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Franschhoek's objects of desire

2012-12-13 12:37

RARE FLASH FROM THE PAST: The Franschhoek Motor Museum isn’t just about cars. There are several bikes exhibited there right now, including this rare 350cc Motor Morini. Image: ROB TILL

DAVE FALL

Last weekend (as other bikers might have done!) I decided to ride the Western Cape's glorious Franschhoek Pass – a trip I’ve done many times but this time I decided to call in at the motor museum* just outside the village.

It belongs to the Rupert family, I’d never been there, and wanted to see some of the motorcycles – yes motorcycles – that are regularly displayed amidst a glorious selection of classic, vintage and veteran cars.

Down the years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit quite a few auto museums: Beaulieu, Brooklands, Bourton-on-the-Water on mainland UK; Pete Murray’s quintessential but now defunct motorcycle museum on the Isle of Man; Sammy Miller’s bike museum in the UK’s New Forest and even Mercedes-Benz’ classic-car museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

60 EXHIBITS

The Franschhoek museum charges R60 per person but you won’t be disappointed - I reckon it’s the finest of its kind on planet Earth.

At any one time there are about 60 exhibits on show, rotated every three months from a stock of well over 300 cars and bikes. There’s about 10 motorcycles (even a scooter!) showcased at the moment, among them a superb 1970’s Moto Morini V-twin 350cc that sold in around the world for around the same money as a Honda CB750, but unfortunately not as successfully marketed.

If you’ve never heard of a Morini, shame on you because this was the illustrious Italian marque that started motorcycle World champion Giacomo Agostini on his long and successful career. Alas, the Moto Morini Motorcycle Company is no more after being “ping-ponged” between Cagiva and Ducati and finally entering receivership about three years ago.

While walking between the halls, and from a completely different era, I found a veteran Triumph Ricardo from about 1920. This model really put Triumph Motorcycles on the map around the world.

Harry Ricardo was a brilliant bike/car tuner who specialised in getting them to go faster by reworking cylinder-head internals, ie: quad-valve heads and twin cams and timing them all perfectly to offer maximum  performance and offering them to eager buyers - the Golf GTi of the day, I suppose.

The museum is predominantly about cars but even the most avid two-wheeler fan can’t fail to be impressed by the standard and wonderfully eclectic mix of automobiles on show. From Type 35B Bugattis through to the celebrated Rothman’s Le Mans winning car, to what appears to be a full range of Ferraris... did you know if you wanted to buy the Evo model when it first came out you had to prove you already owned half a dozen types of other Ferrari and then they would “consider” allowing you to buy one of the 300 Evo’s made!

BUICK'S THERE, TOO

The exhibits are all carefully selected but not all exotica. Right now there’s a hall (one of four, but each is air-conditioned and humidified for the public’s comfort and the well-being of the machinery) dedicated to the global Ford Motor Company and showing what was available to the man-in-the-street that I found particularly interesting.

Buick is also celebrating an anniversary so there’s a range of those American heritage behemoths as well. 

As with all museums, it’s easy to find your favourite. The day I visited a Rolls-Royce Phantom from around 1928 took my fancy with its easily recognisable fluted Parthenon-style radiator, alligator bonnet and solid nickel headlights the size of dinner plates.

How the driver (even today) ever found a parking space big enough for it I’ll never know.

*The Franschhoek Motor Museum is on the R45, about an hour’s drive from central Cape Town. There’s no need to book but the contact details are +27 (0)21 874 9020.

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