Tupelo, Mississippi, is known for more than being the birthplace of Elvis Presley; bisected by the Natchez Trace Parkway, the city that was once the site of a Civil War battle is now home to an outstanding automobile museum.
Opened in 2001, the Tupelo Automobile Museum was founded by Frank Spain, who scoured the United States to amass its collection. Several billboards north of town advertise the museum as the largest car museum east of the Mississippi River. I was unable to verify if that claim is based on the number of cars or the size of the building, which measures just over 12,000 square feet. The collection itself comprises vehicles from nearly every continent.
I am presenting the more remarkable cars in roughly chronological order, and placing more emphasis on the pre-World War II cars for two reasons: first, you might not have heard of them; and also, the likelihood of finding one curbside is nearly nonexistent.
Advertised as the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, this was the first automobile designed to be propelled by an engine.
Karl Benz’s wife, Bertha, was a determined woman who greatly contributed to the success of the Benz. Taking one of the first cars made, she and two of her teenage sons left their Mannheim home to visit her parents in Pforzheim. Along the way, she was her own mechanic, cleaning the carburetor with her hat pin and getting ligroin (laboratory solvent) from a pharmacy to use as fuel. She spent three days at her parents’ home, then drove back to Mannheim, for a round-trip total of just over 120 miles.
1899 Knox Porcupine
The Knox Automobile Company was based in Springfield, Massachusetts. This particular car is somewhat of a mystery; the Knox company existed from 1900 to 1914, producing a grand total of fifteen cars for inaugural year 1900. This is presented as an 1899 model.
This air-cooled automobile earned the name “Porcupine”, due to the number and shape of the engine cooling fins.
Founded by Ransom E. Olds, the Reo automobile came into existence in 1904. Alternately spelled “REO” and “Reo”, the firm ceased automobile production in 1936 to focus on trucks. In 1957, Reo became a subsidiary of White.
The White Model D was a steam-powered car produced from 1901 to 1905. The company was founded by Rollin White, who was prompted to do so by his disappointment in a steam-powered Locomobile. Rollin’s father, Thomas White, had founded the White Sewing Machine Company, and until 1905, the cars were produced in a corner of the elder White’s sewing machine factory. After World War I, White transitioned to the exclusive production of trucks.
1905 Delaunay Belleville
Built in Saint-Denis, France, the Delaunay Belleville was one of the world’s most prestigious automobiles of its day, boasting both Tsar Nicholas II and King Alphonse XIII of Spain among its purchasers. The Delaunay Belleville was strictly a four cylinder-powered machine through 1908, until the introduction of the first French built six-cylinder in 1909. Delaunay Belleville had converted to truck and military production by the late 1920s.
1907 Ford Model R
A Model N with more trimmings, the $750 Model R was produced from April-October 1907; around 2,500 were made in total.
The chain-driven Queen was produced by the Blomstrom Motor Company, in Detroit, from 1904 to 1907.
Annual production of the Glide usually totaled less than 500 during its 1902-1920 run, part of which could be explained by sparsely scattered dealerships among a handful of states, and one in Quebec. The Glide was powered by a Rutenber engine (as was this 1916 Luverne), and built by the Bartholomew Corporation, in Peoria Heights, Illinois. Their advertising jingle was “Ride in a Glide, then decide.”
Of the roughly 10,000 Brush autos produced between 1907 and 1912, most were runabouts like this one-cylinder example. Brush autos did pose a challenge for those unfamiliar with them, as their engines ran clockwise and crank starting was decidedly different. Founded by Alanson P. Brush, the company manufactured Brush cars in Pontiac, Michigan before its 1910 merger into the United States Automobile Company.
There were two models of Cartercar available in 1912, both of them with four-cylinder power: the Model R, with 4,160 cc, and the 5,437 cc Model S; which model this one is is undetermined. The Cartercar’s friction drive was very much a early version of today’s CVTs.
Cartercar was purchased by General Motors in 1909; in 1915, the brand was eliminated altogether in order to open a factory for production of the Oakland.
