“All of those cars were once just a dream in somebody’s head.”
–Singer Peter Gabriel, “Mercy Street”
By Gerry Barker
TACOMA_ If automobiles did indeed start as someone’s dreams, it took someone else with vision to collect them all in one place for the rest of us to enjoy. That place is right here: LeMay’s America’s Car Museum.
It’s named for Harold LeMay, a lifelong car enthusiast and businessman who assembled the world’s largest privately-owned collection of cars and other vehicles, totaling over 3,000. LeMay, who died in 2000, lived in nearby Spanaway, also hosted an annual car show at Marymount, featuring the LeMay Family Collection. It’s a tradition that continues — the 45th edition is scheduled in August.
On a recent cruise to the Puget Sound area, we had the opportunity to visit the museum on a tour excursion. Located near the Tacoma Dome, the imposing building is itself an architectural work of art. Fronted by floor-to-ceiling glass, its roof is an expanse of massive, wooden beams. Visitors start at the top and descend, parking garage style, to the other floors.
Above the entrance are the words, “When life throws you a curve, take it.” Good advice, even for non-car lovers.
But of course, you’re here to see the cars, and there are hundreds on display in the museum’s 165,000 square feet, including the current exhibit, “75 Years of Porsche.” The lobby area will whet your appetite. Here you’ll find a 1960 Corvette, the iconic American sports car, a 1951 Studebaker and a 1983 DeLorean, which we all know from the movie, “Back to the Future.”
Along with the cars, the museum also pays homage to other aspects of the American car experience through the years, including a display featuring “Lucky’s Garage.” It’s a permanent tribute to LeMay, whose nickname was “Lucky,” and the name of several of his businesses, including Lucky’s Towing Service.
As you peruse this amazing cavalcade of automotive artistry, there are other exhibits that capture America’s love affair with cars, including “Temples of Kitsch — The Folk Art of Roadside Attractions.” What kid doesn’t remember whining from the backseat for your parents to stop at the Snake Farm or the Big Ball of Twine?
One of our favorites was titled, “Are We There Yet? — The Route 66 Family Vacation.” That brought back memories of car trips past, when we all asked that same question, along with frequent requests for a bathroom or food. And if you had siblings sharing the back seat, there was the constant drama of “don’t get in my space.” Fun times.
There’s probably not another museum that spotlights our shared history like this one. Cars and road trips are embedded in our cultural DNA.