MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis is home to more than two dozen museums, each with its own draw. One of those hidden gems is the Edge Motor Museum.
You know you’re there when you see a red 1975 Bricklin with gull-wing doors out front. That’s Bob Watkins’ car. He knows everything about anything under a hood and he curated the museum’s car collection, which is housed inside an old auto manufacturing plant on Marshall Avenue. The area was once called Memphis’ Auto Row.
Richard Vining is the museum’s executive director. He explained what they do.
“It’s a non-profit motor museum featuring cars from post-war to ’74 in an exhibit we call ‘American Speed.’”
Their single focus: The American sports car, a symbol of speed, strength and style.
From the lobby to the gift shop to the apex around the showroom floor, almost every inch of the 12,000-square-foot building is covered in rubber, steel and fiberglass with more than a dozen cars tracing the rise, plateau and fall of the American sports car. Many of the vehicles are in the 200 mile per hour club.
“Without the stories behind them, they’re meaningless, so each one of these vehicles has a story with it,” Watkins explained.
That includes an obvious Memphis music connection to the museum’s Rocket 88 motor car.
“Right down the street is Sun Records and the first song they ever recorded was Rocket 88 by Ike Turner and the Delta Cats,” said Vining.
The experience begins with Americans’ love-affair with European-style sports cars beginning with World War II.
“When they returned from World War II, what you see behind me in these exhibits is the U.S. auto industry responding to the seven million GI’s demand,” Vining explained. “We’ve got tons of steel, we’ve got loads of fuel, we’ve got a growing population, we’ve got an expanding geography and all of those factors worked together to make the perfect environment for the American sports car to flourish.”
The museum has a jonquil yellow Crosley Hot Shot, America’s first post-war sports car model now on public display in Memphis for the first time.
“It’s not the most impressive thing in here, it’s not the fastest car in here, but as far as historical relevance, that car, that very car behind me, not one like it, won the first Sebring race. That’s a very big deal,” said Vining.
The arc of the museum’s motorcars flows clockwise chronologically and covers cars both classic and modern. Center stage, on the museum’s rotating display, is the most current Corvette on the market. The 2021 Corvette sits just feet from the 318th Corvette ever built in the world.
The beauty out front in the lobby was once owned by actress and singer Doris Day.
“If you ordered a Muntz, you had a choice of interiors: Leather, python, alligator or iguana,” Watkins chuckled.
It was hard for Bob to choose, but he revealed his favorite car in the collection is the Studebaker Avanti.
“There’s a panel directly below the rearview window that allows you to get in the trunk without stopping the car and opening the trunk up,” he said. “It has a full roll cage in it so if the car is in an accident and rolls over, the roof will not collapse on it. On the passenger side of the dashboard is a lady’s vanity that pops out of the dash when you open the glove box up.”
Many of the cars are on loan from collectors who make up the museum’s exclusive membership.
“Just think of it as any other art gallery,” added Vining. “They’re on loan as little as three months or sometimes a year or maybe even longer.”
The museum has a Glasspar G2 that is one of only 100 made.
“When we introduce a new car, we put it on the turner, put it under a silk, invite all the members. They come, have a good time, we do a history lesson about the car and we unveil it for them,” Vining revealed.
The lights in the museum are intentionally absent of UV rays to protect the cars. Owners get a break on insurance because it’s not your average garage. There’s even a members’ library tracking cultural, economic, political and technological trends that shaped each automobile.
“There’s no more effective barometer of U.S. economic health, in my opinion, than the American sports car. It is the ultimate discretionary income item we’ve ever had,” Vining pointed out.
It’s no secret the museum is a source of pride for the Edge District neighborhood where collectors, tourists and armchair enthusiasts from around the world put pedal to the metal celebrating these American icons.
The Edge Motor Museum is keeping normal hours seven days a week. They have self-guided tours, but Bob’s favorite thing to do is tell you what’s under the hood.
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