More than a century of automobile history awaits visitors to the LeMay-American Car Museum in Tacoma. The museum features more than 300 cars displayed by era or theme. Most of the cars are part of a collection of more than 3,000 vehicles that belonged to Harold LeMay, who died in 2000. About 100 cars are on loan from other collections.
Visitors get the feel of the five-year-old museum as they approach. The building features curves and a stainless-steel gleam with the entrance resembling a car’s grill.
The lobby catches your attention with vintage and unique vehicles just inside the entrance. An antique and a miniature car welcome visitors.
The museum features four levels of classic cars, ranging from the earliest models to solar-powered vehicles. Each level offers one or more themes or groups of vehicles.
The main floor features vintage vehicles, such as an antique fire department water truck. A 1940 police paddy wagon was purchased by LeMay in Hollywood. A 1934 tow truck features a tow truck driver and his dog. More contemporary BMWs join the antiques on display.
The museum, which is located near the Tacoma Dome, offers some great views of the area, including the skyline, bay and Olympic Mountains.
As we made our way through the museum, daughter Mallory and I were impressed with almost each vehicle on display. I was impressed by the choreography of arranging exhibits. You didn’t see a 1920s Model T next to a 1970s Corvette. They were positioned with similar vehicles.
When viewing cars from the early 1900s, you can really appreciate the advancements we’ve made through the decades. Can you imagine a 1903 Oldsmobile or a 1909 Hupmobile with a monitor to watch as you back up or with satellite radio? I’m sure some drivers were happy they had a spare tire.
A collection of cars from the 1930s was interesting. We saw a 1931 Ford, 1939 Chevrolet and a 1936 Cadillac.
A 1939 Packard highlights the quality of the “P” brand, along with Peerless and Pierce-Arrow. The cars were known for quality and style.
I absolutely loved a 1939 Lincoln Zephyr Hot Rod. I could see cruising the highway in it. I may have bought a pack of cigarettes, just to roll up in a T-shirt sleeve.
A 1926 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost was a more reliable model than its predecessors. The model was one of the longest running vehicles, next to the Model T.
Jumping ahead to the 1950s, the Dodge Meadowlark was last produced in 1954. From 1949-54, it was a big seller for the company. In 1949, it made up about a third of Dodge’s auto sales. The model on display is a replica of a car used for a road race.
I enjoyed checking out the vehicles from the 1950s. The cars ranged from the Meadowlark, Cadillac and Pontiac.
A display featuring a mechanic outside his garage – Lucky’s – is a salute to LeMay. The garage is based on his home. LeMay was a longtime car enthusiast. At one point, Guinness Book of World Records recognized his collection as the largest privately owned. It has since been surpassed. But, the garage seems a fitting tribute.
A “James Bond” vehicle made me drool. A 2003 Astin Martin looked inviting, with its 435-horsepower engine.
Our Hollywood theme stayed with us as we stopped by a couple of DeLoreans. I asked Mallory if she thought we could get the cars to 88 mph and travel “Back to the Future.” She gave me her customary “you’re crazy Dad and it’s time for your pudding” look.
We did “travel” back in time, all the way to Bedrock. The Flintstone’s car from the 1994 movie is on display.
So, we moved on. Since Lisa and I attended our first drag racing competition last summer in Hendricks County, Indiana, I have been excited to see Funny cars and dragsters. The LeMay-American Car Museum features a 1972 Dodge Challenger.
Lisa is obsessed with all things Route 66. I like the kitschy theme of America’s Mother Road, as well. The museum has an excellent exhibit, featuring cars from the era, as well as other backdrops and accessories.
While it’s great looking at the history of the automobile and transportation, it’s exciting to look at what the future may bring. The museum features automobiles powered by renewable energy sources, such as solar and electricity.
Microsoft developed a vehicle for Ford, using Windows technology. A 2012 Ford Mustang was nicknamed “Microstang.” It featured 1967 Mustang chassis with a contemporary engine. The car was equipped with Microsoft technology, some of which hadn’t been used before. Who knows where we go from here?
Mallory and I truly enjoyed the two or three hours we spent at the museum. Time flew as we took in all the exhibits. It’s possible to spend all day there.
We recommend visiting the LeMay-American Car Museum.
For more information on the museum, please visit www.americascarmuseum.org.