Two Museums Turn a Seaside Haven Into a Car Lover’s Dream

Two Museums Turn a Seaside Haven Into a Car Lover’s Dream


NEWPORT, R.I. — Only a few miles separate two auto museums in Rhode Island, but the experiences they offer are quite different.

Each museum reopened on June 8 after shutdowns due to the coronavirus, and visitors were (with some limitations) again walking into the 1903 Florentine Renaissance building that houses the Audrain Automobile Museum in downtown Newport and traveling to Gunther K. Buerman’s Newport Car Museum in nearby Portsmouth.

The gregarious, always bow-tied Donald Osborne, Audrain’s chief executive since November, is well known in the collector community, not only as an experienced appraiser but as a master of ceremonies and grand marshal at many concours events. (Mr. Osborne, a trained opera singer, can also open the proceedings with the national anthem.) And he’s a TV presenter on “Jay Leno’s Garage” and “What’s My Car Worth?”

In his office, on the second floor of a 1903 building where Brooks Brothers was an early tenant, Mr. Osborne showed off his large toy car collection and talked about his previous work as a consultant to the museum’s car-collecting founders, Nicholas Schorsch, William Kahane and Michael Weil. In that capacity, he helped plan last year’s Audrain Concours and Motor Week, patterned after annual events around the world.

“It was phenomenal, beyond our expectations,” Mr. Osborne said. “We had nearly 70,000 people over the four days, and they came from all over the country and, directly or indirectly, spent $20 million to benefit local businesses.” The 2020 event is canceled, but it is planned to return in September 2021.

Mr. Osborne said he was pleased to see a diverse crowd in March at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida, an event he helped judge just before the coronavirus forced shutdowns nationwide. “I’m seeing a steady stream of emails from young Black enthusiasts who want to get involved in the car hobby,” he said.

Audrain under Mr. Osborne is both fast moving — changing exhibits often — and outwardly directed, with multiple efforts to involve not only the local community but also the larger online world. The latter were especially useful while the museum was closed because, among other things, Mr. Osborne gave YouTube tours of the latest exhibit, “Shining Bright,” a history of auto lighting.

That exhibit will be up only until Aug. 9, and it will be replaced on Aug. 15 by “From the Racetrack to the Opera: Marques That Did It All.” The reason Audrain needs to rotate shows quickly is that the exhibit space can host only about 20 cars, just a fraction of the collection (which includes a very rare Tucker). Starting Nov. 21, Mr. Osborne will be able to showcase his model collection in a show called “Small Wonders: Mini, Micro, Pedal and Toy Cars.”

Many of the museum’s events — gala parties, concours exhibits, new car debuts, a children’s pedal car race, seminars, regular Cars and Coffee gatherings — are held at historical sites around Newport. These have included Fort Adams State Park (home of the town’s annual jazz and folk festivals), the Rough Point mansion once owned by Doris Duke, the 60-room Belcourt (designed for the banking heir Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont in 1894) and the Vanderbilt family’s Breakers cottage, where the 2019 Audrain Concours was held.

Newport is not usually thought of as an automotive town, but it has some history. Willie K. Vanderbilt II raced his Daimler Phoenix (a $10,000 purchase) around Ocean Drive at the turn of the 20th century, and when that earned some neighborhood blowback he and his friends organized an actual race, held at the Aquidneck Park horse racing track in Newport on Sept. 6, 1900. John Jacob Astor was a participant. From those humble beginnings grew the Vanderbilt Cup events on Long Island, which awarded the first significant trophy in American auto racing.

Mr. Leno, the television host and car collector, bought a home in Newport in 2017 and was a presence during Motor Week last year. A fan of both museums, he said Newport had the makings of a prominent car destination, citing its Vanderbilt history, ability to attract a well-heeled clientele to events and hidden garage treasures.

“It’s a tourist town and the kind of place where Bobby Darin’s ’65 Cadillac or something like that is likely to turn up,” Mr. Leno said. “There’s old money there, as there is in Pebble Beach.”

Vanderbilt’s old Daimler is now a part of Mercedes-Benz’s collection in Germany, but the Audrain’s 1925 Model T Ford Touring was part of the lighting exhibit. Mr. Osborne pointed out the electric lights framing the windshield. Designed to look like the carriage lamps that were fresh in the memory of many buyers, they were perhaps the austere Model T’s only design flourish.

“This car demonstrates reliable electric lighting in a family car that cost only $295 in 1925,” Mr. Osborne said. (That’s about $4,300 in today’s dollars.)

Nearby was a 1937 Bentley 4¼-liter roadster with a body by Carlton Carriage, displaying huge French-made Marchal headlamps.

“They went from barely being able to see via acetylene gas lighting to, as cars got faster, having almost too much light with big lamps like these,” Mr. Osborne said.

He pointed out that American legislation in the 1960s killed the gorgeous covered headlights seen on the E-Type Jaguar and contemporary Ferraris. A 1963 “Split Window” Corvette demonstrated rotating disappearing headlights.

  • Updated July 7, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Mr. Leno said Mr. Osborne was “the perfect guy” to head Audrain because “he enjoys and knows the history, and he moves in the right circles.” On TV, he added, they are the odd couple.

“I’m the sloppy one, and he wears the bow ties,” Mr. Leno said.

The Newport Car Museum, which opened in 2017, comprises the 75-plus cars that make up Mr. Buerman’s extensive personal collection. He is a retired corporate lawyer, the chairman and founder of American Rock Salt, and a summer resident of Newport.

The 114,000-square-foot museum is a former engineering center and Patriot missile factory, and it’s adjacent to a campus operated by the military contractor Raytheon. Inside the industrial-looking building is a wonderland, with six galleries celebrating American muscle (including Shelby cars and Corvettes), finned 1950s treasures and European exotics.

Mr. Buerman is an avid sailor, which explains the appeal of Newport. “I owned 20 percent of the cars I have now, and I said to my wife that we were spending so much time sailing that I should either sell the cars or open a museum,” he said. “She loved the museum idea, so it’s all her fault.”

The cars are very accessible, without ropes or other barriers. They were bought fully restored and appear immaculate. The collection keeps evolving, because Mr. Buerman is still buying — there are many recent automotive dream machines, including a 2019 Corvette ZR1, a 2001 BMW Z8, a 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R coupe and a 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS Weissach Edition.

Mr. Buerman, who was born in Germany, is a fan of postwar automotive design, and that’s why the cars are presented in unmodified form.

“The restomods are interesting, because they make it easier for some wonderful period cars to be driven,” he said. “But the originals are what these kinetic artists designed, and I like to leave them in that form.” He pointed to some striking original design features, such as the self-winding Benrus clock in the steering-wheel hub of his 1957 Chrysler 300C convertible.

The cars mostly stay put, but the museum involves the public by inviting auto shows and car club meetings to use its meeting space and large parking lot, and by offering free access to its eight Playseat driving simulators.

“I tell people if they wreck the cars I will fix them in our virtual body shop,” Mr. Buerman said.

On the second weekend of every month, the cars’ hoods go up for engine displays.

The museum would not have been possible without the magical de-icing properties of rock salt. “I was a successful corporate lawyer, but not that successful,” Mr. Buerman said. He added that as a salt supplier he felt a “moral obligation” to preserve his cars “because I rusted out so many of their relatives.”



Source link

About The Author

We report the News from around the Globe. Please support our advertisers.

Related posts

Leave a Reply