Wednesday, March 11, 2015

On the Road: LeMay - America's Car Museum

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

A few weeks ago I wrote about my recent visit to the LeMay Family Collection in Tacoma, Washington. From there I traveled to its sister museum next to the Tacoma Dome: the LeMay- America's Car Museum (ACM). The two museums are very different but have one major thing in common. That is, a LOT of vehicles to see.

Many of the cars at the ACM are from Harold LeMay's estate. Others are from private collections. The building itself is huge (165,000 square feet) and there are four floors to cover. The upstairs gallery is very spacious, presently featuring a display of Ford F-Series trucks and some beautiful antiques and classics from Harold LeMay's collection. From there I followed a ramp lined with an interesting exhibit on Custom Coachwork down to the first lower level. Each of the lower floors features autos parked in rows (in no discernible order), exhibits, and interactive rooms such as a children's play area, slot car track, and racing simulators.

The cars in the centers of the lower floors had some real jewels hidden in the rows. Because they were parked nose out in between pillars, I couldn't get good photos of them. Some lacked signs or just had a laminated identification label that was hard to read if the light was reflecting off it. A few had more informative signs. As someone who writes the signs for our museum, I can't imagine the work involved to do so for 350 vehicles, but do hope they can eventually display more information about the vehicles. Fortunately, the ACM has a lot of helpful docents on hand to answer questions, just as did the LeMay Family Collection.

Each of the two ramps between the floors was lined with informative exhibits, including British Invasion, Route 66, and Alternate Propulsion. The latter included steam and electric cars (like the 1912 Standard Open Tourer "Electrique" at right), plus a solar-powered racer. I'm just surprised the Flintstones car wasn't parked in this section!

1994 Barris Custom "Flintmobile"
One could easily spend all day at the ACM reading the exhibits, studying the vehicles, and taking a break to play, or eat in the cafe. It was a bit of overload for me to try to take in both it at the LeMay Family Collection in one day. Regardless, I recommend that you do see both museums if you visit the Seattle-Tacoma area, not just the ACM. Each offers a completely different visitor experience. I loved the history of the Marymount facility that houses the LeMay Family Collection, and wandering through the buildings there was like I was on a fun, barn-find expedition through Harold LeMay's estate. The vast upper level of the ACM building made me feel as if I was in a very fancy, oversized showroom. As Eric LeMay said to me, it's like comparing a Nordstrom store to Sears. Both would make good anchor stores in a mall. One is all shiny and upscale, while the other is less formal but just as fun.

Be prepared to pay $5 to park at the ACM and a fee to try out a racing simulator or the slot cars. They offer admission discounts for AAA members and State Farm policy holders.

1906 Cadillac Model M Tulip Tourer

1930 Duesenberg Model J Convertible

Slot Car Track

1907 Pierce Great Arrow

1921 Stutz Model B Fire Engine
1960 Nash Metropolitan
1899 Baldwin Steamer

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