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Classic Beauties

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vintage cars are the stars at the new Nethercutt Collection museum in Sylmar, where careful consideration has been given to every detail.

Two crystal towers allow passersby to view featured automobiles, while the panes of glass complement the stately beige building tastefully trimmed in white. The plants, flowers and trees are meticulously landscaped along the sweeping walkway, marked with signs identifying the varieties.

The museum was designed to showcase 100 of the 342 classic cars owned by millionaire J.B. Nethercutt and his wife, Dorothy. Nethercutt is chairman of the board and co-founder of Merle Norman Cosmetics.

Formerly known as the Merle Norman Classic Beauty Collection, the museum, which opened to the public June 17, houses Nethercutt’s finest road-ready cars, from an 1898 Eisenach to a 1967 Ferrari.

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About 1,200 car buffs and several well-known collectors attended the June 16 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Don Williams, director of the Blackhawk Collection in Danville, Calif., called the museum collection a must-see for all car aficionados.

“You have to see it if you like cars,” he said. “You can’t describe it, and pictures don’t do it justice.”

Otis Chandler, founder of the Vintage Museum of Transportation in Oxnard, said, “People are excited that the [Nethercutt] museum has been set up [and endowed] as a foundation. Generations in the future will be able to come and see his great collection.”

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Another 30 cars are on display across the street in the San Sylmar museum Nethercutt built in 1969. An additional 212 cars are either in storage or being restored, said archivist Skip Marketti.

At the Nethercutt Collection, rows and rows of classic cars are displayed behind rope stands, and the description holders are made from automotive flywheels and camshafts.

“I’ve been involved in cars for many years, but I saw some models that I had only read about,” said Mitch Braiman, curatorial assistant and registrar for the Petersen Automotive Museum. “The pristine condition of these vehicles made me appreciate that someone was saving cars.”

Four cars are featured in the two large display windows at the entrance. Behind one window is a bright yellow 1934 Packard convertible and a 1932 German-made Maybach. Behind the other is a 1911 Pope Hartford seven-passenger touring car and a French 1909 Gobron-Brillie, with trumpet valves to play the horn.

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Past the front desk is a 1933 Duesenberg Arlington Torpedo worth about $5 million.

“It doesn’t matter how much it costs. It’ll never be for sale,” Marketti said.

When the museum was completed and the cars were in place, Nethercutt toured the building and remarked that the only car missing was the DuPont, the first car he bought and his first to win at the ’58 Concourse d’ Elegance at Pebble Beach.

The DuPont--and nearly every other car in Nethercutt’s collection--was sold to Bill Harrah in 1962 when Nethercutt needed cash to expand his cosmetics business. Marketti said Harrah agreed Nethercutt could buy the cars back when he was ready, but when Harrah died, his heirs refused to honor the pact. Instead, Nethercutt bought most of his cars at auctions.

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He purchased the 1930 DuPont G/Town two weeks ago for an undisclosed amount.

“I’ve watched Nethercutt collect for years. The restoration shop is the best in the world. He’s built this not just for himself but for the people because they can see it for free,” said Williams.

Large portraits of Nethercutt and his wife hang from the showroom’s ceiling, and their initials are subtly placed on the panel doors of some cars.

A 24-person staff of mechanics, body workers and security guards keeps everything in top condition. The museum also contains a complete automotive library, with Marketti as archivist.

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Former Los Angeles Times publisher Chandler said he found Nethercutt’s remarks the highlight of the June 16 ceremony. Nethercutt, he said, didn’t talk about his collection or pat himself on the back but spoke instead of the limited availability of fossil fuels, estimating that the supply would be exhausted by 2020-2025.

Nethercutt, according to Chandler, said a new type of engine needs to be developed or electric cars improved, and noted that in the future, people may visit car museums to see gasoline-powered vehicles.

The exhibit is open to the public free of charge, without reservations, Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It is quite a gift,” said Williams. “People who live close by probably don’t realize the gift they have in Sylmar. They should be proud of it. I know I am.”

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BE THERE

Nethercutt Collection, 15151 Bledsoe St., Sylmar. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free admission; reservations not needed. (818) 364-6464.


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