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MOTOR TORQUE with David Berthon

On the 2nd of June a new automotive museum opened in Tacoma, Washington, around 50 kilometres south of Seattle, depicting America's way of life through the 20th.Century with virtually every American marque on display.


The LeMay-America's Car Museum spread over 15,300sq.metres at a cost of US$60 million will offer a real difference according to the Curator and CEO David Madeira. “There are more exotic and important collections in terms of wealth and rarity, but this one's America." he said. "It's Smithsonian."


The bulk of the museum is made up of cars from Tacoma business man Harold LeMay. Before his death at 81 in 2000 LeMay had amassed over a 40-year period what was considered to be the largest privately owned collection of cars, motorcycles, trucks tractors, horse-drawn vehicles and automobilia in the world.


Having made a fortune from garbage collection the enterprising American claimed to have fallen in love with the automobile from an early age. In 1998, with his collection then numbering 3200 vehicles stored in 52 buildings and warehouses, LeMay suggested he simply couldn't stop buying cars - "I'm like an alcoholic – I can't have just one more."

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Inside the main hall


Importantly, the new museum's aim is to showcase the unique relationship between the automobile and America and, according to Madeira, “to celebrate cars that made the country great."


The Board of Directors reflects the importance of the museum's investment and aims and includes amongst others Moray Callum, Ford's North American Design Director, Johnny Rutherford, the Indianapolis 500 Champion, Keith Martin, publisher of the collector car price bible, Sports Car Market, James France, Vice-Chairman of the International Speedway Corporation and Nancy LeMay, Harold's widow and the owner of LeMay Investments.


Spread over a 3.6 hectare site beside Tacoma's Sports Dome the Museum will house around 500 vehicles at any one time. Around a third of the area will be taken up by a multi-purpose outdoor venue for car shows, auctions, swap meets, car club events and new car launches as well as a world class ‘Concours d'Elegance.'


According to Madeira, “the museum is not only designed to preserve and celebrate the cars but to keep them alive. Our Motto is ‘Celebrate America's love affair with the car' and so this is an active place where we are having fun. We're doing car events, and we're doing dances, we're doing movies and we're racing – and the kids are playing."


The innovative design of the four-storey museum incorporates a heritage display ramp which winds its way up around the three display galleries, an innovation and technology experience, a theatre in-the-round and a racing experience in-the-round.

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The LeMay collection


In keeping with modern museum practice the LeMay America's Car Museum will also include an interactive zone for children with a number of vehicle simulators and hands-on activities. It also incorporates an education centre, classrooms, a theatrette, restaurant, retail store and banquet space for up to 500.


"The museum is designed to show cars, store cars and move cars", suggests Madeira. Beneath the display space a multi-bay garage will be used to preserve and restore vehicles and prepare displays, exhibits and events while there is storage space for nearly 700 vehicles which although not active can be viewed by the public.


Collector car buffs will also be able to store their cars at the Museum for a fee while they can access a special clubhouse where they can mix with
like-minded enthusiasts.

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The outside of the museum


Until now the bulk of the LeMay collection has been housed at the historic Marymount Academy set on 40 hectares in nearby Spanaway, Washington, formerly a boy's military school, and purchased from the Sisters of St. Dominic in Tacoma by LeMay in the late 1980's. It will continue to house the excess cars from the collection.

Around 425,000 visitors are expected to visit the innovative museum each year as well as cater for around 100,000 of school-age. "This isn't your father's car museum", says Madeira. “This is modern and forward-thinking and always changing. In addition to showcasing more than a century of automotive history we're going to cover the future of transportation."