After a week of RV living, I finally have made it to North Carolina, but I made one very important stop along the way: the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN. I've been aware of the Lane for quite a while, but I don't think I was really prepared for how incredible their collection actually is. It's stunning, no joke.
The people at the Lane were incredibly accommodating to me, opening up early for me and giving me full access to the whole museum, which included driving some of the cars. When I first found the museum, a converted bakery, I saw a nice big banner advertising their current feature exhibit, showcasing their incredible Tatra collection.
Let's just take a moment here and think about this: one of the biggest collection of Tatras — and, actually, Czech cars in general — in the US is here, in Tennessee. If you asked me to point on a US map where I thought the most Tatras were, I can pretty much guarantee you that Nashville would be safe from my greasy, filthy finger. But there they are, right there on the outskirts of America's Country Music capital.
When I parked the RV and entered the basement entrance of the museum, I looked around and immediately saw several old Citröens, a Ferves Ranger, a Lloyd, and so many other incredible cars I was wondering if maybe the Lane had implanted some sort of chip in the car-loving lobe of my brain so they could amass a collection tailored exactly to my weird tastes. It's an implant I'd be happy to host, unlike that stupid CIA one that just makes me crave Yoo-Hoo every time I pass a microwave.
Two lane employees, both incredibly knowledgeable, Dan and David, showed me around the collection. Let's just dive in here with a bunch of pictures, so you can get an idea of what we're dealing with here. Lots of these were taken in the basement, which is a dark, glorious place.
This green Ferves Ranger was one of the first cars to catch my eye, because of that green and because, damn, who the hell would imagine seeing a Ferves Ranger in Tennessee? Or, really, almost anywhere? It's as adorable and gutsy looking in person as it is in pictures.
This is just a great combination of badge and patina. This is from a 1965 Rene-Bonnet CBR-1.
This is a 1980 Midas Bronze — a Mini-Marcos-based kit car. I bet this thing would be a blast.
Remember this little frog? It's the 1965 one-off Grataloup, and I fell in love with it when I saw it being auctioned a while back. It's here, and it's as charming as you'd think.
And here's an interesting little Franco-Anglo guy: a Citroën Bijou, which was essentially a rebodied 2CV built in Britain for the British market, which was less tolerant of the robotic snail look of the normal 2CV. It's fiberglass, and had the advantage of making the blisteringly-fast 2CV, with it's ungodly 18HP a bit slower, so instead of being slow as a glacier, you could now drive slow as a glacier towing a Volvo wagon.
This one is really fascinating. It's a 1967 Saab 96, made into a roadster by factory workers, on their own time, just because they thought it would be awesome. And they were absolutely right. The nerf bar bumper on a Saab is an interesting idea, too.
A baby Steyr! Again, this is another one of those cars I never really thought I'd get to see in person, let alone be in a position where, hypothetically, one could take it out for BBQ.
Dan and Dave were quite pleased to have stumped me with this one. Anyone have any idea what this is? It's rear-engined, which made me think I should know it. Let's look under the front hood...
What the hell? What is that down there, between those inboard brakes? An electric motor? No... it looks like a... differential?
Yep, it is. This crazy beast is a Gregory, and it's rear-engine/front-wheel drive. The only other car I can think of to use this bonkers layout is Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion. Holy shit. This is like meeting a Sasquatch that admitted to assassinating President Kennedy.
Look at this amazing old Wartburg wagon, with it's tinted upper windows! This thing is dangerously charming.
... and here's another Wartburg. Less charming, sure, but these were still strangely handsome cars, especially for the Eastern Bloc.
A handsome DAF 66 relaxes with a '48 Skoda 1101.
Lots of good Citröen-based racing cars hiding in the basement here.
And, of course, this was Dan's favorite car, a 1990 Lancia Delta Integrale. It's pretty spectacular, and even better when parked next to an Adler roadster.
Look how charming this little NSU Prinz is! It was right by the cl0sed-off Nissan heritage collection the Lane houses that I promised I wouldn't take any pictures of. But there were some really strange and cool things in there. I'll have to talk to those Nissan people.
