Peter Nettesheim embodies the idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Step inside his Huntington Town home and it’s nothing like it seems from the outside.
Picture this: You walk through an ordinary front door, expecting a small foyer or hallway to meet you. But as your eyes adjust from the natural light, all you see are warm wood and soft lights reflecting off of dozens of different pieces of metal. No side table or closet for jackets. You become more confused before you begin to understand what you’re looking at. A second ago you were on a residential road, listening to someone’s leaf blower start up. The next second all you hear is a model train driving by overhead and The Jackson 5 playing softly in the background.
Nettesheim is the proud owner of more than 100 BMW vehicles. Although many are in storage, his home boasts an impressive portion of the collection. Motorcycles cover most of the floor space, along with trophies, antique gas dispensers and even a few vintage cars.
Jay Leno and Billy Joel have visited Nettesheim’s home, as well as more than 100 other private visitors each year. He calls it “his little sanctuary.”
Hints of Germany linger everywhere. A German greeting hangs from the ceiling and a mannequin named Elka stands in traditional German clothing sporting a dirndl, which is like an apron. Nettesheim explained that according to German tradition, the cloth signifies whether a girl is single or spoken for, depending on whether it is tied with a knot to the left or right. Elka is currently single.
In one corner sits the oldest BMW motorcycle to date, with a confirmation from BMW hanging above it. Across from it is a fully stocked bar, with several glass bottles of Coca-Cola personalized with Nettesheim’s name.
“My wife found those for me,” Nettesheim said.
This space is intimate, so it fights the feeling one gets at famous places like the American Museum of Natural History. One can literally sit at the bar and have a drink while gazing at relics. In one corner stands the oldest BMW bike in history, in another, a couch sporting pillows adorned with phrases like “man cave.”
Still, there are touches that make it feel like an established museum. Several motorcycles have backdrops behind them that display information about the particular model standing in front of it. Historic black-and-white photos of people riding old BMW bikes are also featured on the walls.
Nettesheim said the American Motorcyclist Association asked him to curate a BMW exhibit for its Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Ohio in 2010. His backdrops are straight out of that exhibit. Nettesheim chose all of the information and photos on the backdrops when he designed the show.
He said he didn’t take any money for the curation.
“I do this for fun,” he said. “This is strictly my hobby.”
Nettesheim is driven about his pastime and expressed surprise that many who visited his museum didn’t share the same kind of enthusiasm for a hobby — especially the younger generation.
“I never really understood that,” Nettesheim said.
The bike collector said that in conversations with his visitors he was caught off guard to learn that many had no hobbies of their own.
“There’s nothing that engages them, there’s nothing that they see and want to know how this works and how it’s made.”
He said he worried that his own hobby, shared by mostly the older generation, would eventually die out. “Most people you meet at biker clubs are not young guys.”
Despite the future of motorcycle collecting, Nettesheim remains driven by his passion. His father, a Mercedes-Benz car collector, has greatly influenced him. Nettesheim purchased his first BMW motorcycle when he was about 20 years old and fell in love with bikes ever since.
“I wake up in the morning and I think about the collection,” Nettesheim said. “There’s something I want to do. Every day I want to get home and get next to the bike and take something off it or fix a tire. It’s in me. I have a passion for it.”