My Car Quest

December 11, 2023

One Pitfall In Donating A Classic Car To A Museum

by Mike –

Howard and Jane Turnley were very generous to donate one of the most important Bizzarrini cars to a museum. As you will read below, in their own words, they were not happy with the results of their generosity.

Bizzarrini GT 5300 Spyder

Maybe we can all learn a lesson. I think it may have been a good idea to have a contract with the museum for a “permanent display” but not to transfer ownership. For the financial results they would have been far better off if they would have sold the car. But as you read below they had their reasons to keep this special car close to them and on display for all to enjoy.

The Fate of Our Car – by Howard and Jane Turnley

In 1982 we were looking at the Bizzarrini 2 + 2 but upon carefully examining the photos of this car we elected to take a pass. Shortly thereafter Winston Goodfellow advised us that a Bizzarrini T – Top was for sale. The car was already spoken for but if the first party backs out, would we be interested? We knew about this car and that it was one of two existing T – Tops; we said “yes”. Subsequently the first owner did withdraw so we were able to buy it.

The car was in Italy so we had it put into a container at Livorno and shipped to Oakland, California. It arrived intact except that someone had stolen the horn button! Fortunately, our friend Jacques Lavost, French Iso & Bizzarrini Owner’s Club Director, found a replacement for us which was greatly appreciated.

Bizzarrini GT 5300 Spyder

At Bill DeCarr’s restoration shop in Bellflower, California – December 1983

Otherwise, upon arrival the car was in fair original condition i.e. everything was there but it needed restoration. It had been hit in Italy and the repair was slipshod with great quantities of bondo. At this point fortune was on our side when Bill DeCarr of Bellflower, California agreed to do the restoration. His master bodyman built several difficult body pieces from scratch, and lined up all the seams i.e. door, trunk and hood perfectly. And, of course, DeCarr did the paint and we felt it was beautiful.

The engine rebuild, suspension and the rest of the underside was done by Steve Wilkinson’s Pantera shop. He too is a perfectionist about the work performed at his shop and we were very pleased with the results.

We entered the car in several Concourse events in 1986 always winning First In Class plus Best Of Show at the Lafayette Concourse that year. In 1989 we entered the car in the prestigious Pebble Beach Concourse and again won 1st In Class.

Bizzarrini GT 5300 Spyder at Pebble Beach

Class Winner at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1989

In 1987 the car was written – up with a lengthy article and great photos by John Lamm in the short-lived “Road & Track” magazine special series “Exotic Cars” #6. The other Bizzarrini T – Top is owned by Mark Sassak of Michigan and he advised us that our car had been on the front cover of “Road & Track”. Actually, the March, 1969 issue features on the cover a photo of the Bizzarrini Manta shown at the Turin Auto Show; but in the dark background is a little bit of the T – Top and it was our car because the top of the little wing window can be seen. The Sassak T – Top does not have wing windows. Also, the T – Tops were different in color.

By the early 1990s we were no longer active with the car. It had been shown already at most of the Northern California concourse events and there wasn’t much more we could do with it. So, we felt that the next logical step would be to loan it to the Blackhawk Automotive Museum (at that time it was known as the Behring Auto Museum) located in nearby Danville. There it would be put on display and thus garner much more public exposure to the marque.

A year later we negotiated with Skip Marketti, the Director/Curator of the Museum, to donate it. In late 1995 we entered into a Standard Contract with the Blackhawk for the donation and, based upon discussions with Mr. Marketti, we expected the museum to displaying the car as before and our understanding was that it would become part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Bizzarrini 5300 Spyder SI 1968 10

We did not sell the car because almost certainly it would have gone into a private collection and possibly into one in another country. In either event its exposure to the public would likely be minimal. (As it turned-out the car eventually did go to a Southern California collector).

At first the Blackhawk more than met our expectations because, in addition to displaying the car on the museum floor, they included a photo of it in some of their publicity brochures and included it in their special exhibits at the Palo Alto Concourse and the San Francisco International Auto Show in 1996.

Then Mr. Marketti left the Blackhawk to take a similar position at one of the Southern California automobile museums and the Blackhawk made a decision respecting its car collection. It apparently decided to focus upon pre-World War II classic and sports cars. Unfortunately, the museum had been sustaining annual deficits and now, in its 10th year, was experiencing a dramatic increase in operating expenses. Further, attendance had been way below what surveys and forecasts had projected. And the museum had a lack of storage space for cars beyond the exhibit areas. This combination of circumstances made the post War cars in the collection prime candidates for – – – “deaccession”. These cars became expendable to raise cash.

Still we were shocked and dismayed to see the advertisement in the March, 1989 issue of Hemmings for “The Auction ’98” to be held in Las Vegas which included a photo of “our” car. The Blackhawk Automotive Museum, as a qualified charity, was obligated by Federal Law respecting donations to retain the car for 2 years. The sale in late March, 1998 was just over the 2 year holding period since we had donated it. So, the museum was within the law to sell it and there was nothing we could do. We were disappointed and powerless to stop it. A small consolation was that the car was sold in good company as the museum deaccessioned several other outstanding post-War sports cars from its collection at this Auction to raise cash.

All Three Bizzarrini Spyders

All Three Bizzarrini Spyders

This scenario was deeply disappointing for us, but we were probably naive in believing the Blackhawk Museum would in fact keep the Bizzarrini T – Top in its permanent collection for many years. Our advice to anyone contemplating the donation of a collector car to a museum with the hope of its being on display indefinitely is to make sure the museum is thinking and agreeing to the same time frame that you have in mind.


Howard and Jane Turnley were long time members and leaders of the Iso & Bizzarrini Owner’s Club. All Bizzarrini fans should be very happy that they saved this special Bizzarrini, one of the three Bizzarrini Spyders (the blue one). I regret to tell you that Jane Turnley passed away last year.

Bruce Milner bought this Bizzarrini Spyder at auction in March 1998 and subsequently sold it to Don Meluzio, who is the current president of the Iso & Bizzarrini Owner’s Club. Don is active in showing the car and it continues to receive exposure and awards and it is appreciated by car lovers on a regular basis.

This article was originally published in the Summer 1998 issue of Griffon, the magazine of the Iso & Bizzarrini Owner’s Club.

Some photos by John Wiley.

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  1. bruce caron says

    Great story with a happy ending.

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