LeMay – America’s Car Museum (and for Beautiful Reasons)

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 02/2015
  • posted in: Great Garages

Next time in Tacoma, sail Puget Sound, ascend Mount Rainier, and stop in at LeMay – America’s Car Museum (ACM).

In Washington’s third largest city, ACM displays approximately 300 cars, trucks, and motorcycles on a rotating cycle, with regular special events.

Within the nine-acre campus, 2702 E. D St., are also 10 active exhibits, a theater, café, store, racing simulators, slot car track, family zone, banquet facilities, preservation shop, resource center and classrooms.

At one time, in fact, Harold and Nancy LeMay’s 3,000-plus collection of automobiles, motorcycles, trucks, other vehicles and related memorabilia was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest privately owned collection in the world.

In 1998, Harold, a local businessman, and his wife formed the 501c3 Harold E. LeMay Museum and committed to donating their vehicles, and those acquired, to explore the broad themes of American mobility and lifestyle in an instructive and entertaining manner.

Each with an individual theme, the exhibits tell an aspect of America’s history through the “lens” of the automobile. These are linked to the classroom through digital links and classroom activities, says ACM’s Chief Curator Scot Keller.

The Center Collections Galleries are the open exhibit storage, adds ACM Collection Manager Renee Crist. “The cars in our storage galleries are ordered in some story lines, but we prefer not to stack all years, makes, marques in rows together. So, you may be able see the difference between a Hudson versus a Hupmobile of the same era or two cars that may have had similar or contrasting design functions, for example.” 

Keller says that ACM separates itself from a traditional car museum by offering an immersive experience that is both authentic for the ardent car enthusiast, relevant to nonexperts and fun for both.

ACM is designed to preserve history and celebrate the world’s automotive culture. “Personal experiences with cars are at the heart of the American experience,” says ACM President and CEO David Madeira, “and we showcase more than a century of automotive lifestyle and history as well as the future of transportation.”

Here are six reasons to book that flight or fire up your classic for a visit:

Simplex Crane Model 5 –– “To those who demand the utmost in smoothness flexibility and luxurious comfort, this car is dedicated,” advertised the short-lived Simplex Automobile Company (1907−1917). A builder of racing and touring cars, the company was best known for its high-priced luxury cars, such as this exquisite six-cylinder, 46-horsepower, three-speed manual four-door.

Bodied by Brewster & Co. of New York, the Simplex had luxury amenities that often were found in cars 10 to 15 times the average American’s annual salary the year America entered World War I. At the same time, the Crane Simplex chassis was even guaranteed for life if it remained with the original purchaser.

With its longitudinal leaf spring suspension, it offered a luxury ride in contrast to the bumpier ones in some less expensive cars with the popular transverse springs.

ACM’s Simplex Crane was ordered by John D. Rockefeller Jr. as a birthday present for his father, John D. Rockefeller Sr. “Mr. R is making birthday gift of car to his father,” noted The Brewster Body order record, “and request us to endeavor to have it completed for delivery July 8th. Do our best.”  

In 1937, the Rockefellers gave the car to the Boston Museum of Automotive Conveyance in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. After two other owners, Harold E. LeMay purchased it in 1995 at auction and donated it to ACM in 1997.

1930 Duesenberg Model J Convertible –– When the “World’s Finest Motor Car” debuted at the 1928 New York Auto Show, the wowed audience dubbed it “smooth,” “powerful”, “sophisticated,” “rugged,” “beautiful.” All of these, the custom-built car was the robust American response to Mercedes, Hispano-Suiza and the Rolls Phantom II.

Fred Duesenberg’s Lycoming engine is a 420-cid, 265-bhp, 8-cylinder in-line engine with twin overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, mated to a three-speed manual. The production cars could do at least 116 mph and 0−100 in 21 seconds. The racing versions had proved their stuff in 1921, as a Duesenberg was the first American car to win the Grand Prix of LeMans, France.

The most famous of Duesy coachbuilders, Walter J. Murphy of Pasadena, California, bodied this one. A chassis alone cost $8,500 in 1930, increasing to $9,500 by 1932, bringing finished prices up to $20,000 –– not for the faint-pocketed.

1946 Ford 1/2 Ton –– Styled in 1942, the light-duty pickup didn’t start production until after World War II and continued until the new line in 1948. Early buyers could choose one color: Village Green.

The 1946 has the 100-horsepower, 239-cid V-8 with redesigned aluminum pistons, silver alloy bearings, a larger oil pump and a pressurized cooling system. Until a six-cylinder option was offered, this was the only power plant. The option cost you another $15 at the dealership.

Ford also improved the frame and suspension, with four strengthened cross members and a straight-beam front axle suspended by longitudinal leaf springs. In the rear, semi-elliptical longitudinal leaf springs replaced the less refined single transverse spring.

1960 Rambler Ferrambo –– This custom was added to the Museum in December of 2012 from the collection of Mike Warn, who was inspired to create it, beginning with a 1960 Rambler Station wagon and adding a Ferrari drive train from a 2002 Ferrari 360 Modena drivetrain. This Rambler does more than ramble, putting out a stallion’s 405 horsepower from the 3.6-liter V-8 engine, hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission with the classic Ferrari shift-gate.

Tim Divers and his team at Divers Street Rods in Startup, Washington, aspired to build a car combining “American and European style and performance.” The car’s front end was designed to resemble an early Lusso Ferrari. Painted in traditional Ferrari Rosso Corsa Red, it has a custom tan Scottish leather interior.

In March 2008, Ferrambo captured the Ridler Award, hot rodding’s highest honor, passing muster through a week-long scrutiny by the super-meticulous judges. Warn donated the Ferrambo to ACM, where it is displayed in the ACM Speed Zone.

1983 DeLorean DMC 12 –– John DeLorean, the performance-minded former division manager at Pontiac, headed the DeLorean Motor Corporation, financially assisted by the British Government. The cars were produced in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Designed by the great Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, the rear-engined DMC 12 features a composite molded underbody, steel backbone chassis and gull-wing doors. The brushed stainless steel body was developed to be corrosion-proof, resistant to blemishes and not need painting. 

Listing between $25,000 and $27,000, the car has an alloy, double-overhead-cam 2850-cc 130-bhp V-6 jointly developed by Peugeot, Renault, and Volvo, with a five-speed manual.

From 1980 through 1982, 8,742 units were produced. Then the British government shut the DeLorean dream down.

1994 Flintmobile George Barris Kustom –– Yabba Daba Doo! The “King of Kustomizers,” Barris built this no-door for the 1994 motion picture The Flintstones, based on the Hanna-Barbera’s popular TV cartoon series, which ran for six seasons, 1960 through 1966.

After the movie grossed $340 million worldwide, the vehicle toured with the World of Wheels car shows and the Autorama car shows and was then displayed at Universal Studios Theme park.

No, Fred’s feet don’t power it; this vehicle has an electric motor. With typical flair, Barris and his team connected golf cart mechanicals with a custom-built frame and fitted a mostly fiberglass body to this. They used tree trunks from Bedrock to pattern the side rails for an authentic look.

Some Flintmobiles, as a number were made for the movie and its promotion, had front “wheels” that rolled, as this one does, while others remained stationary. The rear wheel is stationary on this version, which is Barris Collection’s #1 Flintmobile, as certified to Barris by Bill Hanna (1910−2001) of Hanna-Barbera Productions.

Aptly named family pet, Dino, loves this ride, although it’s no Ferrari.

LeMay – America’s Car Museum is open every day, 10 a.m. –5 p.m., except on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. For more information, call 253.779.8490, 877.902.8490 (toll free) and see www.lemaymuseum.org.

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