LeMay Museum, poised to open June 2, features significant automobiles

Like most collector car enthusiasts, Harold and Nancy LeMay began buying antique automobiles for one simple reason: They liked them. In the years that followed, their collection grew to include more than 3,000 vehicles, and they began to dream of sharing their cars with the world.

Harold LeMay died before that dream became a reality, but his wife vowed to see it through. And on June 2, the doors will swing open at LeMay: America’s Car Museum (ACM) in Tacoma, Wash. The massive collection has been pared down a bit, but the crème de la crème of automobile history remain – in a state-of-the-art 165,000-square-foot building situated on a nine-acre campus about 30 minutes south of Seattle.

The ACM Website offers a list of 41 “Featured Autos.” Here are some of our favorites, along with partial descriptions provided by the museum:

1916 Pierce-Arrow Brougham – Pierce-Arrow was considered the American equivalent of Rolls-Royce, making this one of the finest cars available in 1916. It represents the Nickel Period, referring to the plating process used on automobile brightwork. This 38-C is an especially important piece of automobile history since Nickel Period cars are often overlooked in favor of the earlier Brass Period and the later Chrome Period, and many Nickel Period automobiles have been lost.

1917 Simplex Crane Model 5 – With its custom body by Brewster & Co, NY (body no.1874), this particular Simplex Crane Model 5 was an imposing luxury automobile.  It featured all the amenities and convenience items one might expect in a car costing 10 to 15 times the average American’s annual salary. The Simplex’s longitudinal leaf spring suspension, one at each wheel, was state-of-the-art for the time. This particular car was ordered by John D. Rockefeller Jr. as a birthday present for his father, John D. Rockefeller Sr.

1919 Stanley Steamer – More than a century ago, steam power was the common driving force behind trains, ships and the manufacturing industry. Not surprisingly, the well-tested and powerful steam engine was engineered for use in the fledgling automotive industry. The 1919 Stanley Steamer could travel at a dizzying speed of 75 miles per hour, but it couldn’t travel more than 50 miles or so before needing a refill of water.

1926 Oldsmobile Holden 30D – In December 1923, an agreement was made between the General Motors Corp and Australia’s Holden Motor Body Builders for the manufacture of bodies for fully imported pre-assembled chassis for GM vehicles. This partnership allowed GM to avoid significant import duties, and as a result, Oldsmobiles could sell in Australia at a relatively low cost. The Oldsmobile 30 series built from 1923-27 proved to be very popular in Australia. 

1927 LaSalle 303 Roadster – Alfred P. Sloan Jr. became President of General Motors in 1923 and soon recognized there was a large price gap between Buick and Cadillac brands that was being filled by Packard. To address the loss of sales he conceived and launched the LaSalle on March 5, 1927, not as a toned down Cadillac or enhanced Buick but completely new and innovative car, both mechanically and in styling. The Model 303 was produced only in 1927 and 1928 with a base price was $2,635.

1930 Duesenberg Model J – Duesenberg surpassed any American made car of its time and was the peer of Europe’s finest: Mercedes, Hispano-Suiza or the Rolls Phantom II. The Duesenberg Model J was described as smooth, powerful, sophisticated, rugged and beautiful – the “World’s Finest Motor Car” – when it was launched at the 1928 New York Auto Show.

1932 Ford Deluxe – Once again Henry Ford made automotive history when in 1932 he introduced the Ford V-8. The new Flathead V-8 engine was the first low priced V-8 offered in the United States. It was a tremendous bargain – a Roadster, Coupe or Phaeton could be bought for less than $500.

1932 Auburn 8-100A – Sometimes referred to as a “Baby Duesenberg,” the Model 8-100A Auburn is a masterpiece of automotive design excellence. The Auburn is powered by a straight-8 cylinder Lycoming engine displacing 268 cubic-inches and producing 100 horsepower. The engine was mated to a three-speed transmission and utilized four-wheel mechanical brakes. A custom model, the 8-100A (“A” signified that it was custom), had added features such as side mounted spare tire, a Columbia dual ratio rear axle, chrome headlights and taillights, and ride control.

