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By Paul V. Palange
Gunther Buerman’s passion for automobiles and art led to the creation of the Newport Car Museum, which has raced to the top of prestigious lists of recommended tourist attractions.
Soon after Buerman and his wife, Maggie, opened the museum in June 2017, it was placed on USA Today’s list of Top 10 Best New Attractions in the USA, and most recently it earned the honor of being named by Yankee Magazine as the Best Specialty Museum in New England.
Responding to submitted questions, Buerman wrote the museum is ideal for active seniors like him. “I especially think coming to a place where you can share interests with others is important. At the museum, people share stories about their first car or favorite car or cars in the galleries. It gives them an opportunity to talk to someone else with the same interests…Complete strangers start up conversations here, and I always say that our visitors leave happier than if they’d just gone to church.”
The museum is located in an 114,000-square-foot building that was a missile manufacturing plant on the 17-acre Raytheon Co. campus in Portsmouth. The entrance is at the traffic signal at 1947 West Main Road, and the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. except on Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
The Buermans’ private collection of 70-plus automobiles focuses on seven decades of modern industrial automotive design and celebrates cars as works of art. From the 1950s to today’s hottest designs, separate exhibits of Ford Shelbys, Corvettes, World Cars, Fin Cars and Mopars have been carefully selected to appeal to men as well as women and to all generations, from grandparents to parents to children, according to Gunther.
“The cars reflect a time when artists who likely would have been the great sculptors in the Renaissance Age became stylists, designers and industrial engineers for the big three American auto manufacturers and leading European companies such as Jaguar, Porsche, Mercedes Benz and BMW, perhaps enjoying more creative freedom than will ever be experienced by their counterparts today,” Buerman stated.
One automobile is featured each month, and the 1965 Ford GT40 “Fast Five” movie car is being highlighted this month. The highly-accurate recreation of the GT40 was built exclusively for the filming of the 2011 “Fast Five,” the fifth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, and the car was featured prominently at the start of the movie during the train heist scene.
The 1965 auto is an exceptionally faithful recreation of a specific car, number P1005, which was one of the first GT40s prepared by Shelby American in 1965 and first campaigned by France’s Scuderia Filipinetti, according to Buerman. Based on a hand-welded aluminum tub with fiberglass body panels, the car incorporates a potent 347/540 horsepower small-block Ford V8 engine with Gurney-Weslake heads, five-speed manual gearbox, race-tuned suspension and an accurate hand-stitched black leather interior with right-hand drive, Buerman explained.
The original GT40s finished 1-2-3 in the 1966 running of the 24 Hours of LeMans, breaking the long winning stranglehold on the race by arch rival Ferrari. From its inception, the GT40 became more of an American product with each year of development. As such, it took on the design principles that defined American automobiles of the era. With the 1966 Manufacturers Championship in Ford hands, the GT40 project became one of the most influential projects in automobile racing. The GT40 not only provided a major victory for American talent, it showed the world that a car with a heavier, large-displacement engine was an acceptable platform in the world of GT endurance racing, according to Buerman,
The 70-something Buerman is chairman of the American Rock Salt Co. in Retsof, N.Y., and former chairman of a law firm in New York In addition to collecting classic cars and furniture and running the museum, Gunther, who is originally from Germany, and his wife, who is a native of Sweden, are avid sailors. It appears Buerman will keep his foot on the gas pedal and keep on trucking.
“I flunked retirement in the first month and a half when I retired from practicing law. I’ve been trying really hard to do it ever since, but don’t think it will be in my lifetime,” he stated. “I do watch our docents, many who are retired, and find that they are very happy to come to a place where they meet new people every day. We all have a group of friends that we socialize with but for the docents and for me and for our members, the museum is a place to meet new and diverse people. I like being a …greeter, learning about all the different people coming to the museum, and conversely, they get a kick out of meeting me.”
The Buermans, who are residents of Highland Beach, Fla., and have a second home in Newport, plan to continue “Hoods Up Weekends” every second weekend of the month because Gunther wants to give patrons a great chance to see what makes their cars “rock, rumble and roar.”
Fall and winter activities will include movie nights on the third Wednesday of the month, starting Sept. 26, which promises to be a special evening, with the showing of “Fast Five” and a raffle that will feature a grand prize of a ride to lunch in the GT40 movie car. Raffle tickets are $20, and proceeds will go toward the purchase of mini electric cars that patients of Hasbro Children’s Hospital will use to go to their treatments. There will be cool econd and third prizes, according to Buerman, and people don’t have to be present to win.
The Buermans are thinking of doing a weekly lecture series on Saturdays or Sundays to focus on the significance of individual cars in their collection, and Gunther stated fall is a great time for car clubs to visit the museum.
Admission is $18 for adults; $15 for senior citizens, military personnel and students with identifications; and $8 for children ages 5 to 15. There is no charge for children younger than 5, and tickets can be purchased online or at the door.
For more information and to learn about memberships, group rates and space available for functions and meetings, call (401) 848-2277 or go online to www.newportcarmuseum.org.