Martin Auto Museum — Garage to GreatGarage

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 09/2012
  • posted in: Great Garages

Mel Martin sold newspapers in the 1940s in Iowa to help his parents make house payments.

When he was a teen, the family moved to the Arizona mining town, Mayer, where he worked in his dad’s gas station and later, a senior in high school, at his own. “Here, my interest in vehicles really took hold,” he recalls.

Mel realized that to expand, he needed to be in a larger city, so in 1955 he moved to Phoenix and opened a Central Avenue garage, where he worked as a mechanic, ran a couple of tow trucks and started a tire-recapping business.

As business continued to grow, he moved into other businesses, such as auto-salvage, collision repair, glass, towing and later a large auto auction. “All of these changes continued to build the foundation for my life-long love of vehicles,” he says.

Some of his collection he has had since the early ‘60s and ‘70s. “Over the years I have continued to collect vehicles, many times several in a single year,’ he explains. “Certain vehicles have been collected due to their uniqueness, low mileage and special-interest value.”

Today, Mel shows 60-plus vehicles including Cadillac, LaSalle, Mercedes, Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Pontiac, Buick, Shelby Cobra, Bristol, Douglas, International, Desoto and Duesenberg. In 2005, he organized the vehicles into a private collection and opened the museum in 2008.

The 501 C3 nonprofit museum, 17641 N. Black Canyon Highway, is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, noon to 5:30 p.m. A $5 donation per person is appreciated; children are free. The museum is just north of the Bell Road exit of Interstate 17 on the frontage road.

Here are a few of Mel’s favorites:

1930 LaSalle Dual Cowl Phaeton — “I purchased this vehicle at auction approximately 15 years ago. This was my first big ‘old car’ acquisition. We have used this vehicle to run in two of the History Channel ‘Great Races’ (aka ‘Great American Race’) as well as locally in the Phoenix area for numerous car shows, parades with local dignitaries and special events with the local Cadillac club.

“This vehicle has also been featured in the Electric Light Parade in Phoenix several times. Misc. specifics: 348 cubic-inch V-8 engine, 100 horses, three-speed transmission. We also added a special overdrive unit for the Great Race which remains with the car today. This is perhaps my most favorite car to ‘drive.’”

1917 Douglas 6000 GVWR Dump Truck — “It has a four-speed transmission, hard rubber tires (no air) and two-wheel manual brakes. My uncle John gave me this vehicle when I was 16 years old; it had been used in Mayer mining onyx ore up until that time. I actually drove this vehicle at various times during 1970s in several Phoenix Jaycee functions.”

1965 Shelby Cobra — “I purchased this vehicle approximately ten years ago at auction with only six miles on it (today it still has only six miles). The vehicle was owned by Caroll Shelby, whom we were able to meet in person with and have dinner. The dash on this vehicle is also signed by Mr. Shelby. This would probably be one of the more significant vehicles on display in the museum today. It was a sad day when Mr. Shelby passed away earlier this year.”

1959 AC Bristol — “I purchased this vehicle around 1980 from a good friend, and it remained in storage for many years. There were reportedly only 21 of these vehicles ever produced. More importantly, this was the type of car that Caroll Shelby designed the basics of the Shelby Cobra from. In 2010, the car was restored to its present excellent condition with the assistance of a very good friend, Andy Vale.”

1922 Chevrolet Boat-Tail Race Car — “I purchased this vehicle in Florida approximately 20 years ago. At the time it had been disassembled and was in storage. We brought it back to Phoenix and after great efforts completed a full restoration just in time to run it in the 1999 Great American Race. I drove this vehicle from Atlanta to Phoenix during that race. What a trip! It has a four-cylinder engine, three-speed transmission with overdrive (we added the overdrive for the race). The boat-tail body was hand made by Mercury Body and remains with the vehicle today.”

1930 Duesenberg Boat-Tail Speedster — “I just acquired this exquisite vehicle, which is in as-new condition with only 75 miles. The vehicle is numbered J-249; it contains a 320-cubic-inch supercharged engine with dual overhead camshafts, a 3-speed unsynchronized manual transmission and hydraulic brakes. This vehicle must be seen in person to truly appreciate its beauty and flawless body. The car was rebuilt to its present condition by Kevin and Jason March. A special thanks goes to Leo Gephart for his assistance in obtaining this vehicle.”

For information about the Martin Auto Museum, visit the Web site,

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