Louwman Museum: The Oldest Private Automobile Collection Open to the Public

Images: Gautam Sen

On 26th August, the most famous Dutch collector Evert Louwman was inducted into the very prestigious FIVA Heritage Hall of Fame for the year 2022. Born in 1940 in The Netherlands, Evert Louwman is the second generation of a family that has contributed immensely to the historic vehicle movement, and thus it was fitting that he be inducted into the Hall of Fame by FIVA President Tiddo Bresters and yours truly, as FIVA’s Vice President Communication.

Harit Trivedi, a member of FIVA’s Legislation Commission, was also present at the wonderful ceremony in the White Room of the Paleis Soestdijk (within the commune of Baarn, in The Netherlands) during the first day of the Concours d'Elegance there on 26th August.

With its origins dating back to the middle of the 17th century, Paleis Soestdijk is one of the four official palaces of the Royal Family of the Netherlands. The main residence of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and Prince Bernhard from 1937 until their deaths in 2004, the palace was acquired by Louis Bonaparte, the King of Holland, in 1806.

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Step inside and a whole bunch of F1 cars from the 1950s greet you

The setting was just perfect for honouring one of The Netherlands’ most important motoring personalities, Evert Louwman. Founder of the Louwman Museum, one of the oldest private collections of historic vehicles in the world, dating back to 1934 and now comprising more than 275 cars from 18 countries and more than 100 manufacturers, Evert Louwman graciously accepted the trophy symbolising the inducting into FIVA's prestigious Hall of Fame.

The Louwman Museum, designed by prominent architect Michael Graves, houses several remarkable cars that the Louwman family had acquired over decades, with the very first car in the collection, a 20-year-old 1914 Dodge, acquired by Evert’s father Pieter Louwman, who was the importer for Dodge for the Netherlands, in 1934.

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This De Dion Bouton Trépardoux steam quadricycle dates back to 1887

In 1969, the collection of Geerlig Riemer was added. Riemer was also the founder of the Instituut voor Autobranche en Management (IVA, or the Institute for Automotive and Management) in Driebergen. Therefore, two generations of the Louwman family have contributed to making this one of the finest museums in the world. It is the oldest private automobile collection in the world open to the public.

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A 1895 Panhard & Levassor Phaeton as another example of the dawn of motoring

The driving force, no doubt, has been Evert Louwman, who has added the more significant cars to the collection in the last three decades. Louwman was the Dutch importer of Lexus, Toyota and Suzuki.

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This German Phanomobil from 1912 is one of several oddities at the Louwman Museum

In 1969, the collection moved to Leidschendam where the newly opened National Automobile Museum was located. In 1981, the collection was transferred once again to a new location on land belonging to the importer Louwman & Parqui in Raamsdonksveer. On 18th April 2003, the name ‘Collection Louwman’ was adopted.

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A 1905 Spyker 12-16HP Doube Phaeton which featured in the film Genevieve alongside the 1904 Darracq

The current museum, named ‘Louwman Museum’, was inaugurated at The Hague, by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on 2nd July 2010.

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Louwman is one of very few museums outside of Japan where you will get to see some rare early models such as the Suzukis (Suzulight, Fronte 360 SS, SC100) behind the Toyota Publica and the Honda S600 Coupe

The Louwman Museum is housed in a three-storey building with over 10,000 square metres of exhibition space, on Leidsestraatweg in The Hague. This building was specifically designed for the museum by an American architect, Michael Graves. Landscape architect Lodewijk Baljon designed the layout of the park surrounding the building. An underground car park under the building accommodates visitors’ vehicles.

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Another oddity at the Louwman Museum is this 1942 Breguet A2, when the French aircraft manufacturer was reduced to making electric runabouts

The large gallery—characterized by a spectacular wooden frame—at the entrance to the museum is used to display thematic concepts. On my visit in late July this year, the theme was Formula One cars from the 1950s. The ground floor also houses the reconstruction of a village square, with its shops and garage, as well as a 300-seat theatre.

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In the section for bubble cars, there is this rare and unusual Zundapp Janus

The collection is very international, and in some sense eclectic. With a significant line-up of veterans, the museum also has the Darracq which featured in the 1953 British film Geneviève. Most importantly, the museum exhibits the world’s most significant collection of cars from the Dutch marque Spyker, as well as the only known surviving car from the Eysink brand, from Amersfoort.

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The earliest attempts at People's Cars were by German Josef Ganz and these cars are rare examples of his innovative designs which went on to influence the VW Beetle

Additionally, the museum managed to acquire the only known authentic example of a Toyota AA, the Japanese manufacturer's first production car. It is shown in the state it was discovered in Russia.

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Examples of distinctive Americana in this Kaiser Darrin, and the Raymond Loewy-designed Studebaker "aero nose" behind it

For the period following the Second World War, the museum holds, among other things, a car that belonged to Winston Churchill, an Aston Martin DB5 used in the James Bond film Goldfinger, an Elvis Presley Cadillac, and a prototype of the Daf 600, from 1957.

The collections are grouped thematically. Automobiles from the very early years until 1914 are installed on the second floor while sports cars, especially endurance cars, are featured on the first floor. A Bugatti room brings together the cars of this brand on the ground floor as well as some bronzes by Rembrandt Bugatti.

Of course, the cars that are of interest to us in India are the three spectacular cars of Indian provenance there: the Brooke Swan Car, the Cygnet, and the Silver Phantom of Hyderabad. These three cars have their own special two rooms, elaborately decorated in a classy Indian style.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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