Returning to the States in September, I revisited a wonderful place which is not in any guide books — the Du Pont Museum. I was taken there by Allan Carter, who a couple of years ago told me all about his part in the Du Pont Le Mans adventure of 1929 (Motor Sport, February 1994). This is no glossy tourist attraction, but a personal collection of all things motoring assembled by Lex Du Pont, racer and son of Paul, founder of the marque. Hidden in part of a hangar on a small airfield run by Lex’s son Everitt, it’s a dusty and delightful jumble of cars, model aircraft, motorcycles, toys, bicycles and household paraphernalia. Entry costs a dollar, but you’ll have to find someone with a key to let you in; get them to open the main hangar door for light, and then lose yourself amongst the crowd of exhibits on the floor, on the walls and dangling from the rafters. Heyden Shepley, the curator and long-time friend of the Du Ponts, filled us in on the family significance of the exhibits.
Paul Du Pont was an Anglophile, and the motorcycles include a pair of Manx Nortons, one ex-Francis Bean, a Scott, the weird Ner-a-Car scooter, and a Vincent Black Shadow with a mere 3000 miles on the clock, as well as early Harleys and a powered bicycle assembled in 1900 by E P DuP from a kit of castings — the start of his motorised aspirations. There’s a huge range of Indian ‘bikes (Du Pont bought up Indian), including various beautifully made experimental projects which, according to Carter, were cheerfully copied from anything which impressed Du Pont — a straight-four was really a doubled-up Triumph, while Vincent’s fine chassis frame was quietly duplicated in Springfield, Mass.
A Morgan 4/4 and an unspoiled HRG sandwich a model T truck and Lex Du Pont’s own Model G Le Mans Speedster; opposite, a tumbledown 1909 air-cooled Chase truck noses up to a Cooper 500 with Norton power and original “wobbly web” wheels, last raced by Lex in 1964. Above them is the skeletal “Liver Puffin”, the first manpowered ‘plane to fly, while resting on old shop cabinets stuffed with model cars, boats and aeroplanes are early oil cans and advertising ephemera.
Push on into a back room, and there’s another Cooper on a shelf; it hasn’t fired its Triumph lump for at least 30 years. Underneath are three of the rarest Du Ponts of all; Paul was very taken with his Type 52 Bugatti, the child’s electric miniature (it’s also in the museum), and in the late Twenties commissioned Allen Carter to build a Du Pont equivalent for his sons. Boasting accurate channel-section frames and petrol engines, and bodied by Waterhouse, these are proper works cars — five feet long. They were even catalogued for sale, and seven were built.
It’s not all cars: early bicycles (from boneshakers on, through an 1885 pump-action Star to chromed and sculpted ’40s Schwinns) lean against Hotchkiss machine guns and French artillery, while home life features through cylinder gramophones, a chain driven vacuum cleaner and a Maytag petrol-powered washing machine (yes, really). On a lower level of the building are more motorbikes (Harleys and Hondas), an Auster monoplane, a Bell chopper and a fearsome (and uncontrollable) petrol-driven sledge from the ’30s. Elsewhere, an air enthusiast is restoring several brace of Waco biplanes and, my favourite, a Beech Staggerwing.
It’s untidy, chaotic, and altogether fascinating — much more appealing in its obscurity than floodlights and chrome. If you are in eastern Pennsylvania, search out New Garden airfield, on Newark Road near the town of Toughkenamon, and pay your dollar. If enough readers go, they might be able to afford to fix the leaky roof.