From the outside, it resembles a long, silver slug. Inside, the building showcases row upon row of shiny, gleaming cars of all shapes, sizes and colors. LeMay – America’s Car Museum (ACM) in Tacoma, opens to the public tomorrow — Saturday, June 2 — with grand opening ceremonies beginning at 9:45 a.m. and the doors opening at 11 a.m.
Harold LeMay, after whom the museum is named, collected cars and may have had as many as 3,000 vehicles at one point — a collection so vast that his name appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some call him a car rescuer, because according to his wife Nancy, he bought cars so they wouldn’t be destroyed. For years LeMay dreamed of sharing his collection with the public. Although he won’t see the finished museum, because he died in 2000 at the age of 81, his dream lives on through Nancy and a host of workers and volunteers.
Many of the cars in the museum belonged to LeMay, but others have also been added to this four-story, 165,000-square-foot space. From Ferraris to electric cars to Indy cars and even motorcycles and scooters, there are vehicles that will appeal to all members of the family. Kids and grownups will like the Flintstones car from the movie of the same name released in 1994. (Parents: you may have to explain about Fred Flintstone to your kids.) The Flintstones car is located in the Family Zone, which is still under development.
Another interactive exhibit in the Family Zone allows you to go head to head with other racers on many different tracks, including the Daytona International Speedway, in the ACM Racing Simulators on the second floor. To secure bragging rights, your speed shows up on the monitor in front of you. You can also race online or against the people in the other two simulators — just be careful, as these are the same simulators used to train professional race car drivers. An extra fee is charged for driving the simulator.
Also located on the second floor, the ACM’s slot car track is sure to draw plenty of admirers. The entire course was built in just six weeks, and each component, except the lights, is handmade. That includes the people, grandstand and landscaping.
Back to the cars, which currently number around 300. A 1913 Oakland 35 Roadster, a Ford Model N and a Chevy Blackout Car from WWII — each tells a story of American history that can be used as teachable moments for your kids. Kids, if you want to see your dad smile, ask him to show you which car is most like the first one he owned.
Because this is a rotating collection, when you return to the museum down the road, you’ll have new vehicles to “oooh” and “aaah” over.
Lots of plans are in the works for the large outdoor space, which measures 3.5 acres and can accommodate 250 cars, including car shows this summer and drive-in movies beginning in summer 2013.
Planning for the museum’s educational programs also continues. They will include information on automotive history and offer curricula for all ages so any grade will be accommodated on a field trip. 100,000 schoolchildren are expected to visit the museum each year.
If you plan to attend this Saturday’s opening, special events include Seattle Mariners legend Edgar Martinez signing autographs, go-kart races, free car shows on Haub Family Field outside the museum and live music — aptly — by six-time Grammy Award-winning group Asleep at the Wheel.
Whether you take a tour this weekend or someday soon, on the way out, browse in the gift shop and see what you might find to make the museum experience more memorable. Models to build for ages 10 and up, books and even a robotic kit that let’s you build a salt-water car are all available.
If you go ...
Where: The museum is located across from the Tacoma Dome at 2702 East D. Street, Tacoma.
When: Daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., seven days a week.
Tickets: Ticket prices are $14 for adults; $12 for seniors, students or military; $8 for youth 5–12, and children under 5 are free. Buy online here.
Fun in the neighborhood:
Why not spend the day in downtown Tacoma after your LeMay Museum visit? Here are other fun things to do:
1. Park at the Tacoma Dome Station and take the Link Light Rail, which is free, to Union Station.
2. Pop into Great Northwest Popcorn, where they make more than 50 flavors of popcorn, including caramel, bacon and cheese, and green apple.
3. Either walk four blocks or ride the Link to the next stop and spend some time exploring the five playscapes in the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. You can walk further to explore the nearby Museum of Glass and the Washington State History Museum (don't miss the permanent model railroad) before riding the Link back to your car.