Ever heard of an Aero? It's a Czech marque, and this one was really lovely. It looks like it should be much bigger, but as you can see by comparing it to that Dauphine next to it it's quite a small car. It feels sort of like a 3/4-scale Traction Avant.
This was sort of like NSU's Karmann-Ghia — the Sport Prinz. Same mechanicals as the regular one, just a more sleek body. It'd be perfect if you wanted a 356 but had to keep it in your studio apartment with you. Note the Crossley and weird electric cart-thing nearby.
A Zaporozets 965! Next to a beautiful Alfa! Note all that kitty litter under the Alfa. Museums don't make cars leak any less.
I've always really liked Renault 4s— they seem like they'd make really charming and practical classics.
You know how I mentioned they let me drive some cars? Here's one of them — a 2002 Burton, which is a 2CV-based kit/sports car. For a 602cc flat-twin it was surprisingly quick. If you have absolutely zero need for any practicality beyond good gas mileage, I think one of these would make an amazing choice.
Also, remember, child seat laws only apply to boring cars, right? Oh, I kept it off the road, so nobody turn me in to child protective services.
BMW, Peugeot, lots of motorcycles. Every inch of this place has something good.
And, speaking of motorbikes and inches, they have an actual, live, Honda City with the specially-made Motocompo motorbike! Holy crap do I adore this thing. Again, this is one of those cars (well, and bikes) that I've only lusted over in private dark rooms, staring at pictures or a computer screen. I need to come back and drive both of these.
Oh, and since I know "turbo" isn't enough for you, please note that this City is "HYPER TURBO." On 660cc.
A lovely Toyota Sports 800. I was told Mr.Lane drove this car from various car shows rather than having it shipped. That's badass.
A DKW Schnellaster! This would be a good candidate for Most Anthropomorphic Car, I think. Look at that face.
A Lancia and a Lloyd. That Lancia is such a handsome car.
Pike Factory represent! A Be-1 and an S-Cargo. Man, I miss the crazy Japanese boutique-cars of the 90s.
More Japanese goodness: a Honda Beat, and a Nissan Pao behind it. Also note the DAF ambulance there.
Ah, a Rover P6. England's Citröen DS.
Gotta have at least one Beetle, right? This is a Mexican Beetle from the last year of production, 2003, but not one of those Ultima Edition ones. I may bring my Beetle out here and see if I can do a comparison test.
I like this thing because no one really knows what it is. It's got a little diesel motor mounted at the rear-right side! A corner-engine car? It's French, air-cooled, and kind of crappy in a really wonderful way.
For the Tatra exhibit they had the bare chassis of an early flat-twin Tatra. Note how the engine block is a stressed member, decades before all those F1 guys started doing it.
Of course, the Tatra collection was fantastic. This late T87 was especially lovely.
... and this Tatra T613 is very likely the last passenger car Tatra ever made.
And if Tatras just aren't weird enough for you, there's always the prop-driven Tatra on skis.
This 1950 Martin Stationette is an amazing example of the wildly idiosyncratic cars made by James Martin. He was both ahead of his time and just bonkers.
This 1928 Martin Aerodynamic has a front-opening door decades before the Isetta, and was built like an aircraft, right down to the bungie-cord suspension.
This one has no wicker, but still may be one of the best Fiat 500 Jolly-cars I've ever seen.
This is another amazing rarity, a rear-engined Mercedes-Benz 130H, done up in delicious-looking chocolate and caramel.
The Museum has its own restoration shop and specializes in figuring out how to correctly rebuild really, really obscure cars like this Martin.
Like 2CVs but are a mer-person? Boy are you in luck, because this one is amphibious.
In some ways, this may be the jewel of the collection, a 1932 Helicron. Made from a rear-engine car chassis flipped backwards, this rear-steering prop-driver has perhaps the most delightfully awful noise-to-speed ratio. I'm told it's like driving nothing else, and I really hope to find out why on an upcoming visit.
There's so much more that I didn't cover here yet, and I'll have a more complete driving review of something else I drove from the collection soon. I plan on returning to the Lane as often as I possibly can, and I encourage anyone who loves unusual cars and lives within at least one Astronomical Unit away to check this place out. It's incredible.