Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum

By: Ged Bulmer, Photography by: Cristian Brunelli

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Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum

Charlie's Auto Museum: This home-spun car museum houses a truly eclectic collection of automotive artefacts

Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum
Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum

 

Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum

HUNTER & COLLECTOR

Renowned for its high quality wines, world-class golf courses and abundant natural attractions, Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula has long been a favoured destination for drivers seeking a weekend cruise, or a sneaky fang on its intricate network of rural roads.

Tucked away down a back road not five minutes from the sweetly cambered corners of the Arthurs Seat ‘hillclimb’ is one of the Peninsula’s hidden gems: Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum.

It’s easy to miss Charlie’s as you cruise along the scenic tree-lined Purves Road. It’s a scene of bucolic bliss, which serves only to make the sight of a stretched pink Cadillac and multi-coloured Philippines Jeepney seen all the more incongruous.

Approaching the museum’s rustic timber façade, embellished with Golden Fleece bowsers and faded oil company signage, beneath the profile of a finned ’60 Cadillac, our ears prick to the scratchy strains of an old VCR recording replaying action of the controversial 1976 Hardie Ferodo 1000.

The bellowing note of John Fitzpatrick’s wounded and smoking Holden Torana SL/R 5000, desperately trying to fend off Colin Bond’s hard finishing HDT-liveried SL/R, seems perfectly apt as we prepare to immerse ourselves in a collection of historic motoring exhibits that date back the better part of a hundred years.

As we stroll past walls lined with old oil and fuel signs, interspersed with oil paintings of city scapes, a scale model of Melbourne’s Luna Park and another of the German battleship Bismarck, it begins to dawn that Charlie isn’t just a car guy, he’s an eclectic collector of all manner of odds and ends.

Hemming the entrance corridor on either side are display cabinets brimming with model cars, while randomly scattered about the place is an intriguing array of items for sale: From a few litres of Penrite oil, to shelves of books, iron-on-stickers, souvenir tea towels, and a colourful bat-like colony of baseball caps, suspended from the ceiling and sporting car company logos long-since out of date.

Stepping down into a small recessed alcove, there’s an entire selection dedicated to model ships and planes, most of them it turns out made by a mate of Charlie’s from old cans, wire, cardboard and scrap timber. The walls here are plastered in posters from the glory days of the Australian Touring Car Championship, and we’re soon lost in memories of cars like Allan Moffat’s Ford Dealer Team XC Falcon, Kevin Bartlett’s 9 Network Camaro, and John Goss’s memorable ‘Blaze Blue’ Falcon XB coupe.

It’s at this point that Charlie wanders out from his glass-fronted office to greet us. With his snowy hair, eyeglasses, brown slacks and cosy cardigan, he looks like he could be someone’s grandfather – which of course he is.

Over the next hour we chat in the inner sanctum of his office, Foster and Allen gently crooning through a Studebaker-themed radio-cassette unit, dogs Willie and Chloe snuggled into their favoured spots on the floor and bench, and we learn the story of Charlie, his museum and how it came to be here.

For 80-year-old Charlie Schwerkolt it all started back in Melbourne’s Mount Waverley in the late ’60s, where he and some friends formed the country’s first Studebaker car club. According to Charlie, the stylish and robust American machines from South Bend, Indiana, captivated him from the outset.

As he puts it, he could have bought "a boring new car" at the time, but instead opted for a ’53 Champion, which led to an as-new Silver Hawk and, eventually, the first Avanti that came into the country. Later there was a second Avanti, a ’64 Cruiser, a ’66 Daytona and quite possibly a few in between that Charlie has forgotten.

In all, Charlie tells us, there are 10 Studebakers-and-or-related-vehicles on display, forming the core of a collection which ranges in size from "over 50" according to the sign at the front door, to more than 80 according to the website.

Later, when I call back to check this apparent discrepancy with Charlie he laughs it off, suggesting it could be 70, or 65, depending on whether you count body shells or whole cars. Either way, Charlie doesn’t seem fussed.

Meanwhile, back in Melbourne in the late ’60s, Charlie had moved on from the family’s bottle-merchant business, to run his own bottle-recycling plant, before establishing Waverly Forklift Hire.

Business was good, as Charlie tells it, but by the late ’80s the hot breath of technology was on his neck and the bean counters’ advice was to computerise or get out. In a victory for Luddites everywhere, he got out, selling up and moving the family to Arthurs Seat, with a vague plan to establish a car museum and adjacent tea room for his former wife to operate. Computers remain banned to this day.

Starting with the few cars of his own and others from friends happy to loan him something to display, Charlie managed to scrape together "about 20-odd vehicles" for the opening, including a World War II Jeep, some MGs and, of course, his beloved Studebakers.

That was December, 1988, and Australia was coming to the end of a breathlessly-busy year celebrating our bicentenary, while Viv Richard’s West Indians were giving us a lesson in how to play test cricket.

