Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The King of stock car racing meets the King of Rock and Roll at the Tupelo Automobile Museum

If it seems like I didn’t get to any local car shows last weekend, you’d be right. I was in Memphis attending a wedding. But I didn’t forget about you. We actually took a whole extra day to shuffle on down to Tupelo, Miss., and check out the great collection at the Tupelo Automobile Museum.

The museum was the work of southern communications magnate and car aficionado Frank Spain and his pal Max Berryhill. Spain actually started buying cars in the early 1970s, and the collection became so big that the 120,000-sq/ft museum was opened in 2002.

This is actually a pretty diverse collection. The oldest car is a three-wheeled Benz that was built in 1886, but you’ll find everything from full Classics to a ’94 Viper with only 12 miles on the odometer. The collection is mostly arranged in chronological order, so if the really old cars don’t grab you, just keep walking and something you like will turn up.

There were some significant cars there. Any ’48 Tucker is hard to ignore these days. With only 51 ever made, you really don’t see them too often. And with prices recently topping $2-million at auction, you tend to stand up and take notice. The museum’s cream-colored Tucker, also known as #1028 to Tucker enthusiasts, is a nice car, but not exactly perfect. It just looks like something that’s been sitting in a museum for a long time. Maybe it just needs some new whitewalls, a little attention to the low suspension, and a good polishing to make it really stand out.

Another interesting car was a 1984 STP Pontiac in which Richard Petty reportedly won his 200th and final NASCAR race. Is this THE actual car? I tend to think it isn’t. I know the real car has been a part of the Smithsonian collection ever since Petty was done racing the 1984 Talladega race. This one was displayed in front of a banner that looked just like the one in Daytona’s victory lane, but there are a few things that don’t look right. They never used yellow-letter tires in 1984, and these wheels are way off. That’s easy to change, but why would they do that on such a significant car? Some of the decals, like the CURB Records sticker on the sail panel, are in a different place than it appears in old photos, and the way the body is shaped ahead of the rear wheel appears to be wrong. Even with all that, it’s still a cool car to stand off and study for awhile if you’re a fan of NASCAR history.

Of course, since Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley, there had to be a car with an Elvis connection. The museum has a nice, blue ’76 Lincoln Continental that Elvis bought new for Jerry Kennedy. Kennedy was a captain with the Denver Police, and helped work security when The King was in town. A copy of the $13,386.69 check that Elvis wrote to Kumph Motor Car Co. is displayed with the car. Man, I wish I had a friend like Elvis.

Other cars of note include a gaudy 1982 Barrister (made by George Barris) convertible that belonged to Liberace, a 1927 Stutz, a 1929 Duesenberg Model J, a couple of impressive Hispano-Suizas, and much more. BHo was especially drawn to what was called a 1967 Roth Wishbone, which was a Volkswagen chassis transformed by legendary customizer Ed Roth.

They also had a “1963 Special Leslie,” which was a pickup truck that was converted into a big, fictitious phaeton for the 1965 Blake Edwards movie “The Great Race.” In the film it was described as a 1907 Thomas Flyer. The thing is pretty impressive. I mean, it’s impossible to get near it and not do a double take. Weird, yes, but still fun.

Naturally, I took pictures of pretty much everything there, which can be seen in the slideshow below. Or, for a better version of the slideshow, click this link.


  1. Thankya...thankyaverymuch...

    but what are those #@#%^* new tojos doing in there? Shouldnt be in the country, much less a museum...

  2. This car museum made by Spain and Berryhill is very interesting. I never thought that Spain likes to purchase cars for himself. I hope I also have lots of money to purchase my new dream car and replace my old chevy, and I also hope that I could find one great new york chevrolet dealers to help me decide the next time I will buy my new car.

  3. Thank you for share this