterious automotive shrine. I spent some considerable time at floor level looking with awe at things like this:
What you have to look at here is the metal surrounding the lamp and the transition to the area around the grille. This can’t be pressed from one piece of steel. It has to be made of several pieces which are welded. The lamp doesn’t sit on a flat surface. It sits inside a half-ring which is partially recessed and partially cowled at the top.
Here is the rear lamp.
The wing to body relationship would be a challenge to make from injection moulded plastic. It’s pressed and welded from steel, of course. This is very lovely to behold and also asks tough questions of the truth-to-materials argument.
The grille (or “front grille” as we must call them these days) is finished with horizontal slats. The Carrozzeria Touring designers didn’t leave them as simple straight lines. They added a small amount of curvature, just enough to stop them looking sunken or flabby. The grille aperture features a constantly changing rate of curvature all the way around. You might be tempted to draw this as four straight edges with rounded corners. That would look crude. To understand the need for some curvature and to manufacture it with consistent lead-in curvature boggles the mind given this was hammered out by hand in an age before anyone had much of mathematical idea to express this. I suppose it was done by instinct.
Adding to the difficulty of making this, the chrome insert must be made so there is a constant gap condition all the way around, that’s to say the gap between it and the body must be seen to be consistent. No wonder these cars cost what they did. Is it possible the customers understood what they were being presented with?
This is the front quarter glass. It is made of four bars of stainless steel, welded and polished to the point where you can nearly not see the join. Maserati were still doing this in the early 80s.
The Lancia Flaminia was produced for a remarkably long time, 1957 to 1970, with about 16,000 examples made. Of these, 847 were cabriolets and this car is among the last of this variant. A Jaguar E-type cost one-third of the price of this car. On the one hand it had a bigger motor and dramatic looks. Having seen E-types up close, I can see where the difference lay in terms of the quality of the object. Customers might not have been able to see this or simply to afford it even if they could. It’s not an E-type, but here’s that Aston Martin of 1958 for comparison of approaches to form.
In retrospect I realise I forgot to take any detailed photographs of corresponding areas of the Aston Martin. While there is a lot to like in the Aston Martin, it does exemplify aspects of British aesthetic sensibilities that are distinctly different from the Italians and also not in keeping with the ideals of British furniture or tailoring. A long and interesting discussion could kick of at this point but I am 830 words into this piece and have not got past the first car.