1913 Minerva Knight
Founded by Sylvain de Jong sometime around 1902, Minerva started out building motorcycles, but within two years the Belgian company was producing luxury automobiles. The Minerva was considered by many as comparable to Rolls-Royce in terms of quality and prestige. Minerva owners included the kings of various Scandinavian countries, as well as Henry Ford.
Interestingly, the first Triumph was powered by a Minerva engine.
The Lozier shared a prime commonality with the White, both cars coming from companies founded by manufacturers of sewing machines. Henry Lozier went all-out in the making of his luxury car; in 1910, a new Cadillac cost $1,600, while a Lozier cost $7,750. This one is claimed to have cost $3,250. Lozier attempted a merger with the Ford Motor Company in 1915, which turned out to be Lozier’s final model year.
Studebaker would offer two models for 1915: the four-cylinder, 108″ wheelbase Model SD, and the Model EC, which was powered by an inline six and rode a 121″ wheelbase. This appears to be an SD, of which 24,900 were built versus 8,750 of the larger series.
In 1897, Winton became one of the very first American companies to sell a car. In 1903, a Winton earned the distinction of being the first car to traverse the continental United States.
Automobile production ceased in 1924, as Winton had transitioned to making engines; in fact, a Winton-produced diesel powered the Burlington Zephyr, the first diesel-powered American train. Winton was purchased by General Motors in 1930.
1916 Owen Magnetic
The methodology seen in current hybrid offerings is not new. The Owen Magnetic was a six-cylinder hybrid, produced from 1915 to 1922 and advertised as “The Car of a Thousand Speeds”. This 1916 model, built in Cleveland, Ohio, cost in excess of $3,000 when new.
1917 Chevrolet V8
This is an example of Chevrolet’s original V8 engine produced for 1917 and 1918. At 288 cubic inches, it produced 55 horsepower. Information accompanying this display speculated as to whether Chevrolet’s 1918 purchase by General Motors was a factor in the V8’s cancellation.
1920 Apperson Jack Rabbit V8
Apperson was a Kokomo, Indiana, based company that produced cars from 1901 to 1926. The Jack Rabbit speedster was introduced in 1907.
Karl Martin was an automotive designer and coach builder from Bennington, Vermont. Using a 6.4-liter Wisconsin engine, Martin gave building automobiles a shot with his Wasp. A sensation when introduced in 1920, it nevertheless was not a success. While there is debate about how many Wasps were built, the number is still minute; this example is one of the two Wasps left in existence.
1926 Hispano Suiza
1928 Hispano Suiza
Hispano Suiza was a Spanish automotive and engineering firm that specialized in making luxury cars and developing new technologies. In the early 1920s, Hispano Suiza held many patents for various items in high demand by its competitors. Hispano Suiza would be the first company to produce a practical cast-block engine.
At the time these two cars were built, luxury car production was shifting to the parent company in France.
Founded as the Ideal Motor Company, Stutz would manufacture a total of 35,000 units, all in Indianapolis, during a production run of 1911-1935. A Stutz placed eleventh at the 1911 Indianapolis 500, and in 1927 a Stutz set a new speed record, averaging 68 miles per hour for 24 hours.
The museum had many examples of luxury cars that fell victim to the Great Depression; this Franklin is among them.
Franklin produced cars, all of them air-cooled, from 1902 to 1934, selling a total of about 150,000 during its thirty years in business. This picture is of a Franklin with an exposed engine, found at a local car show.
What is there to not like about this Duesenberg? For the second year of the Model J series, approximately 200 were produced.
One did not see a Lincoln on the rental car lot in 1931. Any 1931 Lincoln is a rare sight, with 77 dual-cowl phaetons and only eleven phaetons manufactured.
This ’32 Nash is included for having been awarded “best paint job” by Mrs. Jason and Spawn. Its lilac-and-Pepto-Bismol color scheme definitely was eye-popping, and provided quite a contrast to the many black cars on display nearby.
Named for Lagonda Creek, near Springfield, Ohio, Lagonda was a British automobile company founded in 1906 by American Wilbur Gunn. After entering into receivership in 1935, the company was purchased by Alan P. Good, who was able to entice Rolls-Royce employee W.O. Bentley to come work for Lagonda.
In 1947, Lagonda would be purchased by David Brown and eventually merged into Aston Martin.
