Automotive oddities at Iceland’s Ystafell Transportation Museum
Dave S. Clark
I never imagined I would see a Kewet EL Jet or a Matra-Simca Begheera in a car museum in northern Iceland just a short jaunt south of Arctic Circle. It would have been impossible to imagine because I had no idea that either of those cars had even existed.
The Danish electric microcar and the polyester-bodied French sports car are just two of the many oddball cars that have been given a home at the Ystafell Transportation Museum.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a car museum in the north of Iceland, a country that has imported all of their cars and, to my knowledge, not built any themselves. However, the museum proves that Icelanders have imported some very unusual autos.
One car that kind of confused me was a Trabant. It didn’t surprise me that two-stroke pinnacle of Soviet engineering was in a museum, as I’ve seen them in museums before. What was surprising was that someone paid money to bring this antiquated two-cylinder Eastern Bloc artifact to harsh Iceland. They were notoriously unreliable in balmy East Germany. How would they possibly fare in the harsh weather of Iceland? This is Land Rover country, not Trabant territory. There’s probably good reason the Trabant is now in the museum and not still in everyday use. If communist bloc cars are your passion, there was also a 1959 Moskvitch on display.
If you prefer cars built by the belligerents from the other side of the Cold War, there’s a collection of American cars as well. A personal favourite was the ’54 Mercury as it reminded me of the ’53 Ford I used to own. There’s also a ’55 Ford Wagon, a fourth generation Ford Thunderbird and a few vintage military jeeps.
One car I had seen before, too many times probably, and never expected to be in a car museum was an AMC Eagle. I always thought they were kind of cool, being an ugly four-wheel-drive station wagon, often decorated in hideous wood panelling. But I always thought they were only ironically cool because they were a practical eyesore and not a piece you’d find in a museum. Another car that hopefully had some extraordinary role in Icelandic history was a late-80s Chrysler LeBaron. I’m pretty sure it was a GTS model, if that makes it somewhat more noteworthy.
When I visited, the annual car festival was underway just down the road in Akureyri, and it was also nearing Icelandic National Day. One of those two events may have explained why the parking lot was filled with spotless ’60s and ’70s Cadillacs adorned with Icelandic flags on the antennas. That was one of the highlights for me.
Overall, it’s a pretty down to earth museum, with not just restored beauties on display. There are actually probably more cars that are unrestored or currently in the process of being restored. In the first part of the museum, where most of the unrestored cars are, I almost felt like I was in the packed personal garage of and oddball car hoarder, which was actually a refreshing feeling.
Unfortunately, I didn’t give myself enough time at the museum to give it a thorough visit. We were booked to be on a boat tour in Husavik, and unfortunately, the direct road from Ystafell to Husavik was closed, so we had to do some backtracking, which made our visit even shorter!
The museum is just a few minutes off the well-travelled ring road so if you’re driving between the Myvatn area and Akureyri, or doing a whale watching tour in Husavik, it’s worth stopping in. Check out my wife’s blog on the whale watching tour. It was one of the best experiences of our trip!
I didn’t list all of the unique cars in the article. Check out the photos below. What can you identify? Leave what you spotted in the comments!