Take A Look At The Rarely-Seen Automotive Library At The Quirkiest Car Museum In America

Lane Library

We get asked often: “What’s the most important tool at a car museum?” Most folks would guess an impact wrench, a two-post lift, or a multimeter. How about knowledge? My favorite tool here at Lane Motor Museum (where I’m the manager) involves printed material – tons of it! Books, manuals, periodicals, correspondence — these are our tools for unravelling the history and mystery of this eclectic car collection.

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The museum’s library (named for our longtime volunteer librarian, Robin Holab-Abelman) has about 116 feet of custom oak shelving housing well over 1,500 books on subjects ranging from Abarth and Aero to Zagato and Zündapp. As one might expect from us, non-American marque titles fill about half the shelves, with American titles, biographies, racing, and encyclopedias filling the rest. When Google and Wikipedia don’t provide what you want, or if they give conflicting information, I find it’s always a good idea to check against other sources, especially marque experts whenever possible. When proofreading our book, A Hobby Gone Wild!, I spent a good part of two years bouncing between our library, the Archives, and periodicals storage.

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The Library houses a full set of Automobile Quarterly, as well as my favorite place to start, the hefty two-volume The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile (aka “The Boolie”). So many times I have found that Wiki entries are often plagiarized directly from one or the other, in whole or in part. Seeing that so often shows me that it’s best to go right to the horse’s mouth. Once I can confirm through a reputable source, I then continue digging if possible, checking this source against that, until I feel I can tell a complete, or at least correct, story. The library is just about out of shelf space, but we have a plan for when the time comes.

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Next stop on the research train usually involves a trip to the Archives. Formerly our art gallery, we converted the 1,000 square foot space into a dedicated, climate-controlled archival storage space. Here, fire and water-resistant boxes hold every scrap of paper associated with the cars of the collection. Owner’s manuals, printed emails, period newspaper clippings, snapshots, oil-change receipts — whatever we have that was included with, or found in, the car when we got.

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Over 55 car club newsletters (The Neckarsulm News, anyone?) are filed away, as are dozens of CDs, DVDs, VHS and digital tapes. The Conger Collection of magazine clippings, the life’s work of an enthusiast who was way too organized, fills several more lateral files, while hundreds of drawings and blueprints and other oversized flat pieces fill three flat files.

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Other shelves house a bunch of scale models related to the collection, plus trophies and awards, while lanyards and hard-cards from past events decorate the windows. Last but not least are extensive holdings on both our Davis and Martin automobiles.

The Archives are less than half-full. The long-term plan is to digitize our archival collection and make it freely available to the public, but that it a giant undertaking that will take years to complete.

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Finally, we have another space dedicated primarily to periodical storage. Road & Track from the 1950s to present, Hemming’s going back decades, Autoweek, Car and Driver, Evo, Octane, Classic and Sports Car, and many, many other titles of more esoteric or short-lived publications are also found here. About 340 linear feet of shelf houses the periodicals, as well as sets of MOTOR manuals from the 1970s, NADA value guides dating to the late ‘40s, and so many one-off magazine-style publications that they fill their own shelf unit.

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This space is about two-thirds full, but there’s room to expand if print magazines continue production into the foreseeable future.

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All told, we have over 2,000 titles in our system; over 1,500 books, nearly 60 Club newsletters, almost 150 magazine titles, and over 250 shop manuals (and counting). I don’t think Snap-On has a rolling tool chest big enough for it all! As with our car collection, the museum continues to add books and magazines to the collection, especially rare and marque-specific books from Europe.

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18 Responses

  1. What an amazing collection!

    I have to admit i find older machinery related literature extra interesting.
    My favorite find to date is a magazine printed specifically for aircraft engineers in mid-WW2 England. To this day i cant imagine what mix of circumstances led to someone to decide that one infinitesimally small subset of secretive professionals needed a magazine IN THE MIDDLE OF A WAR.

    Just had a quick look on the internerds.The title might have been “FLIGHT,and the aircraft engineer’

  2. I used have a job at the University of Florida Library system. They had all kinds of magazines going back decades. I used to read the old 70’s and 80s Motor Trend and Road and Track magazines and marvel at how crappy cars were back then. And how amazing the ads were.

  3. Twilight Zone: Time Enough At Last. I would be like Burgess Meredith staring at all those books in wide eyed wonder, and then I would trip and break my glasses. Time to buy a spare pair. You’re doing the Lord’s work.

  4. You can never have enough books, through the years I’ve collected just about every issue of Hot Rod magazine (1948-recent), and books on most marques. Have many Rodder’s Journal, books on Hot Rod history (the Don Montgomery books are the Greatest), old manuals, etc. I’ve come across many at swap meets, antique stores, estate sales for a fraction of the retail value. Most recent a book on Etype Jag’s for $3.

  5. My favorite place in the Detroit Public Library was the Automotive section on the third floor, I would spend hours there.

    Man, I miss that.

    Thanks for the memories and for saving such wonderful resources.

  6. Neat to see those Automobile Quarterly. Dad had a subscription until the end and he’s still got the full set plus indexes. I remember they’d arrive in their little cardboard boxes and I loved to page through and marvel at the fantastic photographs.

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