During our recent trip to New England where we celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary with family on Cape Cod, I had the chance to visit the new Newport Car Museum in Portsmouth, RI. The museum features 60+ cars in five galleries.
You enter to the World Cars gallery, which features a center display of three super-cars – a Porsche 918 Spyder, an Acura NSX and a BMW i8. Surrounding it are nine other fantastic cars – Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Lamborghini and Porsche. And there’s a beautiful Isetta there too!
The Corvette gallery displays 12 amazing examples, from the 1954 on a turntable in the middle to a brand new ZR1. Each example is of the top performing model from the year – big block C3s, Z06s and ZR1s. Inspiring!
Next was the Ford Shelby gallery with examples of each of the most desirable models – from early GT350s and GT500s to racing Cobra SCs. Two 1970 Boss’s were there too – a Boss 302 and a Boss 429.
The Fin Cars gallery focused on iconic 1950s and 60s rear finned cars. Two 1954s showed the early beginning of fins – a Buick Skylark and a Kaiser Darrin. The height of the finned cars was in 1957, represented in the collection by a Chevy Bel Air, a Desoto Adventurer and a Chrysler 300C – all convertibles. Beautiful finned Cadillacs included a ’58 and two ‘59s. It’s interesting that every car is a convertible!
The next gallery I visited was dedicated to Mopars. Just inside the entrance was a great mural of Richard Petty in a racing setting – so appropriate for the collection of cars. Great Mopar performance cars included a 1970 Plymouth Superbird, Hemi Cudas, early and final edition Vipers and, of course, a new Challenger Hellcat and Demon.
The museum opened just a year ago and final gallery is still in development. Called American Muscle Then & Now, more examples are being added to the representatives already there – Camaros and Mustangs, an early GTO and some other early muscle cars, such as a ’58 and ’61 Chevy Impala (348 and 409 respectively).
A couple of other notes about the museum: It’s located in a 17,000 square foot former missile manufacturing plant on the Raytheon Campus in Portsmouth, RI. There are 50,000 square feet of display space and 5,000 more for events. The furnishings, art and murals really add to the displays. They include pieces by iconic designers such as Americans Charles and Ray Eames and Florence Knoll Bassett and Denmark’s Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner. The museum’s cult classics include the Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen, the Bocca Sofa (representing Marilyn Monroe’s trademark pouty red lips) by Gufram Italy’s Studio 65 and the Joe Chair (inspired by New York Yankees centerfielder Joe DiMaggio’s baseball glove) by Italian designers de Pas, D’Urbino, Lomazzi.
I had a chance to talk with the owner of these great cars, Gunther Buerman, whose philosophy is to share his collection with the public rather than keep it locked away. While he’s always owned classic cars, he began collecting seriously 13 years ago. He says he considers classic cars “works of art” so the museum is as much an art museum as a car museum. It’s a beautiful and continuously growing collection, superbly presented – well worth a visit!
BTW…there’s another car museum in Newport, the Audrain Automobile Museum, which opened three years ago. I wasn’t able to get there this trip, so maybe the next time we’re in New England I’m make a visit. I just love car museums!
~ John Strom