A hot time and cool cars

It was a hot weekend in New Albany and we were trying to figure out what to do with visitors.

Not just any visitors, either. Our guests were Jenny’s parents, who had driven in to see us from northern Kentucky. The problem was they’re in their 80s, and they don’t much like hot weather.
It was too hot to sit out on the patio. Too hot to walk around the square in Oxford. And, even though they love zoos, too hot to visit the Memphis Zoo.
What to do? Then Jenny remembered the Tupelo Automobile Museum.
Great, I thought. They’re car people. They love to read about cars, look at cars and even buy cars. Until the last couple of years, we joked that Jenny’s weekly telephone conversation with her mother often included a discussion about whether they still were driving the same cars. When Jenny would ask “What’s new?” she learned not to be surprised if the answer was “a car.”
So, off to the museum we went Saturday, where we were surprised at the size of the collection. Somehow, we didn’t expect to find one of the country’s largest automobile museums in Tupelo.
We also were surprised that there were only two cars in the parking lot and one of them was ours. But that meant we could wander from exhibit to exhibit, listening to the recordings about each car’s history.
The collection starts with an 1886 Benz, a three-wheeled contraption that looks a little like a large tricycle, followed by an 1899 Knox Porcupine, a 1902 Olds and a 1903 Cadillac.
It’s a fascinating look at automobile history, which includes everything from a 1911 Sears Buggy, a car sold through the Sears catalog, to the 1948 Tucker and even more modern-day muscle cars.
In a couple of hours, we had made our way though more than 100 years of automobile history, courtesy of the late Frank Spain. Spain was a TV executive who, like Jenny’s parents, loved cars. I learned from the Tupelo Hospitality Guide that his goal was to collect vehicles from the 1880s, and every decade after that.
Among others, we loved Liberace’s 1982 Barrister Corvette, a custom job that many of the Corvette aficionados there for the special exhibit probably wouldn’t recognize without the explanation.
Our visitors had no trouble recognizing the 1953 Chevrolet (theirs was brown), and the 1958 Chevy that they owned, too. Theirs was yellow, never a favorite of Jenny’s mother. But at least that car never tried to kill her. That culprit was the silver-blue Corvair Monza that pumped fumes from the rear-mounted engine into the passenger compartment. An example of that car is in the museum, too.
There were signs for, but no examples of, the Renaults that her dad and grandfather used to race down the streets of Covington, Ky., after work at their barber shop. Jenny’s dad said a cop stopped them once, and joked that he didn’t think the little cars could go that fast.
Our family, like many others, has fond memories firmly attached to their cars. Our Saturday trip down memory lane was the perfect way to spend a lazy, hot afternoon.
Thanks, Mr. Spain. What would we have done without you?

T. Wayne Mitchell, publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or by e-mail at publisher@newalbanygazette.com.