I recently heard that there would be a collection of more than a hundred Rolls-Royces and Bentleys in the Rolls-Royce museum in Arnhem. A museum? In Arnhem? Never heard of it. Unfortunately it is not public, because it concerns the private collection of Toni Bienemann.
This report by Bavo Galama previously appeared in Auto Review. Bavo scours the autoland for every issue. He meets enthusiasts with petrol in their blood. Is there still a future for their passion?
Everywhere in the Netherlands, car enthusiasts have parked their most precious treasures in insignificant sheds, anonymous factory sheds or former cow stables. Some screw a 'Museum' sign on the outside, purchase a second-hand cash register and recruit a number of volunteers for guided tours and cleaning work. Others prefer to keep their classics out of sight. Like Toni Bienemann.
He heads a conglomerate of companies that mainly operates internationally. As a born petrolhead, he acquired the brand name Hooper International, a well-known old-school coachbuilder from England, and started a car collection of mainly Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. Hooper often supplied the bodies for these two famous car brands.
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I have an appointment with Maarten Hulleman, the man who, as workshop manager, has to keep as many cars from this Toni Bienemann collection running as possible. We have a cup of coffee in the Hooper International workshop. Here the cars from the collection are maintained, restored or fitted with new interiors. A sheet metal shop is included, as is an upholstery, where custom interior upholstery can be made. There is a repainted Rolls Silver Cloud in a beautiful beige-green combination waiting to be rebuilt.
Then Maarten takes me to an opposite warehouse and there I enter a room that is completely furnished as a museum. But that's not it. At least, not officially. Sometimes business associates are shown around. Sometimes a brand association starts its club day here. At the end of the room there is a spacious English pub and Heerensocieteit. Maarten Hulleman got into the car business through his in-laws. At Nico Aaldering's The Gallery he became familiar with all types of classics. Since 2012 he has worked as a technical man for the Bienemann collection. As a result, he became specialized in the brands Rolls-Royce and the related Bentley.
“The fact that Rolls-Royce makes the best cars in the world is only true for the 1920s and 1930s.”
Maarten Hulleman: “The claim that they made the best cars in the world was mainly realized in the 1920s and 1930s. After that, they became typical British cars that were unnecessarily complicated from a technical point of view. If you take a car apart, you will see that it has often undergone some rather clumsy work underneath. You sometimes have to puzzle endlessly with those old Rollsen to find out how they solved some electrical or hydraulic issues. They always did that differently. They often do not go from A to B in terms of solutions, but make countless inefficient detours. Since the involvement of Volkswagen and BMW, it is of course a different story.”
Four rows of automobiles are lined up in the museum. The two on the left consist of all kinds of different brands that touched the heart of the collector Bienemann. The two rows on the right consist solely of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. That is a nice reflection of the collection of more than two hundred cars. Today we are forced to limit ourselves to just the right side
Maarten: “We don't have too many pre-war models, but these two are very special. A blue Phantom 3 from 1938 with a Vanvooren body in two subtly different shades of bright blue. The car is equipped with a twelve-cylinder engine with double spark plugs in each cylinder.
This car was originally in the Lips Autotron with a conventional body. The new owner replaced it with a bodywork recreated down to the millimeter by the famous French coachbuilder Vanvooren. We as Hooper International were also involved in this. Later the car disappeared from our view, but suddenly it was at an auction. Yes, and then Toni bought it.”
“But it is not our oldest car. That's a 1934 Phantom 2 with a Hooper body. While nowadays they have all kinds of electronic solutions for this, such as an ignition advance at increasing speed, Rolls-Royce already came up with brilliant mechanical solutions for that. Here is a Phantom VI, which is actually the best that Rolls-Royce had to offer. That car was reserved for the English royal family and a few Arab sheikhs. This was gold-colored, but we repainted it in the red and black of the English royal family.”
“Yes, we have a Corniche here that is in the film The Main Event from 1979, with Barbara Streisand and Ryan O'Neal. At that time it was beige in color. Then my favorite Bentley, this red Continental R from the nineties. A beast of a car and that is thanks to that mega turbo on that V8. It weighs 2.2 tons, but still runs at 250 km/h. It was about the most expensive car you could buy at the time. Then we have a Silver Cloud 3 from 1965. This has been to China twice to drive a rally. But we also have Toni's real rally rolls here. That is a two-door Silver Cloud III that is completely prepared for tough conditions. It is currently in the workshop on the bridge.”
My eye is drawn to even more special models. I see the Camargue, also a coupe model, with its typical forward-leaning radiator. It was inspired by Lady Penelope's car from the Thunderbirds-series. Then Maarten points out something I didn't know. The 'Spirit of Ecstasy', the angel on top of the radiator, is available in two versions. One standing and one kneeling. The kneeling statues were specially made for Arab customers for whom a standing woman on the bonnet apparently seems a bit too self-confident and equal.
In an epiphanic moment (thanks to Mark Rutte for this expression) I ask Maarten where all the other Rolls-Royces are, because I only see about thirty of them here. “In storage in a village somewhere nearby, would you like to see that?” Yes, I certainly want that. And a little later we are in the car on the way to the real Gelderse Geheim.
We get out on a site full of anonymous sheds, tractors and mountains of agricultural waste. Maarten opens the door, enters some codes into a device and then we are inside. The immense hall is filled from the far left to the far right with special automobiles. What makes it even more mysterious is that all the cars are covered in a thin layer of dust. The vast majority of copies are from the Rolls-Royce brand. They are parked in endless rows, making it seem like they are nothing special. But I would stop for a moment for every copy on the public road.
I have never seen so many Rolls-Royces (and/or Bentleys) together. I mainly notice Silver Shadows, but then suddenly there is a Bentley S3 from 1962, which I hear has serial number 0002. It was the very first of this type. Serial number 0001 belongs to a Silver Cloud from Rolls-Royce. As for the cars of the other brands: I see three years' worth of topics parked for Auto Review. There is a nice story to write about each copy. I am speechless.
Maarten Hulleman: “It is already a huge amount of work to store the data of all the cars. They must also all be suspended, possibly inspected, maintained, repaired, restored and so on. Searching for the right parts is also a time-consuming activity. Do you know what the problem is with this collection? That the cars don't drive enough. From a technical point of view, standing still means going backwards. Toni likes to let his friends drive his cars, but with such a huge amount of cars you are always short of friends.”
“For an anniversary of the business, Toni once wanted to have all the people from the head office drive to the party location in a Rolls. That was a hell of a job! We had to get all the cars running, remove them from suspension, check them, test drive them, and arrange insurance. But in the end we succeeded.”
“I sometimes tell Toni that he should come with us for a week as a taster internship. Then he sees with his own eyes what is involved in maintaining this collection. And then he also has his rally car, the Silver Cloud 3. We have sometimes had to replace the entire valve system and a cylinder head in the middle of the night somewhere in France. That meant tinkering all night long with two people and locks of coffee. But then he comes every hour to see how things are going and brings a beer. That's how he is.”
This post was last modified on October 23, 2023 5:15 am
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