The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN displays more than classic cars. Experience history viewing unique and rare collector cars from around the world.
When Lane Motor Museum claims to have “unique cars from A to Z,” it’s more than just a clever marketing slogan. A walk through the Nashville museum takes you on a tour of obscure marques and makes that are mostly foreign and largely unknown to Americans. And, yes, the collection literally includes manufacturers from A (Amphicar) to Z (Zündapp) — almost. “We are missing E and Q, but we are working on those,” explains Jeff Lane, the museum’s founder.
With cars dating from the 1920s to modern times, the museum proudly features cars most people have never heard of — much less seen. It started simply enough with Lane’s passion for cars. His father was a fan of the MG badge, and as a teenager, Lane restored a 1955 MG TF, which became his prized possession and is on display at the museum.
He later developed an interest in the French-made Citroën line, which wasn’t sold in the U.S., and his collection now includes more than 40 of the French vehicles, ranging from racers and rally cars to all-terrain vehicles and a 1997 electric model.
“I started collecting cars in earnest in my early 40s, and before long, I had about 75 cars in different buildings,” he recalls. “I decided I either needed to put all of them together in one entity or stop collecting. And I immediately decided I wanted to do the former, not the latter.” In 2002, he opened the non-profit Lane Motor Museum, and the collection continues to grow.
More on the Floor
At any given time, Lane Motor Museum has about 150 cars on display, and another 350 or so stored in a vault beneath the building. A couple of hours browsing the museum provides you with an amazing array of eye candy if you love cars, history, or just things that make you go “wow.” From sleek showstoppers like the yellow-and-white 1939 Peugeot 202 Berline Decouvrable and the stately pair of 1930s-era Panhard Levassors to a hand-built, metal one-off called the Erickson Streamliner, the vehicles on display never fall into the category of ordinary.
That’s not too surprising, given that Lane’s interest in cars has always leaned toward obscure European models. “Most of what we have are European cars, and if we do have American cars, they tend to be oddballs. We have a lot of microcars, which most people aren’t familiar with but really seem to like.”
Take, for example, the 1931 Mochet Velocar, a three-wheel car made of wood and vinyl. The lightweight vehicle was powered by a 2-horsepower rear engine combined with the manual pedaling power of its two passengers. Equipped with bicycle tires and a single handbrake that was applied to the rear tire, it never set any land-speed records, but it may have made its owners feel like the Flintstones. The museum suggests this could be viewed as the first hybrid, as it required the passengers to pedal the vehicle to engage the one-cylinder engine.
That unique model is just one of many automotive inventions that will have you snapping photos and maybe even scratching your head. Amphibious cars, such as the German-built 1964 Amphicar, operate on both land and sea, and a canoe/bicycle mash-up called the Autocanoe requires riders to pedal rather than paddle.
On a Wing and a Prayer
“People really enjoy the propeller-powered cars, too,” says Lane. “There were several airplane [manufacturers] who tried to move into making cars, and it just didn’t work.” It did, however, lead to some pretty spectacular, albeit unlikely, designs. Imagine taking to the open road in a 1919 Leyat Helico, which looks like a biplane on four wheels. The huge propeller in the front was designed to help lift the aluminum vehicle off the street and into the skies, but production of the 18-horsepower vehicle never got off the ground.
Other propeller-driven cars, such as the hand-built 1932 Helicron from France, stand as testament to man’s overwhelming desire to take flight. Lane added a few planes to the museum’s collection because of the close association between planes and autos. The winged creations, like the cars, are not your standard fare. They are small enough to suspend from the museum’s ceiling but large enough to hold at least one very brave pilot.
From Four Wheels to Two
Motorcycles and bicycles have their own section in the museum. “A lot of European car makers made motorcycles too. Some of them began as motorcycle manufacturers and moved into cars. Same with bicycles, Peugeot made bicycles before they ever got into the car business, and they still do.”
But don’t expect to see your average bikes here. Instead, imagine hopping on one of the propeller bikes, which attempted to boost pedal power with small gasoline-powered engines. The collection also includes early electric scooters and even a McLean Monowheel, a motorcycle with one giant wheel that requires the rider to sit inside.
Although some of the popular vehicles stay on the floor year-round, Lane switches out many of the vehicles a couple of times a year to create a “new” exhibit. New finds and donations from other collectors also create new display opportunities throughout the year. “There are people out there who own unique cars, and as they get older, they want to make sure they’re not going to just end up sitting in a garage somewhere,” Lane says. “They want them to be seen and enjoyed, so this is a good place for them to end up.”
If you’ve been to Lane Motor Museum or you have your own unbelievably unique set of wheels, share your photos with us on Instagram.