New museum celebrates America's love affair with the car

TACOMA, Wash. - This month, construction will wrap up on a one-of-a-kind museum to show off the one-of-a-kind collection from a one-of-a-kind man.

KOMO News got a sneak preview of of Harold Lemay's cars - and how they're changing the face of Tacoma.

Somewhere during the course of a long lifetime, Lemay fell head over heels in love with the automobile - and he started collecting them.

His wildly successful garbage collection business made money a non-factor. He couldn't stop buying cars - amazing cars.

"I'm like an alcoholic - I can have one more," Lemay said back in 1998, when he was still collecting autos.

The car collection grew and grew until it filled 52 buildings and warehouses all over Pierce County. It is considered the largest privately owned collection of automobiles, motorcycles, trucks and other vehicles in the world.

"I have 17 grandchildren, and they're all favorites. So that's kind of the way the cars are," he said before his death in 2000.

His dream was to show his cars to the world in a Tacoma-based museum.

He didn't live long enough to see it, but America's Car Musem will soon open right next to the Tacoma Dome. The field next to the museum will be used for car shows and drive-in movies.

And inside - they're currently moving in the largest car collection in the world.

"About 3,300 cars, which is insane - insanely wonderful," says David Madeira, president and CEO of the museum.

He admits it is the one of the coolest jobs in the world.

"Yeah, other than having to raise all the money to keep this place alive - getting to do this is so fun," Madeira says.

It's all there at the museum - fuzzy dice, tailfins, hood ornaments, hot wheels, duece coupes, Duesenbergs, Corvettes, Cadillacs - all kinds of cool.

What the museum really aims to showcase is the unique relationship between the automobile and America. The museum isn't going to be about one-of-a-kind million-dollar European sports cars. Instead, the idea is to celebrate the cars that made this country great.

"Yeah, there's more exotic and important collections in terms of wealth and rarity - but this one's America," says Madeira. "It's Smithsonian."

On display are street rods, muscle cars, classics (including a 1927 Lasalle), ugly ducklings - the works.

"This museum is designed to show cars, store cars and move cars," Madeira says.

The challenge is to not only preserve and celebrate these machines - but to keep them "alive."

"Our motto is 'Celebrate America's love affair with the car.' And so this is an active place that we're having fun. We're doing car events and we're doing dances, we're doing movies, and we're racing - and the kids are playing," says Madeira.

Car lovers will actually be able to store their cars here for a fee. They can also hang out in a special clubhouse with other gearheads.

And everywhere, there will be gorgeous curves, classic lines - the artistry of a nation addicted to, in love with and endlessly fascinated by ... the automobile.

"No, this isn't just your father's car museum," says Madeira. "This is new and modern and forward-thinking and always changing."

America's Car Museum has already had a few public events, but the official opening will be on June 2.