Tom Cotter isn’t big on gawking at cars in museums, not because he doesn’t find them fascinating but because he’d rather look for automotive treasure in the wild. In this episode of Barn Find Hunter, however, he makes an exception.
While in the Nashville, Tennessee, Tom and his crew meet Jeff Lane and get a behind-the-scenes tour of the unique collection of vehicles in the Lane Motor Museum.
“In the world of auto museums, there are generic museums, and they all seem to have a ’55 Thunderbird, and a Studebaker Avanti, and maybe a Model T,” Tom says. “… We’ve all seen those museums before.”
This is definitely not one of them. Instead, the Lane Museum is home to hundreds of the world’s most unusual cars, most of them on a smaller scale. These oddball vehicles have been a lifelong obsession for Jeff Lane.
“People often call me ‘The King of Weird,’” he says, “which I think is a good bad.”
Tom agrees. Venturing into the basement garage beneath the display area, Jeff explains, “Because we have 550 cars in the collection and we can only display about 125 at a time, we rotate about 60–70 cars per year.”
That means there’s a lot of treasured metal down there. After Jeff points out a 2/3-scale Mini Cooper, it’s time to check out some cars that were actually manufactured to fill a transportation need. First up is a 1928 Martin Aerodynamic, one of three built by Martin Aircraft Company of Garden City, New York. Made with a wood frame and covered in aluminum, it is powered by a rear-mounted, four-cylinder flathead engine and has a snub nose. Walking past a Panhard Formula 4 race car, Jeff shows Tom an all-original, Czech-built 1960 Skoda Octivia with fewer than 2500 miles; a 1938 Citroën Traction Avant Gazogene, which was converted from gasoline to coal power; and two more Martin cars—a chain-driven 1950 Statonette with an Austin four-cylinder engine, and a smaller 1930 Martinette with a windshield that rolls up and down.
The tour continues with a 1945 Erickson Streamliner, a front-wheel-drive one-off that looks like a smaller version of the Dymaxion; a French-built 1952 A. Morin Scootavia Tripousse, with a covered cockpit up front and a rear-mounted scooter that’s operated the driver; a German-built 1951 Hoffman with a motorcycle engine and three wheels; and a 1963 King Midget Roadster microcar with a 10-hp Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine and a top speed of 40 mph.
Outside the museum is the largest vehicle in Lane’s collection, a huge 1959 LARC-LX amphibious U.S. Army vehicle that he bought off eBay. Designed to offload freighters, it is 62 feet long, weighs 200,000 pounds (empty), and has tires that are 9 feet tall. Each wheel is powered by its own diesel engine, which together propel the LARC-LX to a top speed of 28 mph.
As we said, this is no ordinary automotive museum.
“If you’re in Nashville,” Tom says, “you have to visit this place.”
— Jeff Peek