Do revving car motors light your fire? Does vroom vroom make your heart go pitter-patter? Yes? No? No matter. You don't have to be a NASCAR fan, a gearhead, or even a car enthusiast to enjoy these motor vehicle museums in the South. The way these museums mix the historical, the odd and the just plain cool will almost certainly enthrall you.
Take it from me. I'm not a car guy and I've enjoyed visiting various motor vehicle museums in the region. I was entranced recently at Memory Lane Motorsports & Historic Auto Museum in Mooresville, N.C., a half-hour north of Charlotte, with its collection of not only vintage stock cars and other motor vehicles but also old bicycles, pedal cars, a sled or two, antique toys and the like.
Another time in Nashville, I found the Lane Motor Museum's collection of wildly exotic vehicles in a handsome interior space a real pleasure.
Jeff Lane, founder and president of Lane Motor Museum, not only understands the Southern cultural elements that went into establishing such a deep appreciation for motor vehicles in the first place but also why they should remain appreciated.
"The South is quickly establishing itself as the new center of automotive manufacturing in the U.S., so it seems fitting to have so many unique motor vehicle museums nearby to capture and document that history for the future," Lane said.
If you're into NASCAR or car racing in general as a sport, there are plenty of museums around dedicated primarily to stock car racing for you to see in the South. The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame is in Dawsonville, the big NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Charlotte, and there are multiple smaller NASCAR-centric museums and "garage" experiences in and around North Carolina's Queen City. But even if cars and trucks and such don't generally thrill you, I bet you'd enjoy at least one, maybe all, of the museums covered here.
Lane Motor Museum
Amphibious cars, an auto-canoe, flying "cars," 3-wheeled cars, rocket-powered cars, several French propeller-driven cars, race cars, off-road vehicles, a car that folds in half, lots of "normal" cars from the 1920s on – and that's just a sampling of the automobiles. There is also a section with row after row of graceful motorcycles and scooters, vintage and contemporary. Altogether, this entertaining museum has about 150 very unusual motor vehicles. The large building's high ceilings and handcrafted brick and maple wood flooring make for a very nice display space.
Lane Motor Museum, 702 Murfreesboro Pike, Nashville, 615-742-7445 www.lanemotormuseum.org
Wheels Through Time
It doesn't hurt that driving to Wheels Through Time takes you through the gorgeous landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains region of North Carolina, just five miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Once you get there, you'll likely be charmed by its collections of 4-cylinder motorcycles, military motorcycles, America's Rarest exhibition, the one-of-a-kind Woolery Bullet, the large and extraordinarily ornate 1973 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide Full Dresser, vintage motorcycles of all types and more. The museum is a great mix of authentic garage atmosphere with really stylish displays. Overall, there are 350 vehicles at the site. The facility, museum founder Dale Walksler and crew have been featured on Velocity TV channel's "What's in the Barn" and will be one of four operations featured on the History Channel's "American Restoration."
Wheels Through Time, 62 Vintage Lane, Maggie Valley, N.C., 828-926-6266 www.wheelsthroughtime.com
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum sits at the outskirts of Birmingham, Ala., on the 830-acre Barber Motorsports Park. The museum is mostly about motorcycles but also is home to what the operation claims is the world's largest Lotus car collection. It has over 1,200 vintage and modern motorcycles, always with at least half of them (and often substantially more) on display at any given time. There are upwards of 80 Harleys on display but the museum houses more than 200 manufacturers from 20 countries. Also on the expansive site is a world-class 16-turn 2.38-mile racetrack, home track for the Porsche Sport Driving School and site for numerous auto commercials. It's also home to the Barber Proving Grounds, a track that can be converted into different layouts and serves as a demonstration site for vehicle performance, and for kart racing, driving schools and safety instruction.
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, 6030 Barber Motorsports Parkway, Birmingham, Ala., 205-699-7275 www.barbermuseum.org
Memory Lane Auto Museum
Memory Lane has considerable NASCAR-related exhibits, but that's just a part of it. The museum's exhibit tracing stock car racing from its moonshine-running origins to small-time, then big-time professional racing is entertaining. But there's plenty for even those not into car racing to enjoy within its collection of 150-plus vehicles that trace the history of the automobile and also includes everything from vintage motorcycles and bicycles to antique tractors, gas pumps, toys and more. Plus, it has true Hollywood bona fides, having supplied props and vehicles for films such as "Days of Thunder," "Winter People," "Driving Miss Daisy" and others. The museum has been featured on ESPN, The History Channel and other television productions, as well.
Memory Lane Auto Museum, 769 River Highway, Mooresville, N.C., 704-662-3673 www.memorylaneautomuseum.com
International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum
One of the most surprisingly enjoyable motor vehicle museums in the South is Chattanooga's International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum, billed as the only museum in the world dedicated to the towing industry. If the idea makes you yawn, you might want to reconsider. It's actually a very engaging exhibit of about 20 antique and modern tow trucks along with memorabilia from the industry. And, according to museum officials, the museum houses one of the largest toy tow truck collections in the world. If you need another reason to check it out, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the tow truck.
International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum, 3315 Broad St., Chattanooga, 423-267-3132 internationaltowingmuseum.org