1946 Ford Half-Ton – Ford had just restyled its light duty pickup line for the 1942 models, which appeared in late 1941, when WWII commenced. When  Ford resumed building in late 1945, the design remained. Early buyers could only get delivery in one color: Village Green.

1953 Citroen 2CV – The French “people’s car,” conceived before World War II and secretly developed during the War, made its official appearance at the 1948 Paris Auto Salon. Designed under the direction of Pierre Boulanger, the car was intended for the paysans, the country farmers, and could “carry two farmers wearing clogs, plus 110 pounds of potatoes or a small cask of wine at a maximum speed of 30 mph.” This ‘53 Citroen was driven on the 90th Anniversary 1997 Peking to Paris Rally (9,317 miles) by LeMay Museum Board Member Burt Richmond. The vehicle bumpers, decals, overhead lights and seats were added/modified for the event.

1955 Chevrolet 3600 ¾-Ton – This pickup has the same cargo box as the long box half-ton truck, but is equipped with larger springs, axles, brakes and tires for larger carrying capacity. The wrap-around windshield was the first offered by any domestic truck manufacturer.

1956 Messerschmitt KR200 – Messerschmitt was a West German aircraft manufacturer that built micro-cars for nearly two decades. Introduced in the spring of 1955, the KR200 was a three-wheeled 2-seat, rear-wheel drive car that became known as “Cinderella Coffins.” The total body length is 99 inches by 48 inches, and the car capable of speeds of 60 mph.

1958 Pontiac Bonneville Custom – After Bunkie Knudsen became Pontiac’s manager in 1956, he began transforming Pontiac from a rather boring General Motors family car, priced just above Chevrolet, to a performance car. The first step was the face-lifted 1957s, with higher performance V-8s and styling that deleted the silver streak chrome strips and added a massive grill plus two-toned side spears. The ultimate 1957 Pontiac, the mid-year Bonneville convertible, took its name from a 1954 GM Motorama concept car. The 1957 Bonneville had a 310 hp fuel-injected V-8 and a price of $5,782. Limited to one car per dealer, only 630 were sold.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray – When the 1963 Corvette was introduced in late 1962, it featured an all-new body style derived from a race car built by GM styling guru Bill Mitchell. The new styling was a big hit, with its angular body with a minimum of brightwork and a distinctive split rear window on the coupe version. But the split window also hindered a driver’s rear view, so it was restyled the following year.

1965 Bristol FLF Lodekka Bus – Red double-decker buses have become an icon of Britain. Bristol-built buses have a reputation the world over for longevity and reliability.

1965 Lotus 35 – The Lotus 35, of which just 22 were built, was designed to be a multi-purpose car, capable of competing in Formula 2, Formula 3 or the Tasman Cup Series. This particular Lotus 35 was a European Formula 2 race car in the 1965 and 1966 seasons (chassis number 35 F18) and was run with a 1-liter Cosworth engine. Later outfitted with a 4.7 Ford Cobra V-8 engine for a Formula A event at Willow Springs (Calif.) on March 9, 1968, it won its class with Vernon Shields at the wheel.

1983 DeLorean DMC 12 – John DeLorean, the division manager at Pontiac who claimed responsibility for the GTO and the Firebird Trans Am, started the DeLorean Motor Corporation with the financial assistance of the British Government. DeLorean vehicles were produced in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as a major aid to rampant unemployment there. The DMC 12 was a rear-engined car with a composite molded underbody, steel backbone chassis and gull-wing doors. It was never very popular until it was used in the movie “Back to the Future” – long after DeLorean has stopped production.

And one for fun…

1994 Flintmobile George Barris Kustom – George Barris, often called the “King of Kustomizers,” built this vehicle for the 1994 feature motion picture “The Flintstones.” The movie was based on the popular TV cartoon series, and was recognized for its special effects and art direction. Barris’ ingenious Flintmobile’s design was inspired by the animated cartoon series’ foot-powered version. Too heavy to be foot-propelled, this vehicle has an electric motor. Golf cart mechanicals were mated with a custom-built steel square and rectangular-tube frame, and a mostly fiberglass body was built over it.

For more information visit www.lemaymuseum.org.


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