The Los Angeles area is a great place to be for automobile enthusiasts of all generations, with a number of great car museums, together with plentiful street sightings of rare and exotic modern machinery around Hollywood and Beverly Hills, on almost any day of the week.
One of the premier museums is the Nethercutt Museum and the companion Nethercutt Collection, about 30mins drive north of Los Angeles, a short distance off Interstate 5 in Sylmar, California. Both the Museum and the Collection are the result of a car collection built up by J.B. Nethercutt and his wife Dorothy, that started in 1956, when they bought a 1936 Duesenberg Convertible Roadster and a 1930 DuPont Town Car, both in need of total restoration, both of which are still part of the collection. From that point the collection grew and grew, and with a wish to share his passion with fellow enthusiasts, the museum was opened in 1971, with free entry to the public, and it has remained that way to this day, now in the custodianship of his son Jack with his wife Helen.
All the vehicles in the collection are fully operational and maintained that way by the museum’s own workshop, and despite the large number of vehicles, they try and run all of them at least once a year, even if it is only to drive across the concours lawn to pick up another prestigious award, of which the museum have many. Equally, any additions to the collection are fully restored in-house, whether it be mechanical, electrical, body, paint or upholstery.
The museum building is a sand coloured building, as befits its almost desert location in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, with a pair of impressive full height bow windows to its main frontage, providing a glimpse of what is inside. The similarly coloured Collection building is across the street, and is a much taller almost cube-like structure without windows, quite unprepossessing, apart from the enormous bronze entrance doors to the main salon car display area. The Collection building houses around 60 cars, and has a lower salon, which forms part of the guided tour, and features mainly cars from Jack Nethercutt’s motoring era.
|The Nethercutt Museum|
These range from a Vespa 400 “Jolly” Beach Car, through an eclectic mix of automobiles, including a Lincoln Mk V Continental “Lowrider” custom car to a Porsche 356A and a Ferrari 365 California, although the latter was away at the Ferrari 60th Anniversary in the USA event at the time of my visit. Staying with the guided tour, the next stop is the Grand Salon on the ground floor, which is decorated in breathtaking style, to resemble a late twenties/early thirties up-market sales showroom, with tiled floor, mirror panelled walls, marble columns, decorative ceiling and chandeliers. Within this splendid setting are displayed a superb array of pre-war automobiles, featuring names like Duesenberg, Maybach, Hispano Suiza, Minerva and an impressive pair of V12 Packards, to name but a few. The tour then takes visitors up a sweeping staircase at one end of the salon to the gallery overlooking the salon, where there are wide variety of historic artefacts, including cabinets full of bonnet mascots, including a large number of Lalique crystal ones, concours trophies, and the impressive solid silver “Spirit of The West” sculpture, that was specially crafted for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The tour then takes in another facet of the Nethercutt family’s collecting theme, mechanical musical instruments, with a wide variety of historically important items, including a theatre organ, which, along with other items, is demonstrated during the visit, and there is even a display cabinet filled with musical watches – mobile phone ring tones are nothing new!
|The Nethercutt Museum|
Returning across the street to the main museum building, where there are around 120 vehicles on display, mainly in orderly rows, plus a lot more memorabilia, one is left with a sense of awe at what has been seen and the magnificent presentation of everything, truly a family with great taste for beautiful things. Actually, J.B. Nethercutt once stated “The recognition and preservation of beauty has been a major focus of my life. It would suit me well if what people remembered me was, <<Where he went, he left beauty behind>>”. Although the main museum may not match the Collection building for opulence, it is certainly not shabby, with bright patterned carpeted floors throughout the car display areas, nice decor, good lighting and being in Southern California, the obligatory air conditioning. The entrance foyer display shows that not all the gems are in the collection building, with a Bugatti Type 51 Coupe rubbing shoulders with a Figoni & Falaschi bodied Talbot-Lago, whilst the bow window displays feature a Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet and a Duesenberg Convertible. The majority of cars in the collection are pre-war, and there are a number of examples of really obscure makes, some of which most of us have probably never heard of, like Dort, Graham, Lozier, Pope-Hartford and Stevens-Duryea to name but a few. There is also a broad selection of pre-and post-war Rolls Royce models, and more mainstream names like Cadillac, Chrysler, Ford, Lincoln etc. The post war variety is quite limited, but there are a few examples, including pair of Corvettes, a Mustang, a VW Beetle, a MG TC and what appears slightly out of place 1950 Mercury Custom Coupe.
|The Nethercutt Museum|
The biggest projects that the museum has undertaken, which have to stay outside, is the restoration of a 1937 Canadian Pacific Royal Hudson Steam Locomotive, and the 1912 Pullman Railcar to which it is coupled. The latter was a privately owned carriage, which people of sufficient means could buy, and have fitted out to their requirements, so it could be said to be, the then equivalent of today’s private jet, and probably bigger than some of them, weighing in at over 80 tons, and with an overall length of around 25 metres. It contains a lounge and dining area at the rear, panelled in Cuban mahogany, with an observation platform, a large double bedroom, two smaller staterooms for guests, bathrooms, servant’s quarters and kitchen. The Nethercutt Collection rescued the locomotive from being scrapped in 1999, and following a 3 year restoration it went on display on a section of track installed to the rear of the museum in 2002. Walk through visits are available twice a day, weather permitting, at 12.30pm and 3.45pm. The whole museum and collection buildings provide a wonderful insight into a bygone age, beautifully presented, with a number of the exhibits having fascinating histories, well worth the drive if you are visiting Los Angeles.