Te Papa has turned down the chance to display one of the world's oldest and rarest cars.
The 1891 Panhard et Levassor, reputedly the fifth-oldest car in the world and the oldest outside Europe, was owned by Lower Hutt vintage car enthusiast Roy Southward, who died in March last year.
Mr Southward's son Lawrence, who lives in Melbourne, last year offered to lend it to Te Papa.
But museum staff did not even go out to Lower Hutt to look at it before it was declined by collections director Claudia Orange.
Mr Southward's lawyer, James Young, said it was extremely rare and in beautiful condition and it could have been a major draw at Te Papa.
Roy Southward, the son of Southward Car Museum founder Sir Len Southward, bought the Panhard from a French museum and drove it in the 1990 London-Brighton rally.
"I would have thought that if they were offered something that they would at least come out and look at it. It was stored at Roy's place in Lower Hutt, it's not a large distance to have a look," said Mr Young.
In a statement, Dame Claudia said that when deciding whether to accept gifts or loans, Te Papa considered an object's relevance to New Zealand history, provenance, and the terms and conditions of the loan or gift.
"It was decided that the Southward Car Museum would be the most appropriate place for the vehicle where it would be seen within the wider context of motoring history," she said.
Wellington Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon, who knew the Southwards and tried to facilitate the loan, said he was disappointed Te Papa turned it down.
Mr Young said Lawrence Southward had been prepared to offer it on loan in memory of his father. It had now been shipped to Australia.
New Zealand Vintage Car Club president John Coomber was astounded that Te Papa had declined the Panhard.
"You're joking," he said, describing it as a priceless historic vehicle.
Museum Hotel owner and former Te Papa board member Chris Parkin was also surprised.
But Mr Parkin said he understood the difficulty Te Papa had with items that were offered on conditional loan.
"You'd be surprised how many people offer things to Te Papa only because ... it becomes a convenient repository for something they haven't got room for, but I'm not saying that's the case here," said Mr Parkin, whose term on the Te Papa board ended last September.
- The Dominion Post