These days, we’re still not much good at test cricket but a mere half dozen of the cars Charlie now has on display are loaners. The rest have been acquired over a lifetime of collecting, include a rare ’90 four-door Avanti, which Charlie thinks is the only one in Australia, and a gorgeous maroon ’54 Hudson Super Wasp – which gets its own dedicated display area, in deference to the fact a Hudson was Charlie’s first car.

Unusually for a car museum, there’s a distinct absence of what most would consider mainstream ‘classics’. At Charlie’s you’re more likely to see a Robin Reliant or some other three-wheeled oddity than a pristine HT Monaro 350 GTS, or an E-Type Jaguar.

Along with the Studebakers, small, weird little cars seem to hold a particular interest. The latter includes the Australian-built Lightburn Zeta and Goggomobil Dart, a Rytecraft Scootacar, an A.C. Acedes Invalid Car, various Robin Reliants, including a Royal Mail version, a Messerschmitt KR200 Cabin Scooter, and a BMW Isetta Motocoupe, to name but a few.

Charlie recalls driving the little Isetta at one stage and reckons he "couldn’t get back home quick enough," adding with a laugh, "I just got out of the car and bolted."

If tiny, unstable three-wheelers aren’t your thing, the collection also includes interesting mainstream machines, like the mid-60s rear-mounted, air-cooled V8-powered Tatra 603, and a ’62 Plymouth Valiant Signet 200 Hardtop, the precursor of our R- and S-Type Valiants. Other cars on the mainstream side of the ledger include a ’54 Austin A30, a ’66 Cortina Deluxe, a ’71 Rover P6 Mk II, and a circa 1978 example of Bertone’s gorgeous but flawed Fiat X1/9.

Some of Charlie’s cars are even for sale, including on the day we visited a 1913 Landaulet Model T Ford. Charlie explained that the Ford was currently the oldest car on display, while the freshest was a 2001 Honda Insight hybrid, which he bought "because it looks so different and I didn’t know what it was."

As we wander about, Charlie offers up little nuggets about the history and provenance of his exhibits. Stopping at one point beside a battered Ruggles Model 40 lorry, he points out it’s the same truck he first drove through the streets of Melbourne as an unlicensed 16-year-old for the family bottle business.

Nearby, a solitary Holden 48/215 draws his eye, Charlie stopping to describe it fondly as: "a very solid motor car. The doors shut beautifully. The motor sounds beautiful. I can’t believe they were that good," he says.

With the tour done, Charlie offers to show us some of the exhibits he has stashed away out back, which he plans to move to a new shed-cum-exhibition space currently being constructed at the front of the museum.

Out here, amongst the skeletons of old fuel bowsers and rusting oil company signs, Charlie has the makings of another half a car museum, and it’s these cars he plans to relocate and display in the new facility.

In one shed, looking neglected beneath a coating of dust and pigeon poo, an elegant ’84 Rolls Royce Silver Spur keeps company with a Jaguar XJS V12. Next door, a pair of grimy but still exotic-looking Bricklin SV-1 coupes sit stacked atop each other, one dripping oil ignominiously onto the bonnet of the other.

Charlie reckons the Canadian-made Bricklins, which were released in ’74 as a rival to the Chevy Corvette, complete with fibreglass body panels, air-operated gullwing doors and Rambler V8 mechanicals, are the only two in Australia. Running a practised eye over their wedge-like shape, he mutters, "I’ll clean them up, they’ll present alright."

There’s plenty more out here, too, including a pair of impressively statuesque mid-50s Mercury Montereys, and some cars that double up on exhibits inside. You get the sense that Charlie collects cars whether he needs them or not, and that they tend to find him rather than the other way around. As Charlie puts it, "As different cars came up for sale, I bought them if I liked them, and sometimes even if I didn’t."

Driving back to the museum I spot another group of old British cars parked beneath a lean-to that hasn’t even rated a mention.

Charlie’s is not the most carefully assembled or assiduously curated car museum you’re ever likely to see, but it’s the eclectic nature of this collection that lends the place its real charm.

For Charlie, the museum has been a lifelong pursuit, a hobby that became a business and something from which he clearly derives enormous satisfaction. It speaks of a passion for collecting that dates back decades and extends beyond cars to motorcycles, books, posters, models cars, ships, aeroplanes, you name it.

Much of it you can believe Charlie has long since forgotten how or where he came across it, or even why it’s here, but it all adds up to a truly rich tapestry that’s well worth visiting.

 

Where is it?

Charlie’s Arthurs Seat Auto Museum

175 Purves Road, Arthurs Seat, Victoria

Ph: (03) 5989 6320

www.charliesautomuseum.com.au

Costs?

Admission Prices:

Adults $10

Concessions $8

Children $5

Family $30

 


*****

 

More reviews:

> Ian's NZ backyard museum review here

 

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