Car museums play an important role in the world of automotive enthusiasts by offering the opportunity to meet your heroes and see exceedingly rare or special cars for a simple price of admission. Many of the cars across museums tell the story of the evolution of the automobile, give honor to race winning vehicles, or showcase immaculate designs of the past so that we might be inspired for the future.
However, there is one car museum that does not honor the best designs, famous cars, or practically any car you’ve ever heard of. In fact, the Lane Museum in Nashville, TN does the exact opposite. This one of a kind car museum honors the weird, the forgotten, and the outright wrong of the automobile in the best way possible.
The collection resides within an old Sunbeam Bread factory that houses anything you can imagine, but very little of which seems like it would have been a good idea to actually create. With everything from alternative powered cars (such as the propeller powered 1932 Helicron), to amphibious vehicles, flying oddities, and often times one person’s dream of the automobile that instead turned out to be a nightmare.
Beginning with a donation of 70 vehicles in 2002 from Jeff Lane, the museum has grown to over 500 vehicles of which they rotate ~150 to be on display at any given time. Jeff says that about 90% of the collection runs on a good day, but with a collection so large, there’s always work, restorations, or maintenance to be done. Just about everything in the museum is unique, with many of the vehicles are arranged by country of origin with their national flags hanging from the rafters.
Jeff Lane is particularly fond of Tatras, Martins, special one-off vehicles that never made it to production, and vehicles that are extra small or incredibly large! The smallest vehicle in the collection is a Peel P50 (listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s smallest street legal car) and the largest is the LARC-LX, an amphibious cargo vehicle used by the U.S. Army that is ~20 ft tall, ~27 ft wide, ~63ft long, and weighs 100 tons! Needless to say, the LARC-LX does not fit inside the museum, but instead is parked in the museum’s back lot which means it can easily be seen from space.
The LARC-LX can easily be made out in a satellite picture of the musuem! Photo courtesy of Google Maps
One of the more “unique” vehicles of the collection is the 1928 Martin Aerodynamic. This retro-futuristic vehicle was an aerodynamic, four-seater concept car that was well ahead of the competition in terms of streamlining being applied to the automobile. It features an aluminum body, pontoon-shaped underbody, a tapered rear end, minimal protruding trim, and a rounded front end for as little air resistance as possible. The Martin Aerodynamic is powered by a 4-clinder, water-cooled rear engine that pushed the car to a 107mph top speed and features an airplane-type suspension, allowing it to forgo the use of springs!
The Aerodynamic was vigorously promoted to get Martin off the ground, evening being show at the 1932 National Automobile Show in New York, but sadly Martin’s efforts were not rewarded with success. Martin eventually succumbed to the same fate as many other small manufacturers during the onset of the Great Depression and went out of business before being able to create more Aerodynamics, leaving this as the sole example of a car perhaps too advanced for its time.
The Lane Motor Museum offers an insightful glimpse into many of the cast away ideas of automotive progress and gives a home to many vehicles that history chose to forget. Whether you’ve been in the automotive industry for several decades or you’re just getting into the hobby, the Lane Motor Museum will have something new to show you and help you understand just how many tries it took to get cars to where they are today!