I find it rather odd that despite having grown up in South Australia I have never actually been to the Birdwood Motor Museum (or if I have I don’t remember it – though I do remember going to the Giant Rocking Horse at Gumeracha). Anyway, since I don’t ever remember coming here, and it is a blogworthy thing to write about (though considering that I have written blog posts on suburbs anything and everything is blogworthy when it comes to me) I decided to grab my brother, and one of my friends, and then jumped in the car and went for a drive.
Mind you, it isn’t the easiest of places to get to since it is located out in the Adelaide Hill (as as far as I’m aware, public transport really doesn’t come up this way all that often). I guess sticking with the theme of a motor museum the only feasible way to get here is by car (though I do believe there is a bus that comes up here very occasionally). Mind you, when I arrived in Birdwood, after realising that I had been here before, the first thing that I noticed was the pub (which is not surprising).
Anyway, the National Motor Museum claims to be the largest of its kind in Australia, and while I expected there to be quite a few cars I didn’t realise that there were as many cars as there was crammed into this place. In fact the number of cars here was nothing short of phenomenal, and each and every one of them is labelled (though due to the incredible number of them I stopped reading the plaques and simply wandered around appreciating what they had to offer – not that I am a huge motor head in the first place).
Unfortunately it looks as if I didn’t think of taking a photo of the motoring pavilion, which holds literally hundreds of cars.
As I look at the little leaflet they handed me at the entrance, I noticed that despite visiting all of the pavilions in the main building, I didn’t get to see the buildings that contained the coaches or the vehicles from the 1920s (though I am sure that there were a number of such vehicles in the main building, as can be seen from the above photo).
The museum does offer a number of events, the main one being the Bay to Birdwood Run, an iconic Adelaide event where the old cars are driven from Glenelg to Birdwood (and it happens during September, usually on a Sunday). One interesting event that I noticed that was staged was the showing of Mad Max – Fury Road: which I have to admit is not surprising – a movie about cars hooning across the desert, and a pretty popular one at that, was no doubt going to end up being shown here sooner or later (though it is a shame that they don’t have any Mad Max cars on display here – especially the ‘V8 Interceptor‘).
As I mentioned, I expected it to be large, but not as large as what I discovered. In a way it seems as if the museum has items on display more for completeness than anything else, and while some of the sections do have themes, it appears that they don’t really stick to them (particularly since there is a Rolls Royce in the ‘Made in SA’ area – I never realised they made Rolls Royces in South Australia).
So, after lunch at the pub (beef schnitzel with pepper gravy of course, though my friend had the mixed grill – which is a little too greasy for me), we made our way over the road to the museum. The first thing we encountered, other than the desk where you pay your entrance fee, and the gift shop where you can buy car related products, and is shaped like an old fifties service station, was a hall where there happened to be a couple of sports cars. Mind you, each of them were on loan from ‘a collector’ (pretty expensive collection), and you couldn’t sit in them (but then again you couldn’t sit in any of the cars – which was a shame), but then again they were probably there simply so you could look at them and say ‘gee, I wish I owned one of them’ (which I didn’t because, well, I don’t actually want to own one of them).
Actually, they aren’t the only sports cars in this gallery, but then again I suspect that the Formula One racing car in here isn’t so much a ‘sports’ car but a racing car. Okay, that may sound like I am being a little particular with the English language, which is probably because I am – racing cars race on tracks and sports cars are owned by people who have a ridiculous amount of money and simply want to show it off (though you don’t need to be a multi-millionaire to own a sports car – you can get some pretty cheap ones, it’s just that they don’t carry the same prestige as a Ferrari).
The funny thing is that despite all the collection of sports cars (and one racing car) that was in this first gallery, the rest of the area was full of older cars (which I doubt would have been used on a race track, or to show off to the world at large – but then again with many of the older cars only the rich were able to drive so, well, I guess they were showing off).
After having a look at this rather random collection of cars (they probably share the theme of having been lent to the museum by collectors – on the condition that the museum puts them in the first gallery) we then moved onto the next exhibit.
