2009 Father-Son Road Trip Day 9, Part 1: The Blackhawk Collection

Of my two boys Nicholas has always been my “car guy”. Chris enjoys doing car events with me (he’s an excellent rally navigator for example) but he has never shown the interest in cars that Nick has. When I dreamed up this trip I made sure that one of the things Nick & I would do is visit some car museums/collections along the way. Originally we had planned on hitting the Blackhawk, the Petersen, and the Nethercutt. This assumed that Nick was riding with me southbound. With less than two weeks to go before the trip the schedule changed due to a request of our host in LA, Larry Wade. Our well-laid plans had to be altered at the last second, so the LA Museums were out. I was able to attend the Art Center’s annual car show, which made up a bit but that day was also the transit day for the boys so both missed it. I was determined therefore to take Nick to the remaining option, the Blackhawk Collection in Danville, CA.

We are staying with Michael & Sharon in Lafayette, which is just north of Danville, so this should be easy. The two of them had recently attended a charity function at the Blackhawk and told us that it was amazing. Michael is a “Porsche Guy” (I don’t know if I ever told him the porcupine joke though) and tells me about a prototype of the 959 he saw on his visit. The display cars change constantly so we have no idea what to expect but at breakfast I promise I’ll grab a photo of the 959 if it is there. I have a few routine maintenance tasks to do on the Jaguar (top off my brake fluid {mystery leak… must find!}, check/add oil, etc) and Michael comes outside to have a close look at the car while Nick stays inside and plays with their two young daughters (Nick’s always been really good with little kids, unlike his older brother, one of the reasons why I chose to stop here with Nick.) I give Michael a brief tour of the E-type and take care of all of its easy to care for needs (the major needs will have to wait for home and my barn!) Sharon says goodbye as she’s heading off to the gym and gives us directions on how to find the Blackhawk, and I’m thrilled to hear that it is “up on a hill” which means starting the Jag afterwards will be easy.

Nick & I pack up, thank our hosts, and hit the road. Michael’s driveway is nice and steep, and I parked the Jag nose-down, so no pushing! We navigate our way to Danville and find the museum. Just as predicted it sits up on a hillside above a shopping center and finding a shady parking spot with a nice run-out below it is easy.

The first car you see as you walk in.

As you walk through the door of the museum you pass between a Bugatti and an Alfa Romeo. Off to that good start we buy our tickets and climb the stairs and start with the pre-war cars.

A Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster

The main displays are in a VERY dark room with the cars under spotlights. The cars are clean(ed to within an inch of their lives) so what I have here is a photographer’s worst nightmare. Low light, ultra-shiny highlights. I love my new camera, but the flash is not ideal for these situations, so I give up on getting any REALLY good shots and concentrate on “shooting for documentation”… aka “snapshot quality stuff and tagging them with placard shots.” I did take a lot of photos, but will hold most back to share later as Car Photo of the Day fare for my loyal gearhead readers. Here’s a small sample however. First, the Pre-War Gallery:

A couchbuilt car on a '37 Caddy.

A Roller owner with a copper fetish.

Next we went downstairs to the post-war gallery. Most of it was made up of yank tanks and muscle cars. So many of the latter had those goofy claims about “one of XX built, with the pistol-grip shifter and optional sticker package!” Am I the only one that finds these claims completely bogus and disingenuous? C’mon, I know that rarity is a sought-after thing but when the model itself is basically an option package of a plain-jane model anyway, you can’t really make claims about rarity based on the specific option package. Admit it: Detroit cranked out hundreds of thousands of muscle cars and NONE of them are rare. While it is true that only 378 of the 36 original Ferrari 250 GTOs survive we don’t really need to subdivide a decade of Detroit’s output of Muscle Cars into minute option packages to justify ludicrous market values. It is all Plum Crazy I tell you!

So I skipped the gallery of BS and my gaze fell upon truly exotic fare…

Phil Hill's personal Ferrari and a familiar-looking car...

Look familiar? Of course mine hasn't ever been THIS clean!

A Mazda Cosmo. Now THAT is a rare beast

Original Shelby-AC Cobra

What's not to love about an old Kombi?

Porsche 959

Porsche 959

I’m glad we took the time to visit this collection. It is obvious that Blackhawk’s founder Ken Behring’s passion is in the pre-war stuff and showing them here and at the Pebble Beach Concours (many placards described their wins there). The cars themselves are pristine, and though I prefer a bit of patina I found them amazing to look at. I highly suggest a stop if your travels bring you to the East Bay. Nick and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing these fine machines and discussed many things while doing so. In fact we spent about 2 hours MORE that I budgeted so we’re already behind!

Stay tuned for the rest of the day’s journey (and future reveals of more cars seen here at The Blackhawk Collection.)

7 thoughts on “2009 Father-Son Road Trip Day 9, Part 1: The Blackhawk Collection”

  1. Wonderful collection. It’s indeed a shame that most of them get little more use than loading/offloading from a trailer.

    Definitely a photographic challenge. Maybe a flash diffuser would have helped smooth things out a bit when combined with the spotlights…. You can buy them, http://shutterbug.com/equipmentreviews/accessories/1007roundup/, or make your own (I made mine out of a translucent plastic Fuji 35mm film canister) Quite a challenge no matter what.

    A number of years ago I had to photograph (on video) a several thousand item camera and photographic equipment collection at the International Musuem of Photography. Much the same challenge, items with shiny chrome or brass combined with dark black bits or dark stained wood. We had full control of the lighting and built some custom soft-light boxes, but it was still a challenge to deal with the extreme contrast range and hot highlights (NTSC video has even less latitiude than a modern digital camera). It’s amazing what you can do to shiny hilights with a little well placed museum wax. Probably not practical at the Blackhawk collection 🙂

  2. What is there NOT to love about an old Kombi? Where do I start, and am I allowed to post things *that* long?

    chuck, your ‘documentary’ fotos are GREAT! I like the ‘night sky’ effect, and I think you once again give yourself short shrift.


  3. “While it is true that only 378 of the 36 original Ferrari 250 GTOs survive…”….well, let’s see: carry the 2, divided by the quantity….hey! Is this some of that “New Math” they’re inflicting on the children?

    The name “Ken Behring” imparts a certain, um, sentimental feeling in many Seattle area folks. Personally, it causes me to play in my head the intro song to one of the NFL Films features…”The autumn wind is a pirate”…

  4. Mark C, I think flashes make great fillers, but bad light sources… so I rarely, if EVER use them. I much prefer natural light (as you’ll see from the shots coming up soon!)

    Paul, old Kombis do bring out the best and the worst don’t they. 😉

    Mark W, I LOVE that old joke about GTOs. (many fakes have been sold as the real thing) and yes… Seattle will never forgive the Nordstroms for who they sold the Seahawks to back in the day.

  5. The right flashes make excellent light sources. But they’re usually too big to carry around. Though I’ve gotten impressive results with a couple small slave strobes with umbrellas. Obviously not an option for someone traipsing thtough a car collection/musuem.

    On camera flashes, especially, the pop-up variety we have on all of our digital cameras do generally suck. A real flash in your hot shoe with a diffuser will give much better results.

    Even natural light can benefit from a will placed reflector or fill card.

  6. Hehehe..kinda like, there’s only 3,245 of the original 125 Auburn speedsters still left!


  7. so the new camera has image stabilisation Chuck? I far prefer a tripod and no flash unless I have to capture movement as well…. impressive looking cars

    no comments on the Kombi…. shudder….


Comments are closed.