Nestled in the lee of the Franschhoek Mountains on the resplendent L’Ormarins Estate is the Franschhoek Motor Museum, which houses a magnificent collection of cars, motorcycles and automotive memorabilia. Displayed in a quartet of Cape-style buildings, the continually changing displays attract a non-stop flow of local and international visitors all year round. The man responsible for establishing, maintaining and furthering the museum’s award-winning reputation is Wayne Harley. A man who defies any number of ‘petrolhead’ automotive clichés.
M: Where were you born and educated?
WH: I was born in May 1968 in a small company village – just 14 houses – just outside the city of Witbank where my father was a plant engineer at Ferrometals. I went to Robert Carruthers Primary School and after that to Witbank Technical High School. After matric I followed my father’s footsteps into electrical trade theory plus developing a talent for draughtsmanship. My tertiary education took place at Pretoria Technikon, where I studied graphics and fine art.
M: What sparked your interest in cars and motorcycles?
WH: We weren’t a rich family but I always had go-karts and bikes to play with. My father bought and sold lots of cars, mainly Fords, often from the back of used car lots, sorting out any problems with the cars before selling them on for a small profit. He did all the work himself, so I grew up in a workshop environment, helped my Dad and tinkered around; his garage was like an Aladdin’s Cave to me.
M: What was your first museum experience?
WH: In 1990 while I was at the Technikon, I got a job at the Cultural History Museum in Pretoria as an industrial technician working for Balthie du Plessis who taught me everything. As part of the art department I got involved with all manner of tasks – set design, lighting, woodwork, screen printing, poster design. During this time I rose to become Senior Industrial Technician. But in 1997, government support for national museums dwindled, so in 1998 I moved on. I was fortunate enough to join the Heidelberg Transport Museum, which was privately funded by Rembrandt Tobacco. Just after I joined, Rembrandt became Rothmans International, which was then sold to British American Tobacco (BAT) in 1999. Things settled down for while and under the curatorship of Judy Le Grange I began to get more involved in fixing and developing a better understanding for old cars. Thanks to my mentors Hew Hollard, Piet Mans, Darryl Cock and Nico de Lange and many other individuals who collectively became known as ‘Friends of the Museum’, it was a learning process in the school of hard knocks.
M: How did your appointment at FMM come about?
WH: Well, in December 2003 BAT pulled out and the Heidelberg Museum was closed to the public, putting its future in jeopardy. However, I was asked to stay on as curator to look after the museum’s assets and during the following year went on to re-employ two people to help keep everything in good order. I was also involved in trying to find a new patron, and in November 2004 I went to Cape Town to meet with Johann Rupert and without any fuss he became the new owner. I was appointed curator and the next month newground was broken at L’Ormarins and plans were put in place to transfer the Heidelberg collection to the Cape. That April, the first two halls had been built and we started putting the vehicles in place. Two years later all the buildings were complete and in May 2007, the Franschhoek Motor Museum was formally opened. With the odd couple of exceptions, it has been open every day since except on holidays of course.
M: What are your responsibilities at FMM?
WH: I represent FMM and its staff at senior level on the L’Ormarins board, which involves overseeing and managing the museum, workshop and delicatessen, including the PlaasPad track facility and the visitor charabancs. I also look after the insurance, valuations, maintenance, registrations, movement and licensing of all the vehicles in the collection. I also represent FMM at SARS and the International Trade Association Commission. On a lighter side, there is the planning and arranging of displays, and I personally repair and restore the motorcycle collection.
M: What’s your biggest challenge?
WH: In a nutshell, maintaining standards. Our current staff complement is 24 people, all of whom are fully occupied looking after the display halls, reception and office area, workshop and storage rooms. The collection comprises around 300 vehicles, some of which are privately owned but placed in our care. There are always 80 on view and we change the displays at regular intervals, often to suit special events, so regular visitors have something different to see. We treat each vehicle as an object d’art to be displayed in an open setting, believing the car is the hero, not the background. It seems to work; last year the international travel agency TripAdvisor awarded FMM a Traveller’s Choice Certificate of Excellence as ‘The very best of museums’.
M: What controls do you have in place?
WH: To have obtained and be able to sustain the international recognition that FMM enjoys, there are five key areas that have to be controlled. One is to collect, which means obtaining cars with significant value. Second is conservation, preserving as much as possible of each vehicle’s originality. Third is, where necessary, to restore. Most of the vehicles are runners and we undertake minor restorations on site, while others are sent to specialists, local and overseas as appropriate. A poor restoration can be a costly mistake and we take great care not to ruin a vehicle’s provenance. Fourth is to document; store, accurately research and preserve as much information as possible on each vehicle. And fifth is to educate. FMM has a team of guides with knowledge of the vehicles on display to support the info boards. Long story short, it’s not a job that’s just about driving desirable cars and bikes all day …
M: Finally, what does a Harley drive and ride?
WH: A Toyota Hilux as my daily driver but I have a soft spot for Abarths and I’m currently finishing off a 1961 Fiat Abarth 850 TC Fugazi. I also have a 1978 Yamaha XT 500 and a 1999 Honda XL 1000 Varade motorcycle.