The next display that we encountered was a bit more logical, namely because it contained toy cars. Sure, there was a large case full of matchbox cars (which I remember playing with on the rockery at primary school) but it also contained a number of nursery cars. There were small peddle cars that children could drive around the back yard, and I even vaguely remember friends having some when I was a kid. We generally stuck with our tricycles though, which grew progressively bigger as we grew up. Anyway, there was an interesting plague on the wall which pointed out that Maurice Citreon was the first to introduce toy cars to the nursery, claiming that he wanted a child’s first words to be “Mom, Dad, and Citreon”. Okay, it was a smart marketing move, but considering that I rarely, if ever, see a Citreon on the road suggests that it didn’t work as well as he intended (though other companies have been much more successful in creating loyal customers from a young age – McDonald’s happy meals are a classic example).
I have to say though that the development of the matchbox cars, no doubt named because they were the same size as a matchbox, helped spurn the modern love obsession with the automobile. Mind you, I’m only speculating here because ever since they dropped in price to allow the average family to afford one people have had a love obsession with these machines. As for me, I believe that there are pros and cons to owning a car. Sure it makes you more mobile, but it also has a tendency to drain your money (as I discovered when I owned a car). As for me, I’m lucky that Melbourne has a decent public transport system because despite appreciating the convenience, I do prefer to sit on the train a read a book.
The next gallery, at least on the map, was labelled as being full of commercial vehicles. Well, that is partially true, but there were some rather odd creations here as well, including a piece with the title ‘The Family Car’. Basically it was a VC-Commodore that at first looked like the typical working class car where the paintwork had been replaced with lots of little stickers. At first glance it looked as if it were four mates going for a cruise on the town, that is until I looked at the label, which identified that the occupants were the average Australian family. As for the stickers, a closer look revealed that the outer shell was clear plastic and the car was full of random every day items (such as things that you tend to end up losing in the car).
The next room we went into was a display referred to as the ‘Sunburnt Country’. Basically it is the history of road transport in Australia, including the story of the first person who drove a car from Adelaide to Darwin. As I perused this part of the museum I couldn’t help but think how similar the story of the expansion of road transport in Australia was to the development of rail transport. Okay, rail transport came first because, well, trains were invented long before cars. However cars offer a degree of independence that trains don’t. One cannot simply go out and buy a train, and even if one could, it is restricted to the tracks. Sure, cars are also restricted to roads, but there are a lot more roads than there are rail lines. Still, I wonder what is cheaper to build – a railway or a road (I suspect both even out, because even if a railroad uses less materials, since trains have a lot of trouble going up hill creating a more level travelling surface does cost money).
We then left the ‘Sunburnt Country’ and wondered over to the commercial vehicles. To me these are probably the most useful vehicles, namely because they are the work horses of our society. I would argue that not everybody needs their own car – public transport is useful enough – however there is a limit to rail transport, and getting goods from the loading yards to the supermarket, or getting firemen to a burning building, requires a vehicle. There were a number of interesting vehicles here, including a fire engine, but also old buses and delivery trucks. As a thought on buses, it seems that they are the most disliked aspect of public transport. I asked a friend once why he didn’t like buses, and I guess the answer sums it up adequately – they aren’t direct.
The next two galleries I have already mentioned, namely the one that is full of cars from all over the place, as well as the motor bike gallery. The interesting thing about the main gallery is that, as I have mentioned, there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of order in there. The gallery has cars from the 1920s and the 1930s along with a VK Commodore and an Access Cab (the cabs from the 90s that were developed with the disabled in mind). Actually, that brought about a debate between my friend and I, namely because we were trying to determine what would constitute a classic car. Sure, the old Commodores, in the minds of some people, are classic cars, but the thing is that you still see them on the road. Well, you still see Ford Escorts on the road (and they date back to the 70s). As I have suggested earlier, this museum seems to me more for completeness than anything else.
Anyway, I think I’ll finish it off there, except to say one other thing. As we were wandering around one of the galleries (with the commercial vehicles) we discovered a couple of other cars – a Chevy and a Pontiac. Apparently these cars were built here in South Australia, which I thought was a little odd considering that he Americans love to build their own cars, and the the United Auto Workers Union is one of the most powerful in the country – building cars offshore seems to be a big no-no.
Anyway, I can’t help but end this post with a photo was what could be considered the weirdest car in the collection.