For as long as I can remember, I have been filled with a great deal of wanderlust. When I was very young (think seven years old), I satisfied this longing to wander the world by reading about far away places and starting to learn French from a neighborhood girl who was studying the language in high school.
Fast forward almost fifty years and I can now say I have been very fortunate. I have had the opportunity to walk on all seven continents and work on five. As a result, there was a period of time when I thought a logical next career for me would be to share that wanderlust with others. I got my certification in tour guiding and started down the path of guiding tours.
What I found out rather quickly about guiding was that it wasn’t for me! It is a very different thing to lead a group of wanderers than it is to actually be the wanderer. An amazingly large part of the job revolves around knowing the locations of restrooms and coffee stops and being fact-checked by people in the group with smart phones! Oy!
While I was guiding though, I did my best to be prepared. There was great value in scouting out a location in advance if at all possible. It is for this reason and this reason alone that I took a couple of house guests to the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in Danville, California.
None of my little group of guinea pigs could be described as gear heads or even auto aficionados, but we all figured we would probably find something of interest. Having never been to the place, though, I wasn’t really sure.
What if this was just another car museum? You know the place I am talking about; the ‘museum’ that houses the line ups of old vehicles that look as old and worn as they actually are. Old leather is cracked and faded. Old fabric is stained and torn. Old metal is rusted and dented. All the specimens really have going for them is that they successfully avoided being put under the crusher!
It is with this apprehension that I went to the Blackhawk with house guests in tow.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I was optimistic that it would be a positive experience. After all, I don’t make a practice of taking guests to places they aren’t going to enjoy and the Blackhawk is affiliated with the Smithsonian so I was expecting it to be top of the line but, again, never having been there, it was a gamble.
As soon as we pulled in the parking lot and saw the high-end shopping mall that surrounded the entrance, I had a good feeling that the museum wasn’t going to be a dive. As we climbed the stairs past beautiful bronze statues and water features toward the bronze and glass museum structure, a sense of sophistication and class was building. As soon as we opened the doors to the Blackhawk and saw the polished marble lobby and a hint of shiny chrome gleaming through the doorway, it was obvious this was not your ordinary automotive graveyard of a museum. Even the quick stop in the lady’s room, where every stall had its own lit wall sconce, spoke to the elegance that was to be found in the exhibits.
While many of the automotive masterpieces are on display all the time, others rotate in and out as owners make them available for display. On this day, the first car inside the door was a one-of-a-kind 1963 Thunderbird ‘Italien’ concept car. Wow!
We found Cadillacs, Ferraris, Pierce Arrows, Alfa Romeos, Mercedes-Benz and more.
There was the all-aluminum hunting car for the maharaja of India complete with a rear seat gun support. Why it was bright red and not painted in camouflage, I’ll never know but I guess the maharaja was successful with it!
Other vehicles were sporting outfits and jewelry as fine as any Academy Awards attendee. There was a touring car that came complete with leather gaiters to cover the springs to keep dirt and debris from getting inside while driving. Several of the cars even came with Lalique crystal hood ornaments that were spectacular pieces of art in and of themselves. Wow!
Every car in the place was in mint condition. We were told most had less than 500 miles on them. I was amazed to learn from an employee who was dusting one of the vehicles that they take them all out and service them regularly so every vehicle in the place is in top running condition at all times. Wow again!
Besides the cars, there is a collection of original gasoline pumps and other bits of automotive memorabilia such as the scale models used to train the Fisher Body designers and a sterling tea set creamer that was issued by Renault.
From the museum, we made a quick stop in Livermore wine country on the way home. I chose to stop at Cuda Ridge Wines for a wine tasting. The winery is named after the owners’ Plymouth Barracuda so it just seemed to be the right cap to place on an enjoyable automotive kind of day. Add on that the Cuda Ridge wines are all Bordeaux-style, superb specimens that are winners in their own categories, and the choice just seemed obvious. Here, too, we were not disappointed.
Next time you find yourself near San Francisco, make the trek east for a day trip. The Blackhawk Automotive Museum is well worth the journey and there is plenty of fine shopping, dining, wine tasting and other activities in the area to round out the day. You, too, can have a ‘Cars and Corks’ kind of day near the Bay.