A driving passion

Museums explore America’s love affair with the automobile

By Patrick Smith


Corvettes come from all over the country to pose for the perfect picture.

Since the prehistoric age when the first wheel was chiseled from stone, mankind has been fascinated with motion. Forward motion. That connection between man and machine is embodied in the automobile, with its roaring engine giving humans the power to conquer distance and time. The power of man and machine, performing as one, gave birth to the wide-open road we love to traverse, along with a multitude of ways to work and play behind the wheel.

Long before NASCAR thrived as we know it today, the roar of the dirt track echoed through the South. The glory days of dirt tracks may have waned, but our interest in cars has not. In fact, the South is America’s new automotive corridor, with a number of automakers having located manufacturing plants in the region and thousands of workers earning a living on an automotive assembly line.

Scattered across the region are a number of unique museums that preserve our automotive history and help us to relive the milestones in our fascination with the car (and truck). Visit their websites, learn more, then plan a road trip to remind yourself of why the automobile just might be America’s greatest pastime.

Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum

The sleek lines and powerful facades of the ‘70s muscle cars are alive and well at Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville, Tenn. Widely considered an expert on the era, Floyd Garrett showcases his $8 million collection of more than 90 cars, including a 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 and a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle LS6 (Detroit’s highest factory horsepower car).

Address: 320 Winfield Dunn Parkway, Sevierville, TN 37876

Phone: 865-908-0882 • Website: www.musclecarmuseum.com

International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum

The first tow truck was built in Chattanooga in 1916. Started in 1995, the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum is a walk through the history of the wrecker. In addition to the array of displays and exhibits, there’s a Hall of Fame presentation and a memorial to those who have fallen during their service as recovery operators.

Address: 3315 Broad Street, Chattanooga, TN 37408

Phone: 423-267-3132 • Website: www.internationaltowingmuseum.org

While in Chattanooga, visit the Volkswagen plant, home of the Passat sedan. For more information email: tours@vw.com.

National Corvette Museum

The father of the Corvette, Belgian-born Zora Arkus-Duntov would surely be proud to see his creation thriving at the General Motors Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky., and the accompanying National Corvette Museum. The museum draws enthusiasts from around the world to admire its collection spanning the 60-year history of the American classic.

Address:  350 Corvette Drive, Bowling Green, KY 42101

Phone: 270-781-7973 • Website: www.corvettemuseum.org

Public tours of the assembly plant are also available. For more information visit: www.corvettemuseum.org/plant_tours

Lane Motor Museum

Uncommon cars find a home at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville. Celebrating a decade of operation, the museum showcases vehicles like the 1919 Leyat Helico, a propellor-driven car meticulously developed by aircraft engineer Marcel Leyat. Leyat believed propellor-driven cars would be simpler because they wouldn’t require a transmission, rear axle or clutch. Lane also hosts several unique motorcycle and truck designs.

Address:  702 Murfreesboro Pike, Nashville, TN 37210

Phone: 615-742-7445 • Website: www.lanemotormuseum.org

Rusty’s TV & Movie Car Museum

The unmistakable creativity of Hollywood, combined with American style and ingenuity, are presented at Rusty’s TV & Movie Car Museum in Jackson, Tenn. Who wouldn’t want to solve a riddle with Scooby Doo in the Mystery Machine, or fight crime in the Batmobile? Rusty’s is the place to see more than 25 cars used in television shows and movies.

Address:  323 Hollywood Drive, Jackson, TN 38301

Phone: 731-267-5881 • Website: www.rustystvandmoviecars.com

International Motorsports Hall of Fame & Museum

Teaming man with machine, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame & Museum satisfies the need for speed. This institution celebrates the achievements of drivers breaking the limits and setting new heights. Spanning three buildings next to the Talladega Superspeedway, the facility is home to the memories of drivers, engineers and designers who shaped the motorsports community.

Address: 3366 Speedway Boulevard, Talladega, AL 35160

Phone: 256-362-5002 • Website: www.motorsportshalloffame.com

Wheels of Yesteryear Car Museum

Lifelong collector Paul Cummings showcases more than 50 vintage muscle cars and trucks at the Wheels of Yesteryear Car Museum in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Opened in 2009, the museum shows off the raw power of the 1965 Pontiac GTO and the elegant simplicity of the 1949 Dodge pickup truck. It has quickly become a landing place for tourists and car aficionados alike.

Address: 413 Hospitality Lane, Myrtle Beach, SC 29579

Phone: 843-903-4774 • Website: www.wheelsofyesteryearmb.com

BMW Zentrum Museum

BMW admirers flock to see the past and catch a glimpse of the future at the Zentrum Museum in Greer, S.C., the home of BMW’s only American production facility. Visitors flow through the history of exquisitely engineered German cars, SUVs and motorcycles while interacting with educational exhibits, galleries and interactive displays.

Address: 1400 Highway 101 South, Greer, SC 29651

Phone: 864-989-5300 • Website: www.bmwusfactory.com/zentrum

Visit www.bmwusfactory.com to inquire about the BMW Performance Center’s “Ultimate Driving Experience” and factory tour.

Swope Auto Museum

The horsepower of the ‘70s or the fuel efficiency of today’s cars can’t match the solid steel and molded aluminum of the time-honored transportation at the Swope Auto Museum in Elizabethtown, Ky. A collection that spans from the early 1900s to the 1960s, Swope is home to classics like the 1914 Model T Ford Touring and the 1925 Pierce Arrow. Swope also sells antiques to passionate collectors.

Address: 100 North Dixie Avenue, Elizabethtown, KY 42701

Phone: 270-765-2181 • Website: www.swopemuseum.com