Driving Miss Alma

It is well-known fact that Israelis have a propensity for popping up in the most unexpected places, anywhere on the globe. While waiting for the Alma show to start on my third evening in Vienna, I sat outside the building with another Israeli journalist. As we chatted away in Hebrew, the chauffeur of the vintage English car that brought some of the actors to the show venue came up to us and began citing whole passages from the Bible, in Hebrew. The handsomely uniformed, goatee-bearded chauffeur turned out to be a certain Dr. Yaakov Barnea, who was born in Poland and moved to Israel at the age of five. After completing his high-school education, he joined the IDF in 1964, leaving Israel for Vienna in 1966 to study medicine. However, medicine wasn't Barnea's only passion in life. "I began tinkering with and buying old cars while I was still a student," he explains. "That's when I started collecting them." Today, Barnea - who qualified as a doctor - owns a collection of 250 vehicles housed at a museum 30 kilometers, outside Vienna (www.oldtimertreff.com). "It is the biggest collection in Austria," Barnea states proudly, "and one of the biggest in Europe." The oldest vehicle at the museum is a 1907 Model M Cadillac, and he used a 1929 Morris Oxford to transport the Alma actors to the show venue. "All the vehicles I have are in running order. I am always repairing and tending to them," says Barnea. "The white gloves I wear for chauffeuring aren't only to make me look official, they also cover my nails. After all these years fixing cars I can't get the grease and engine oil stains out of them anymore." The Barnea car collection includes no fewer than eight Rolls Royces - the oldest dating from 1939 - two Bentleys and nine Jaguars. "I was just on the phone to Ivan Rosen, the president of the Jaguar Club in Israel," Barnea says. "I stay in touch with people in Israel." Barnea didn't entirely waste all those years of study. "I still practice medicine from time to time," he says, "but it's the cars that I really love." - B.D.