The Tupelo Museum is closed, but these 8 great cars could now be yours
The Tupelo Automobile Museum is no more. Opened in December 2002 by Tupelo native Frank Spain, the 120,000-square-foot Mississippi museum closed its doors at the end of March, and Bonhams will auction the expansive collection of 174 cars and automobilia April 26–27.
Spain, founder of NBC affiliate WTVA in Tupelo, began building his classic car collection in 1974. He and his wife, Jane, opened the museum to share the collection with the public. The couple hoped it would become self-sustaining and eventually support educational scholarships, but that never happened. Jane Spain has been running the museum since Frank Spain died in 2006. She told Car and Driver in February that the museum became too expensive to remain open.
“Several automobile museums have closed over recent years,” she said. “Part of it is a cultural change around the history of the automobile, and it not being as interesting to the younger generation. As cars have become more similar, the appreciation for cars having personalities or special attributes that people were proud of have really diminished.”
Spain said she is “not particularly a car person,” and although practically every car conjures happy memories, she said, “It’s time they had new adventures.”
The Tupelo collection spans more than 115 years, from an 1886 Benz replica to a 2003 Toyota Prius.
“Overall, the estimates seem reasonable,” says Andrew Newton, Hagerty’s valuation editor. “Bonhams will be looking to capitalize on the strong results it achieved with Brass Era Cars last month. Even though Tupelo, Mississippi, isn’t as alluring as Amelia Island, the numerous pre-1920s motorcars on offer out of this group should attract the right collectors.”
As for later prewar cars, there are offerings from most of the great marques (Packard, Duesenberg, Hispano-Suiza, Stutz, Pierce-Arrow, Lagonda, etc.), plus some more affordable Fords and Buicks. Postwar, there are a lot of projects and cars with needs.
Among the notable cars are an all-original 1904 White steam car, a 1914 Hispano-Suiza boattail speedster, 1916 Owen Magnetic Tourer, 1929 Cord L-29 Cabriolet, 1930 Hispano-Suiza H6B Coupe Chaffuer, 1934 Duesenberg Model J, 1936 Lagona LG45 Tourer, and a gargantuan 1939 Cadillac V-16 limousine.
“Looks like they’re running everything pretty much in chronological order by model year, which is unusual, and with everything at no reserve it will be really interesting to see what happens,” Newton says.
Translation: this could be a bargain goldmine. These 8 cars grabbed our attention and held it:
1921 Martin Wasp Model B Rickshaw Victoria
Hand-built in Bennington, Vermont, this unusual motorcar is sure to turn heads. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was the best-known Wasp owner, although the movie star did not own this one.
Powered by a 355-cubic-inch Wisconsin T-head four-cylinder engine (not to be confused with a Wisconsin cheese-head engine), the Martin Wasp Model B Rickshaw Victoria is one of only three known to exist. Built by Bennington resident William Gregg in the late 1940s from leftover Wasp parts that he purchased directly from founder Karl H. Martin, Gregg sold the “good as new” car shortly thereafter for $800. How great of a deal was that? That’s about $9350 today.
1948 Tucker 48
One of seven Tuckers to undergo endurance testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1948, Tucker #1028 is one of 47 survivors. It was the third car built after Tucker relocated the gasoline tank from the rear of the car to the front, a change necessitated by the installation of an automatic transmission. It comes with an original company stock certificate and fitted luggage.
1985 Tritan A2 Aero Car
Pizza anyone? Want to get it delivered for next to nothing? How’s 80 miles per gallon sound? One of 10 such vehicles designed by Tritan Ventures of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Dominos, the Tritan A2 Aero car has a “drag coefficient of just 0.15 while simultaneously achieving immense stability thanks to airfoils that help create further forward thrust thanks to a sail effect.” That’s a lot of thanks.
The A2 is powered by a 440-cc air-cooled Syvaro rotary engine that produces 30 horsepower. With its monocoque and largely fiberglass construction, the Aero car has a curb weight of 900 pounds. Fuel efficiency goes down considerably with an order of two extra-large meat-lovers pizzas.
