Put the Pedal to the Metal

Car Museums offer cars from muscle to tiny

The Lane Motor Museum
The Lane Motor Museum is just outside Nashville, in Murfreesboro. It features 150 cars and motorcycles from the 1920s, and houses one of the country’s largest collection of European cars and motorcycles. The museum was started by Jeff Lane who restored his first car, a 1955 MG TF, when he was a teenager. He never lost his love of fixing cars. The museum, in fact, preserves cars and gets them back into running order, and about 90 percent can take a spin around the block at any time. Each vehicle receives an annual tune-up and oil changes. His aim is to restore each vehicle to its near original specifications. This is more than a museum; it’s a service station!
   The fun of this basement museum is that you’ll see cars that you’ve never even heard of, and many that should be filed under “seemed like a good idea at the time.” For instance, there is the Peel P50, which is the smallest vehicle in the world. It’s 53 inches long, 39 inches wide and four feet high. Built by the Peel Engineering Co. on the Isle of Man, it can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour and instead of a reverse gear it has a reversing handle. In fact, if you wanted to reverse, it was easier to just get out of the car and pick it up and move it over. The three-wheel hand-built car, which obviously can only fit one person, was built from 1962 to 1965.
   On the other hand, the largest was the LARC-LX, which was built for the Army during the Vietnam war. Its wheels are nine feet tall and this amphibious monster needs four engines to power it. It’s the width, length and height equal to three semi trucks parked side by side. It was driven to the museum via the Port of Nashville at a snail’s pace of 16 miles per hour.
   One of our favorites was the Helicron, which was made in France in 1932. It’s a little bit of a helicopter and car. In fact the engine drives the propeller, which pulls the car down the road. It was found in a barn in France in 2000, and although it is completely rebuilt, many of the mechanical components including the steering wheel, brake pedal and frame, are original. This four-cylinder beauty steers with the rear wheels and has a Citroën GS engine. Yes, it still runs. It has a Tennessee license plate!
   Another one-of-a-kind is the Hewson Rocket, a 1946 aluminum car that resembles a sloth. It’s just one big blob of aluminum, the headlights are covered in glass and there are no outside door handles. It cost $16,000 to produce, could go 90 miles and hour and only one was produced — and this is it!
   The Lane doesn’t just focus on cars; it has a whole collection of motorcycles, bicycles and floating and flying machines. The museum has several airplanes from the French company Mignet. Henri Mignet had a lot of imagination with his planes. He even designed a make-it-at-home plane kit. An American company, Avid Catalina, also come up with a homebuilt airplane kit. About 100 were sold before the Avid Aircraft went out of business in 2003.
   The Lane is a fascinating place where one car after another present wonderful examples of engineering imagination with a little crazy thrown in.

Photo by Grady McGill
Photo by Grady McGill

National Corvette Museum
A little north of Nashville, actually 65 miles in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the National Corvette Museum. It’s a sensible location for the museum since Corvettes are manufactured right down the street.
   The 115,000 square foot building houses more than 80 Corvette models and one-of-a-kind concept cars as well as photos, movies, a kids area and a diner. The museum has an infamous side to it. In 2014, a giant sinkhole formed after a bout of rainy weather, resulting in a 40-foot wide and 25-foot deep sinkhole that opened under the floor of the Skydome area of the museum. Eight rare cars  and one-of-a-kind Corvettes were swallowed up, and damage was done to some others. To date, five of the eight cars, including a 1954 car, a 1962 Corvette, and a 2009 Blue Devil ZR1 prototype, have been recovered. There’s a 3D interactive tour of the sinkhole and its destruction and the strenuous recovery process.
   But you don’t have to be a sports car fan of this famed muscle car. The museum provides a history of the Corvette, complete with a 1960’s Chevrolet dealer showroom where you’ll see Sting Rays and Sharks, a Mobile service station and St. Louis assembly line. There’s also an area focused on the design from concept cars, clay models, rolling chassis, crash test car and hands-on samples. The Skydome & Hall of Fame shows pace cars and each generation of the Vette, including the world’s only 1983 model.
   One of the most popular cars is the 1963 ZO6 Corvette, a race car with 360 horsepower and sold for $4,252. The car was actually a Corvette Stingray, which met with lots of success on the race track. Knowing that consumers would want the muscle car, Corvette made a ZO6 package that essentially made it a race-ready car with a huge 36.5-gallon fuel tank.
   After an old-fashioned lunch in the  aptly named Corvette Cafe, go to the souvenir shop where you will see the Corvette featured in just about everything — from cars to models to apparel to car accessories to bedding.


Mary Welch


Editor, award-winning journalist and author

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