After hurtling through the sky for three and a half hours, I emerged from the dark, stale confines of my tin can transport and clambered down the stairs to the sun-lit tarmac of Malta International Airport. Drinking in the paradisiac weather, a stark contrast to London’s gloomy skies, I thought to the day ahead. I had no plans for my first day in Malta besides locating my hostel, but while walking past the baggage claim an advertisement for the Malta Classic Car Collection caught my eye. The museum was several towns over in St. Paul’s Bay, but some quick googling helped me navigate Malta’s bus system, and just half an hour later I was there.
My visit to the Malta Classic Car Collection happened just over a year ago, but spending the past few months stuck inside has me reminiscing about the days of unrestricted travel, and in particular to my trip to one of the quirkiest car museums I’ve ever visited.
Situated in the basement of a building which houses a restaurant and a sightseeing company on either side, the museum would be easy to miss if it weren’t for an blue Bugatti Type 35 replica parked out front. The €10.00 fee is undoubtedly worth it—while the space is relatively cramped, around 100 vehicles are packed into every inch possible, the walls are slathered in memorabilia, and models, parts, and photographs populate the shelves of cases throughout. The museum’s founder Carol Galea, a property developer who raced in his youth, clearly has a passion for decoration, with several cars surrounded by period-specific artifacts and mannequins sporting old-school styles.
The collection features a diverse cast of vehicles. Several microcars, such as a 1957 BMW Isetta and various Minis, are tucked into nooks and crannies, but among the more obscure city cars was a 1969 Sunbeam Imp Saloon Sport. The Imp, released in 1963 to battle the popular Mini, was a product of the Rootes Group, a British manufacturer that was an early adopter of badge engineering. The car was sold under the Hillman, Singer, and Sunbeam nameplates depending on the market, and this Sport model’s upgraded 875 cc inline-four churned out 51 hp.
A pair of vehicles made by NSU, a West German automaker taken over by the Volkswagen Group in 1969, also stood out: there was a 1960 Prinz 30, painted in a cheery pastel green, and a red 1965 Spider. The Prinz was NSU’s first post-war car, and could fit four adults despite its diminutive stature. The air-cooled 20-hp two-cylinder sat behind the rear seats and powered the rear wheels. The Spider, on the other hand, utilized a Wankel rotary engine—in fact, it was the first production car to do so when it launched in 1964. Designed by Bertone, the Spider was based on the Sport Prinz coupe, and 2,375 found homes over four years of production.
The collection contains dozens of iconic 2-seat sports cars, many hailing from Great Britain. A white 1961 Austin-Healey Sprite smiles its goofy “frog-eye” grin while a classy 1957 Austin-Healey 100/6 sits nearby, its curvaceous bodywork accentuated by two-tone paint. MGs, Triumphs, and Jaguar E-Types are scattered throughout, and a svelte Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupé turns heads nearby. There is a gaggle of jaw-dropping Alfa Romeos all finished in red, including a Giulietta Sprint Speciale, and a few American cars as well, from a 1956 Ford Thunderbird to a 1962 Chevy Corvette and a 1929 Pontiac.
While I’ll always enjoy running my eyes over the bodywork of a C1 Corvette or an E-Type, legends such as these are a common sight at museums and car shows, and I now seek out obscure or unusual vehicles to truly stimulate my automotive senses. Luckily, the Malta Classic Car Collection delivered with two shooting brakes and one of my favorite automotive collaborations of all time.
The Reliant Scimitar was built for over two decades by the British firm best known for its three-wheeled Robin, although the white example in the collection is a GTE SE5A, produced from 1972 to 1975. Powered by a Ford V6, the SE5A could reach 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, but the real highlight is the fiberglass fastback bodywork, as few manufacturers have dared to sell the quirky shooting brake style from the factory.
Instead, most shooting brakes have come in the form of aftermarket conversions, as seen with the Lynx Eventer. Based on the Jaguar XJS, the Eventer became available in 1983, but only 67 were made over its 16 year production run. Lynx left the V12 untouched, but for £6,950 extended the roofline and shifted the rear seats back to boost legroom. The long-hood, long-roof styling makes the Eventer absolutely stunning, and knowing a V12 lives under the bonnet just adds to the car’s allure.
Upon first glance, the Ford Cortina Lotus looks indistinguishable from the slow, staid Consul Cortina which transported thousands of British families in the 1960s, but the sedate sheetmetal hides a heart bred through competition. Lotus founder Colin Chapman had been tuning Ford’s “Kent” inline-four for use in his lightweight Elan sports car, and Ford PR director Walter Hayes wanted a piece of the action to boost the Cortina’s image. Thus, the Lotus Cortina was born, with Lotus outfitting the two-door saloon with a bored-out 105 hp version of the Kent and an aluminum hood, decklid, and doors. Lotus also added quicker steering, front disc brakes, wider tires, and a lower, stiffer suspension. The Mk1 version, built from 1963-1966, quickly proved its worth on the track, winning the 1964 BRSCC Saloon Car Championship at the hands of racing heroes like Jacky Ickx, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and Jim Clark. Just a few thousand Mk1 Lotus Cortinas were built, all finished in Ermine white with a Sherwood green stripe down the side.
The Malta Classic Car Collection may not be a prestigious or affluent as museums like Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum or the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, but this collection tucked away on a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean packs plenty of charm and countless automotive gems.