Nethercutt Collection and Nethercutt Museum, Sylmar, CA, 29 January 2011
Priceless Antique Cars and Mechanical Musical Instruments

Lisa does fundraising for a series of schools, and Helen Nethercutt of Merle Norman Cosmetics, is a very generous donor.

Along with our friends Loy (pictured) and Ginge, we decided to visit the Nethercutt Collection and Nethercutt Museum to see the Nethercutt's priceless collection of cars and musical instruments.

I should mention here that Loy's father owned three vert rare Sears cars.  That's right, Sears.  For a short time, Sears made cars, which they sold through the Sears catalog.

An orchestrion, this one playing stringed instruments in addition to glockenspiel, drums, and more.  An orchestrion is a generic name for a mechanical instrument that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra or band. 

Recently, Pat Metheny toured with a modern version of an orchestrion, a rather sophisticated series of mechanical instruments.  These mechanical devices are complex and difficult to maintain, particularly during tours.

I forgot to photograph the sign in front of this car, but this "horseless carriage" is in the ground level of the Nethercutt Collection, restored to its former grace.  All cars in the Nethercutt Collection and Museum run and are completely operable, and have been painstakingly restored.  They are polished and worked on regularly.

One could easily see that it took twenty years or so for automobile manufacturers to break with the "horseless carriage" and feature different, more "streamlined" shapes.  By the 1930s, manufacturers had clearly broken from that, producing such beauties as the car below, an incredible 1933 Duesenberg SJ.

The Nethercutts use original parts and paint.

This car, the 1933 Duesenberg SJ Rollston Arlington Torpedo Sedan, is the crown of the Nethercutt's automobile collection.  Although insured for $12 million, this is only a fraction of the car's true worth, as it is priceless.

The Duesenberg was built for the Chicago World's Fair of 1933-34.  During this time near the Great Depression, people were typically rather thrifty, and many new cars cost less than three hundred dollars.  The official price of the Duesenberg was listed as $20,000. 

Noted designer Gordon Buehrig drafted the intiial design for the body of this Duesenberg and Rollston of New York built it.  The platinum metallic paint on the exterior, complemented by matching leather roof and gray cloth interior, caught many people's eye.  The car was purchased by the Nethercutts in the late seventies and restored to its original condition.  In the late eighties, the car was selected to be exhibited in Essen, Germany, as one of the "ten most beautiful cars in the world" and continues to be shown today.

Another view of the Duesenberg, one of two that were ever made.  The original price was $20,000, created at a time when money for many was tight, and a 1500 square foot house cost $1500.

1932 Maybach – Zeppelin DS 8/Convertible Sedan
With a precision V-12 motor designed by Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin of air-ship fame, this Maybach is the very peak of German automotive refinement.

Engine Type: OHV, V-Type
Cylinders: 12
Horsepower: 200
Manufacturer: Maybach Moterenbau Friedrichshafen A.B. (Germany)
Coachbuilder: Spohn (Karosserie Ravensburg, Germany)
Price When New: $12,000



The Nethercutt Collection.

The Nethercutt Collection.  The center car is the Nethercutt's showpiece, the platinum-painted 1933 Duesenberg SJ Rollston Arlington Torpedo Sedan.  Although insured for $12 million, this is only a fraction of the car's true worth, as it is priceless. 

This particular room was designed by the Nethercutts to replicate an automobile showroom of the 1920s and '30s, and has a beautiful piano with a piano roll that was recorded by George Gershwin personally, so when it replays this, you are still hearing an actual performance by Gershwin himself.

One of many in a collection of hood ornaments in the Nethercutt Collection.

The Nethercutt Collection also houses many vintage mechanical musical instruments, including various orchestrions.  An orchestrion is a generic name for a mechanical instrument that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra or band. Orchestrions may be operated by means of a large pinned cylinder or by a music roll most commonly.  Orchestrions reached the height of popularity in the 1920s, frequently made in Germany, and playing Berlin and American jazz music of the era.

This particular orchestrion, the Hupfeld Excelsior-Pan Orchester, was a special order in 1923 for the Postzegel Hotel in the the Netherlands.  The instrument was placed in the hotel di8ning room for entertainment purposes, entertaining as many as 4000 people at a time with its recreation of an orchestra, featuring organ, horns, glockenspiel, and many drums of varying sizes, an orchestra in a very very large ornate wooden box.


This Wurlitzer Hope Jones Unit Orchestra  theater organ, the third largest in the world, had many of us buzzing at its size and complexity.  In addition to being a very complex organ, the keyboard and switches controlled an enormous orchestra hidden behind the wooden walls, its slats opening and closing to control the volume.

The Wurlitzer not only provides orchestral and organ music - pipe organ hitting low notes of 9Hz, horns, drums, and much more - it also provides many sound affects, including mechanical devices that trigger coconuts clacking to simulate horse hooves, rattling large tin sheets to simulate thunder or ocean waves, cartoon noises, twittering of birds, and much much more. 

*  Mouse over the photo to see another view of the Wurlitzer Theater Organ.

These horns are just a small part of the enormous Wurlitzer Theater Organ, the third largest of its kind in the world.  The Nethercutt Collection occasionally shows silent movies on an early 1900s hand-cranked projector.

Supposedly the most expensive and largest concert piano ever made, the Bösendorfer Imperial Grand Piano.

The DMC-12, more commonly known as the DeLorean, as it was the only model ever produced by the company. The DMC-12 featured gull-wing doors with a fiberglass "underbody", to which non-structural brushed stainless steel panels were affixed. A modified version of the car became iconic for its appearance as a time machine in the Back to the Future films.

Antique early 1900s cash register in the Nethercutt Museum.

This is a 1948 Tucker Model 48 Sedan, made by the Tucker Corporation in Chicago, IL.  The engine was a horizontal opposed six-cylinder, putting out 166 horsepower.  Only 51 Tuckers were made before the company went under due to government lawsuits. 

However, certain innovations, such as padded dashboards, pop-out windshields, a low center of gravity, and doors fared into the roof line influenced other manufacturers. 

A center light, the sort of cyclops headlight in the front, turned with the front wheels for better vision in night driving.  Amazingly, 48 of the 51 Tuckers still exist.  This is Tucker #40.  This sold for $2459 when first introduced.

The Nethercutt Museum, Sylmar, CA, with its priceless collection of vintage automobiles, including Bentleys, Mercedes, and much more.  Both the tour of the Nethercutt Collection and the museum are free of charge.

1909 Gobron-Brille – 70/90/Tourer
Gobron-Brille produced perhaps the most unusual internal combustion engines in automotive history. It used an engine with two (opposing) pistons per cylinder — an idea that worked, but was overly complicated and troublesome.

Engine Type: Opposed Piston
Cylinders: 6
Horsepower: 70/90
Manufacturer: Societe de Automobiles Gobron-Brille (Boulogne, Seine, France)
Coachbuilder: Murray Auger Ltd. (Australia)
Price When New: Unavailable

The wheel of the French-made Gobron-Brille (1909).


All photos are with the Nikon D90 / Nikkor 18-200mm VR, no tripod or flash (no flashes are allowed).

Ken's photos of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as photos of Peru, Burma, India, Morocco, China, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have appeared in many books, magazines, websites, and galleries.  Visit the Ken Lee Photography Website. Some of Ken's select photos may be purchased through his Imagekind Store.

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Nethercutt Collection and Museum, Sylmar CA, January 2011

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