When Jason approached Lane Motor Museum about contributing to The Autopian, I had one thought: If I were a regular schmo who knew nothing about weird car museums and the weird cars therein, would I want to read that? Here’s hoping that you do. For those who have been following Torch and his wacky videos in the past, you have an idea of what Lane Motor Museum’s collection contains.
For those who bumped into this website looking for the history of automatons or whatever and have NO idea what Lane Motor Museum is, let me give you a quick history.
The museum is the vision of director and founder Jeff Lane, the most famous person from Romeo, Michigan who is NOT Kid Rock. His dad Gene was very into MGs, and passed on his passion for rusty European things to a young Jeff. The museum still displays Jeff’s first car, a 1955 MG TF, that he and his dad began restoring when Jeff was 12. Flash forward to the late 1990s, and Jeff realized his collection of odd and unique cars was approaching 80, strewn between his Nashville home and a couple of local warehouses. Sharing his collection with the public would require one large space, he thought, and the museum format was the best way to do that.
When the museum opened its doors in October of 2003, its predominately European collection stood at about 100 cars. They could all fit on the main floor at once. As of this writing, we have over 540 cars, 30 or so motorcycles and scooters, 10 airplanes, approximately 40 bicycles, and a few canoes and other watercraft. We only have room to display 150 cars at a time. We rotate the big exhibits once a year. This quirky, non-profit car museum, located in the heart of country music and hot-ass chicken, holds the largest European car collection in North America, with some interesting American one-offs and a growing JDM collection.
When I describe the Lane’s collection to new people, I tell them that the museum is kind of like the Island of Misift Toys, you know, from the 1960s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer T.V. special. If a mode of transportation doesn’t fit in a conventional car museum, it’s probably here (or will be here one day). I genuinely believe that many of the cars in the collection would have been cut up for scrap metal, but some brave/lazy/dumb soul thought “eh, maybe this is worth something” and decided to save it. It is to those people that we at the museum are eternally grateful. Many of the cars in the collection are regular, everyday drivers, and not necessarily weird or odd cars…they’re just not familiar to American eyes. That makes them extraordinary, even if the car itself isn’t anything extraordinary. “Can you believe someone bought a Citroën LNA to drive to work? Everyday?! Crazy, right?”
In this recurring series, our museum staff will be bringing you a look into how our wacky car museum works, with articles including but not limited to: behind-the scenes stories, what’s going on in our restoration shop, what it takes to change out big exhibits, new additions to the collection, what museum education is and does, profiles of our weirder cars, profiles of our more well-known cars, driving impressions, how to treat your tour guide, and much, much more.
For example, this past Saturday was our annual Start Your Engines Day. We start various engines every hour so that guests can hear a variety of different engine notes. This is a museum volunteer-led event (as opposed to museum paid staff), and one of my duties is volunteer coordinator, so it was my job to train the volunteers on how to start the engines. Our Wankel rotary engine example was a 1975 Hercules W-2000, one of the few rotary-powered motorcycles ever produced. The Herc requires a two-stroke fuel/oil mixture; later W-2000s had an oiling system. I had instructed everyone to start all of the engines before we opened at 10 A.M., so that they weren’t demonstrating a cold engine on the first try. By the time I got there, everything had started just fine, except for the Hercules. I diagnosed a dead battery.