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The 1930 L'Eclair and the 1932 Helicron, from the Forgotten Age of propeller cars.
The 1930 L'Eclair and the 1932 Helicron, from the Forgotten Age of propeller cars.

Lane Motor Museum

Field review by the editors.

Nashville, Tennessee

Mention car museum and Nashville together and you might envision a cluster of pimped-out Country Music superstar cars, or maybe a Route-66-style "memory lane" horde meant to tug at the sappy heartstrings of the heartland.

The all-wood Martin Stationette was
The all-wood Martin Stationette was "America's economy car of the future" in 1954.

Oh, how wrong you would be.

The Lane Motor Museum is unlike any other car museum in the USA -- more like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's Island of Misfit Toys, although director Jeff Lane might wince at that comparison. Jeff, with an engineering background, likes odd vehicles, and many of the examples in his museum throw a monkey wrench into what most Americans think of as a "car." A car that only weighs 250 pounds? A car that runs on coal? They're here. Cars powered by airplane propellers? Jeff has four different examples, and a propeller-powered bicycle, too.

"I'm interested in what people tried," said Jeff. "Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't." Jeff walked us through his tiny European cars, several of which found their way into his collection from the now-gone Microcar Museum. "They didn't build these things to be nutty," Jeff said. "They built them because they made sense in their world. Why would someone build a car if they didn't think it was a good idea?"

Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car steers from the rear. It's over 20 feet long but has only four seats.
Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car steers from the rear. It's over 20 feet long but has only four seats.

A good example of a misunderstood car is the museum's two-headed 1952 Citroen. Although it looks like something from a circus or a Shriner's parade, it was used in France for 20 years by a fire-and-rescue team, which would have been stuck on medieval-era roads and streets where it was too narrow to turn around -- if they didn't have a two-headed car.

Some of the museum's microcars, seen from the cockpit of a 1957 Messerschmitt.
Some of the museum's microcars, seen from the cockpit of a 1957 Messerschmitt.

Propeller-powered cars also seem insane, but Jeff understands their logic. "They weren't great, or even practical," he said, "but they worked if you lived someplace that was flat, with not a lot of other cars or stop signs." We wondered how many luckless pedestrians were shredded by the blades, but Jeff said that propellor cars were so incredibly loud that people had plenty of time to get out of their way. "Electric cars are a hundred times more likely to kill people," he said. "The guy in the electric car is texting on his phone; you never hear him; you're dead before you know it."

Another category of car in Jeff's collection were built by dreamers who thought they'd become auto kingpins, such as the mirrorlike Hewson Rocket, the wooden half-a-car Martin Stationette, and the three-wheeled Davis Divan -- which looks like an elongated bumper car and could seat four people across. All of them failed. Then there are cars built by individuals with mechanical skill and a simple need for transportation, such as the Von Dutch Rocket Car fashioned from a jet fighter fuel tank, and the 1951 Hoffmann built out of parts from junkyards and hardware stores. "The Hoffman is an example of a really terrible car, a horrible car, but I think it's beautiful," said Jeff. "At 20 mph you're glad it doesn't go any faster."

Jeff Lane with his gargantuan LARC LX. It has four motors, one for each wheel.
Jeff Lane with his gargantuan LARC LX. It has four motors, one for each wheel.

The Davis Divan, marketed as
The Davis Divan, marketed as "A Triumph of American Free Enterprise," flopped.

All of the cars in the museum are driven on local streets twice a year "for exercise," said Jeff, including the super-streamlined Dymaxion, designed by Buckminster Fuller in the 1930s before he turned his attention to geodesic domes. "You have to focus 110 percent on what you're doing," said Jeff of the Dymaxion driving experience. "The steering is very problematic, but the real hazard is everybody else. They want to get next to you and in front of you and take a picture. You never have any room."

(We experienced similar road-love hazards years ago when we spent a week driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.)

The museum fills an old bread factory as well as its cavernous off-limits basement, where Jeff stores the hundreds of cars that he can't fit onto the exhibit floor (The cars are frequently rotated in and out of display). Out back sits what may be the largest vehicle in any museum anywhere, the 100-ton LARC LX, a U.S. Army behemoth designed to haul boatloads of soldiers and equipment over coral reefs. For a time Jeff's fun-loving staff would crush normal cars with the LARC in the museum parking lot, but they stopped when they realized that it would be difficult to repair a punctured nine-foot-tall tire.

"People love the craziness of it," said Jeff of his collection. "I've had people tell me they've been to a hundred car museums in the United States, and they walk in here and say, 'Golly, three-quarters of these cars I never knew existed.'"

Lane Motor Museum

702 Murfreesboro Pike, Nashville, TN
East side of the city. From the east: I-40 exit 213. Turn left onto Spence Lane. Drive a half-mile. Turn right onto US Hwy 41/Murfreesboro Pike. Drive a half-mile. You'll see the museum on the right. From the west: I-40 exit 212. Keep left at the fork to merge onto Rundle Ave., then turn right onto Fesslers Lane. Drive a half-mile. Turn left onto Murfreesboro Pike. Drive a half-mile. The museum is on the left, just past the railroad overpass.
Th-M 10-5 (closed Tu-W) (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $12, seniors $8, youth 6-17 $3, under 6 free.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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