When it comes to America’s passion for automobiles, not many people have equaled the fervor of Harold LeMay.
From the time he got out of the military in 1945 to his death in 2000, LeMay accumulated nearly 3,500 automobiles, ranging from ordinary vehicles to exquisitely maintained vintage models. The 1997 Guinness Book of World Records listed his fleet as the largest privately owned car collection in the world.
“I think he was an extreme example of what we call America’s love affair with the automobile,” said Scot Keller, chief marketing communications officer at LeMay - America’s Car Museum. “He liked everything and if it caught his fancy, he would buy it.”
A prominent Tacoma businessman, LeMay and his family held an annual car show on their estate, during which thousands of visitors viewed the collection. Now, the best of his collection will be on display at Tacoma’s newest museum, which opens on Saturday, June 2.
LeMay – America’s Car Museum sits on 9 acres of real estate next to the Tacoma Dome. It is a 165,000-square-foot facility with four levels, built with six 280-foot ramps so cars can be easily moved and brought in for exhibits. The interior is made with natural wood from the Pacific Northwest and an expansive floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Tacoma’s Foss Waterway.
“We get asked quite often, ‘What’s the most important, the most expensive car in the museum?’” Keller said. “We don’t see it like that, because America’s love affair with the automobile is personal with most people. You may or may not be a car expert, but you say ‘That’s really great!’ when you walk by [a certain car]. You say, ‘I remember … my grandmother gave me that car.’ We have such a diverse selection. In a sense, visitors decide what’s cool. The cars bring back memories for people and they strike a chord.”
Opening exhibits at the museum will include the cars of Harold LeMay, the history of Ferrari in America, custom coachwork vehicles, motor racing, alternative fuel vehicles, the British invasion of the 1960s, and the collection of Italian jewelry magnate Nicola Bulgari.
Cars featured in subsequent exhibits, which will be changed on a 60- to 90-day schedule, will come from the LeMay collection, new acquisitions or loans from other collectors.