1964 Leslie Special
One of four “Leslie Specials” built for the 1964 movie The Great Race, starring Tony Curtis as hero Leslie Gallant III, this unusual vehicle was constructed from scratch in Warner Brothers’ prop shop. The four brass-era “Leslies” all began as 1957 Ford F100 pickups that were stripped to their frames and fitted with contemporary Ford 260-cu-in V-8s and automatic transmissions. This is car #3.
Considering The Great Race cost $12 million to produce—making it the most expensive comedy at the time by nearly double the budget—it’s likely that no expense was spared on the star cars. In fact, this might be a fun vehicle to take on the actual Great Race, which will be held on the West Coast this year. In fact, the 2019 race finishes in Riverside, California, only 60 miles east of Hollywood. It plays out like a movie script, doesn’t it?
1967 “Big Daddy” Roth “Wishbone”
It’s a wishbone, but please don’t pull it apart. That’s what its famous designer and builder, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, wanted, believe it or not. As the story goes, Roth was not a fan of his Volkswagen rear-engine creation, and Revell, which produced miniature toy models of his cars, thought the thin front suspension components were too delicate for their models. So Roth ordered the car to be cut up and tossed.
The car was, in fact, cut into pieces, but Dirty Doug, a member of Roth’s team, liked the Wishbone and asked Roth if he could keep the remains. Roth relented, as long as Dirty Doug promised to never reassemble it. Cross my heart and hope to die. Of course, Dirty Dog eventually reassembled it anyway, much to Roth’s chagrin. Guess it doesn’t pay to trust a dude with the word “Dirty” in his name.
Regardless, you gotta give Doug some props. He’s clearly a magician with duct tape and Super Glue.
1974 Volkswagen SP2
At the risk of alerting potential bidders to the awesomeness of this VW and subsequently jacking the price beyond our budget, there’s something (or a lot of things) alluring about this 1974 Volkswagen SP2. Yes, it was built in Brazil (which, by all means, suggests you should steer clear of it). And yes, its 1.7-liter air-cooled flat-four doesn’t provide much power (so totally steer clear of it). And yes, a water-cooled engine replacement is looming (What more do you need to know? STEER CLEAR, PEOPLE!).
Why did we feature this awful, unattractive car in the first place? We didn’t. Nothing to see here.
1982 George Barris “Barrister”
This is an automobile fit for a king. Or, more accurately, built by a king and fit for Liberace, the greatest sequin-adorned pianist this side of Elton John and his Bedazzler.
One of only a dozen built, the “Barrister” was created by George Barris, the legendary King of Kustoms. The 1982 Corvette-based custom job was stripped, lengthened, and fit with a retro-chic body that features a long hood, faux side pipes, v-shaped windscreen, and a bold grille. Liberace owned this Barrister, but Bo Derek and James Caan also got theirs.
Maybe it’s time for you to get yours?
1976 Lincoln Continental Mark IV
Considering Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley, the museum had to have at least one car with a clear connection to the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, right? You betcha.
Elvis purchased this stunning 1976 Continental for Denver Police Captain Jerry Kennedy after Kennedy provided protection for Elvis during performances in Colorado. Accompanying documents show Elvis paid $13,386 for the Lincoln (nearly $61,000 today) in January 1976, 19 months before he died of a heart attack.
Frank Spain added the Mark IV to his collection in 1995; the metallic blue car has fewer than 10,000 miles on the clock. The Lincoln’s front and rear drum brakes are unusually soft due to their blue suede shoes. (Wait for it… It’ll make sense eventually.)
The 1921 Martin Wasp Model B Rickshaw sold for $51,520; 1948 Tucker, $1,985,000; 1985 Tritan A2 Aero, $44,800; 1964 “Leslie Special,” $112,000; 1967 Big Daddy Roth “Wishbone,” $95,200; 1974 Volkswagen SP2, $33,600; 1982 George Barris “Barrister,” $51,520; and 1976 Lincoln Continental Mark IV, $47,040.