World Automobile Day: From steam-powered vehicles to electric carriages, a look back

If you are someone who has a penchant for automobiles and their compelling history, then these auto and car museums are a true haven



By Rashmi Gopal Rao

Published: Thu 27 Jan 2022, 8:26 PM

Pathbreaking inventions and new ideas have often been met with doubts, ridicule and even mockery during the initial days of their discovery. But once they have been successful, it is tough to imagine life without them. The same holds true for automobiles too. Ubiquitous and indispensable, the history of automobiles is nothing short of fascinating. The first idea of a self-propelled vehicle was envisioned by Leonardo da Vinci way back in the 15th century after which several inventions like steam-powered land vehicles, internal combustion engines and crude electric carriages were made in the ensuing centuries.

While no single person can be credited for the invention of the automobiles, Karl Benz from Germany is widely credited for creating the first automobile in the true sense of the term during 1885-1886. Powered by a gasoline engine, Karl’s vehicle had three wheels and it had a close resemblance to a carriage. It was on January 29, 1886, that Karl Benz applied for a patent for this gas engine-powered vehicle, the first ever for the automobile industry. The patent which bore the number 37435 is widely regarded as the birth certificate of the automobile and since then January 29 is celebrated as World Automobile Day.

If you are someone who has a penchant for automobiles and their compelling history, auto and car museums are a true haven. Whenever I travel, I manage to visit quite a few car museums during my sojourns. While some have been conventionally well-known, others have turned out to be hidden gems. I chanced upon two such hidden gems in places that I least expected to find them. The Gedee car museum in the south Indian city of Coimbatore, a city known for its textiles, and the Revs Institute in Naples, a city in Florida known for its beaches and golf courses, have been true revelations.

Gedee Car Museum: Ode to the doyens of the automobile world

Located bang in the centre of Coimbatore on the bustling Avinashi Road is the Gedee car museum that was inaugurated in April 2015. Set up by G.D. Gopal, son of G.D. Naidu, a noted industrialist and philanthropist of Coimbatore, the museum traces the evolution of automobiles while displaying a collection of about 70 cars from all over the world. Apart from car models, the museum chronicles key events in automobile history and traces the matchless contribution of individuals like Karl Benz, Henry Ford and Ferdinand Porsche to the industry. The objective of the museum is to not only educate visitors about cars but also about the technology and the genius minds behind these innovations.

The first part of the museum delves into five unique cars that made a huge impact on the automobile industry. This includes the Benz Motorwagen of 1885, the world’s first automobile developed by Karl Benz which had a unique patented evaporative carburettor, the Ford T 1908 which was the first mass produced car, the 1939 Volkswagen Beetle, the 1948 Citroen 2 CV and the 1959 Mini. The museum has a collection of vintage cars from Britain, France, Germany, America and even Japan. Do not miss some rare treasures like the 1926 Morris Bullnose Cowley, the 1957 Fiat 500 Nuova and the 1968 Austin Mini Van MK 1. Against each car is an informative display card that reveals the model’s name, year of production, number of units sold, country of origin, engine details and coach work.

It has some exclusive pieces like G.D. Naidu’s first motorcycle which he purchased from an Englishman who was a revenue officer in the British Government in 1921, his favourite car, the Mercedes Benz 170S, which was given to Naidu as a gift as well as the Ford Quadricycle which was Henry Ford’s first experimental automobile that ran on four bicycle wheels. There is also a special section dedicated to the Indian Maharajas and their ultimate symbol of luxury, the Rolls Royce. The evolution of the transport system in India is also depicted.

The museum has information boards that are highly educative like the one explaining the evolution of the engine, the first internal combustion engine as well as the ones describing the engine cylinder arrangements and the cooling system. Spread close to 20,000 sq ft with a section dedicated to vintage car restoration, this museum is a treat for all automobile lovers and car aficionados.

Rev’s Institute: A sanctuary for researchers, preservationists and car connoisseurs

Often touted as America’s best car museum, this one was founded by Miles Collier in 2008 and houses over 100 most ‘influential’ and important automobiles built between 1896 and 1995. It is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the history, research and education of automobiles, which, according to them, is a technological marvel of human genius and ingenuity. The museum is spread over 80,00 square feet and is divided into four thematic zones, namely Automobility, Vitesse, Revs, and Porsche. It is key to note that all the vehicles displayed here are fully operational, have been masterfully restored by professionals and are impeccably maintained in their original and untouched state. In fact, a few cars at any point in time are loaned to other museums or allocated to participate in events, exhibitions and even historic races.

The Collier collection, as displayed at Rev’s, includes the exclusive personal collection of Miles Collier’s automobiles and sports cars as well the Cunningham Museum collection of his close friend Briggs Swift Cunningham. The carefully curated range includes cars of profound importance right from the 1896 Panhard et Levassor which was a horseless carriage to the 1995 McLaren F1. Other cars include the rare 1901 Benz Dos-à-Dos, 1914 Rolls-Royce (Silver Ghost Tourer) and the 1920 Vauxhall. The 1933 Bugatti, 1933 Packard and 1934 Alfa Romeo are favourites with many and like all other cars you can view them in all their glory; from close quarters without any barriers. Spread over three floors, the other cars on display include the 1950 Cadillac Series, cars from Chevrolet, Maserati and Ferrari.

There is a special section dedicated to Porsche as well as auto accessories. The institute has a library, which has an enviable collection of images, manuals, catalogues, posters, race rule books, auto show programmes, clothing, race gear etc. With a continuous focus on the preservation, conservation and restoration of automobiles, the institute is truly one of its kind. It is key to note that the museum is open only with advance ticket reservations thrice a week with walk-ins not accommodated. It is best recommended to book Docent lead tours in advance as it is the best way to explore and experience the insightful collection.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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