(Above): Hispano Suiza Tulipwood. [Photo: Blackhawk Automotive Museum]
“The Blackhawk Museum exhibition of ‘International Exhibition Treasures’ presents and displays historically significant and artistically inspired automobiles from the very earliest to the contemporary for public enjoyment and educational enrichment. The exhibition presents over 90 of these great cars as individual works of art. Spacious Auto Galleries on two floors…mostly one-of-a-kind automobiles.” — Blackhawk Museum POV
It’s been a time since I last visited the Blackhawk Automotive Museum. As I stood outside its elegant façade, I still had the anticipation from the earlier visits. After a leisurely 2-hour stroll through the gleaming forest of colors and chrome, it was obvious much has changed and been added in all that time. The collection is still the marvelous achievement of two men, but a myriad of programs and services focused on the lovers of fine craftsmanship and artistry has been added or expanded over the years. Opened in 1988, the museum is located in Danville, California in the pastoral setting of the Blackhawk Plaza, surrounded by fine shops and restaurants.
There are thousands of museums and displays dedicated to Motorheads worldwide, but I have yet to find such a marvel of grace and love that has gone into this building to house this ever-changing collection. The stylized “jewel box” rendering as you approach the entry prepares you for the multitude of beautifully restored classic cars of co-founder Ken Behring, and loans from collectors and clubs around the world. The collection is changed on a rotational basis making return visits a must – and well worth it.
Affiliated with the Smithsonian, the museum has been expanded beyond the displays of automobiles to include the culture motivating the machines, transportation and technology and the cultural objects such as the once ubiquitous jukebox, antique gas pumps, a research library, monthly lectures, et al. The Blackhawk annually features a exhibition of HO Scale model trains presented by the European Train Enthusiasts the day after Thanksgiving until the first week of January. Another popular attraction is the display of special automobiles by local car clubs on various Sundays in the plaza.
The collection is stabled by genre, i.e., classic European and American sports and touring cars and racing cars from around the world on the first floor. The third floor houses a display of the automotive history with vintage machinery from the beginning of the industry to 1960.
With a history cobbled together with sports car racing, motorsports and automotive journalism, it’s no problem guessing where I stroll the most. Over the years I’ve seen the first floor populated by great eclectic rolling stock from Ferrari, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and the like. But, most seductive are the powerful animals of racing fame. Indy Cars, intimidating road racing competitors from the multitude of leagues from domestic groups like Sports Car Club of America, IMSA, Sebring, etc., and European venues as Formula One, Le Mans and professional Rallye apparatus.
As I strolled through this exotic forest of iconic and examples of high art of the automotive history, I had a flashback of earlier visits and some of the exceptional works of kinetic art on display. The 1938 Talbot Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi “Teardrop” coupe seemed beyond comparison. Certainly one of the most graceful and clean of bling machine ever built. Inspired by Antony Lago, it was designed and built by Joseph Fogoni and Ovidio Falaschi and competed at Le Mans in 1939.
During my last visit the collection included a mere nine Rolls Royce dating back to the early 1930s. But, of most interest was singular machines like the 1948 Cadillac Series 62 – Saoutchik 3 Position Convertible Coupe. Only two chassis’ of this model was built with body by Jacques Saoutchik of Paris, France. But there were others of interest to the lead footed enthusiast. A race-bred designed 1954 Aston Martin DB2/4 Bertone Coupe, a 1961 Monaco Type 57 bearing the racing great logo of Cooper and a 1977 Porsche 935 that competed in the World Sports Car Championships.
(Above): The collection of cars at Blackhawk Automotive Museum in Danville, Calif. [Photo: Blackhawk Automotive Museum]
For those with a bent for vintage, there’s a potpourri of historic restored to their early glory days. Present compilation includes among the nine Rolls, models dated back to a 1932 Phantom II with a Kelner-Salamanca chassis. For the racier aficionado of the epoch automotive racing there is a stunning 1930 Stutz Jones Special Indy Race Car and an eye-catching 1928 Mercedes SSK replica. But, the most personal and memorable was 1961 Cooper Monaca Type 57 was a regular (and still is in classic car competitions) on road racing circuits in Europe and the U.S.
Carmakers Charles and John Cooper are names high on the list of singular creators in international racing. The father-son team began in 1946 building highly successful Formula Three single-seat, open-wheel race cars in their small garage. These pioneering rear-engined race cars were the genesis of the Cooper Formula One race car, the first rear-engine powered car entered in a F1 event since the end of WWII.
Driven by veteran Harry Schell in the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, it failed on the first lap. But that was just the beginning of a long and successful campaign on F1 tracks around the world.
(Above): Ferrari – California. [Photo: Blackhawk Automotive Museum]
Another first for the Coopers came in 1959 when Jack Brabham drove the Cooper works car to the F1 World Championship. This was the first rear-engined F1 car to win the World Championship. Brabham and Cooper repeated in 1960. During those years, as well, the Coopers introduced the legendary Mini-Coopers, now owned and built by BMW. But, the Monaco proved to be a favorite around the world for sports car road racing. Much of their experience and knowledge in GP racing was drawn upon to build the Monaco. Original power was from Bristol engines, the same used in their F1 cars. But, the creative design allowed a number of engines to be used. Most popular, particularly in the U.S, were V8s.
The history of the Cooper world is so extensive and innovative it is one of the great stories of international racing.
As is the never-ending exploration and growth of the Blackhawk Museum.
(Above): Rolls Royce Phantom 1 [Photo courtesy: Al Auger]
I recall my first visit and, even in those early days, I couldn’t help but equate it to the Deutsche Museum outside Munich, probably the greatest in Europe.
Only the Smithsonian could be considered its peer, and the Blackhawk has made that venerable institution an important partner. Its many variety of programs are changed throughout the year; a look at their Website – Blackhawkcollection.com – is, in itself, a journey. A related treat when you visit the extraordinary Blackhawk Plaza. Surrounded by world-class shops and restaurants, it makes the journey, and return visits, most appealing. And one of the best entertainment value in the Bay Area.
Visit Blackhawkmuseum.org for directions from anywhere in the Bay Area.
Wednesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Check Website for special days and holiday openings. Docent-led tours are conducted at 2 p. m. weekends and is free with you Museum admission. Wheelchair-accessible and wheelchairs are available at the Museum.
Adults, $15; Students and Seniors, (with validation), $10; Children under 6 (must be accompanied by a paid adult), Free; Active Military Personnel, Free. For group tours and rates, call.
Phone: (925) 736-2280