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VOL. 36 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 21, 2012

Unusual rides draw car lovers to Lane

By Stephen Hines

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The 1951 Crosley Super Sport is one of hundreds of cars on display at the Lane Motor Museum on Murfreesboro Road.

With cars ranging in manufacture from Nissan Z, at some 300 horsepower and a speed of 180 mph, to the smallest manufactured passenger vehicle in the world, the one-cylinder Peel P50 with a maximum speed of 40 mph, the Lane Motor Museum of Nashville has one of the most unique collections of automobiles in the country.

Its special emphasis on cars of Eastern European manufacture makes it of particular interest to auto enthusiasts who might think they have seen it all, until they visit Nashville.

“Of course, it’s difficult to tell how many tourists we have,” museum director Jeff Lane says. “They are the customers who tend to sign our guest book. I might guess 50 percent, but then I really don’t know.”

Lane does know, however, that his homegrown project, which has been going for nine years and has had more than 147,000 visitors, has a national reputation. One of his vehicles, the 1965 Peel Trident, was recently featured on ABC’s Good Morning, America.

He also knows Jay Leno and has tried to wangle a spot on The Tonight Show – so far no luck – though Mr. Leno himself writes a car column for Popular Mechanics and has a 100-vehicle car collection of his own.

Other outlets for national publicity come through marketing director Vicki Garrison, via brochures located at rest stops and hotels – both here and elsewhere in Tennessee – and Lane’s own appearances at car shows.

“Frankly, we depend on people doing articles, and also the show Top Gear featured the Peel Trident to tout their new season, which started on the History Channel a couple of weeks ago,” Lane says.

On the other hand, he admits that the greatest successes he’s seen in advertising have been local, as when he takes his amphibious car to area lakes.

“It’s pretty hard for people not to notice that vehicle. At one time, I think Willie Nelson had one. And I’ve heard of another fellow who claims his car sank in Percy Priest Lake. I’d like to raise that vehicle if I could find it,” he says.

Additionally, Lane makes the museum available for special occasions such as birthdays, weddings and fundraising events that want to present themselves in a different venue.

“We get a good response when we show what’s in our basement,” he says. “We rotate our cars and have about 125 on display, but down in our basement we have even more cars, and people can see these on guided tours, though our basement is not generally open. Our total collection runs to something like 350 vehicles.”

But exactly what types of vehicles are we talking about? Lane inventory includes cars from Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, former Eastern Block countries, and Sweden, to name only a sampling.

There are vintage Alfa Romeo’s, Austin Minis, Citroëns, Fiats, MGs, Renaults, Saabs, Steyers (from Austria), Tatras (from Czechoslovakia), and Volvos.

The museum has three special days during the summer when staff perform demonstrations, give visitors rides and have what they call a Summer Crush, in which one of their huge vehicles is used to run over and crush another car.

Always a crowd pleaser.

The whole Lane Motor Museum experience did not begin as Jeff Lane’s big dream, but rather it happened as a coincidence of having a father in the Detroit auto business whose collection included MGs, some 15 to be exact, and one Jaguar.

It was while working for his father’s business – L&L Products, which is still going strong in Detroit, providing acoustic, sealing, anti-flutter structural engineered materials for autos and the aerospace industries – that Lane began collecting on his own while still a teenager.

After coming to Nashville to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt, Lane moved to Oklahoma City for a few years and then back to Detroit before returning to Nashville in 1989.

Along the way his collection grew to 75 cars, stored in several buildings across Nashville.

“I could see that something had to be done,” he says. So, he formed a not-for-profit organization and began soliciting donations. Eventually, he acquired the old Sunbeam Bakery at 702 Murfreesboro Pike and has been ever since.

Lane says there are many niche collectors who find satisfaction by owning only a few vehicles of a certain model or vintage.

“I know of one fellow who collects only Continentals. There is the Lincoln Continental, a Bentley Continental, and even Porsche did a Continental,” he says. “Even the old Model T had a number of variations you could collect.”

Lane Motor Museum is open on Thursday-Monday, 10-5 p.m. Ticket prices range from $2 to $7, with children six and younger admitted free.

“Like many of its automobiles on display, Lane Motor Museum is one of those hidden gems our visitors are always surprised to find in Music City,” says Deana Ivey, senior vice president of marketing for the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The museum offers a unique and interesting experience the whole family will enjoy, and all at great value.”

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