Thomas George John founded the company that would become Alvis in Coventry, England, in 1919. The Alvis name was chosen because their original logo was quite similar to that of another company; years later, Geoffrey de Freville, who had created the Alvis name, explained that he chose it because it could be pronounced in any language.
Rover took over in 1965, and production of the Alvis ceased in 1967.
A design applauded by many and purchased by few, the “Shark Nose” Graham was introduced in 1938 and labored along until 1940. Only 3,660 were produced in all series for 1939.
Who doesn’t know the story of the Tucker? When I first saw it, I was surprised it wasn’t locked up as tightly as many of the other vehicle, but as I thought about it, it made sense: leaving everything open allows one to get a more comprehensive feel for the car itself. Let’s take a mini-tour…
Here’s the engine. Check out the word “Tucker” painted on the intake.
The back seat area is shown with luggage to provide a better perspective on space utilization.
The front seat, set on an amazingly flat floor, looks quite inviting.
The trunk room is amazing. I didn’t completely capture the Christmas presents being stored there. Acccording to the data tag, this is body number 1028; does that make it Tucker #28?
1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser
With perhaps one of the best all-time model names for an automobile, this four-door hardtop is loaded with gadgets and power everything. This body style was the most-produced Turnpike Cruiser for 1957, with 8,305 finding happy homes.
1958 Toyopet Crown Deluxe
This Toyopet is claimed to be one of eight still known to exist. Like the Tucker, it is opened up to allow a better appreciation of itself.
The suicide doors occluded the rear view in the previous picture,
but you can see that it’s nice and blue inside.
I have read that many of the cars here are still operable, which makes me wonder about this one.
A number of cars from the 1960s and early 1970s were the usual Mustang-Charger-variety suspects; however, in keeping with its overall focus, the museum also displayed some lower-production American cars, including this Chrysler 300F.
Isn’t this engine bay a work of art? If I could have taken home any car here, this would have been it.
1982 Dodge Dart Electric
Based on the Dodge Omni 024, this is one of fifty electric cars built for various purposes by Dodge.
Here’s a better look under the hood.
1982 Maserati Quattroporte
This Quattroporte is of the third generation built from 1979 to 1990. Intended to compete with the Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9, the Quattroporte was a very limited production model, with a mere 2,100 built during that time.
Oddly enough, a few months back your author found another one in the wild; it awaits its own proper CC.
1984 Aston Martin Lagonda
This Series 2 was built from 1976 to 1990. With “folded-paper” styling rendered by William Towns, the Series 2 Lagonda was powered by a 5.3-liter V8 mated to a Chrysler Torqueflite transmission. This was the first car to use computer management and a digital instrument panel. Only 645 of these were built over a fourteen-year run.
2005 Ford Crown Victoria
Someone at this museum is an absolute visionary. In addition to the many luxury and performance cars in the museum is this Panther, dressed in full Mississippi Highway Patrol livery.
It makes sense to capture a Crown Victoria for a museum, since the vast majority of them are used in ways that don’t facilitate a long lifespan. These have been a part of the American landscape since this body style was introduced in 1998. Although you might scoff at the notion, I predict that someday these cars will be quite rare.
They even had a 2011 Corolla on display, open for intimate viewing; I found it more comfortable than the Camry hybrid that was also on open display. This Corolla was built in Blue Springs, Mississippi, and had been donated to the museum.
The collection is outstanding. If one must find a quibble, it would involve the presentation of information specific to each vehicle on display.
This is an example of the information provided. There were push-button speakers (visible in a number of these pictures), that offered an audio description for each display, but the volume was low and the words were simply lost in the expanse of the building. With scant on-site information available, I had to glean all the information cited in this article from various other sources.
In the lobby is a world map. Visitors are encouraged to mark the location of their home town with a push pin, which will then remain there for 30 days. Obviously, the museum has international appeal, since there are pins representing Tanzania, Kenya, and various locations in both Australia and New Zealand. As I was purchasing tickets, my wife struck up a conversation with a couple from Ireland. While I have no doubt about Elvis being part of the international draw, this museum is capable of standing on its own when it comes to attracting a vast array of people.
As an aside, admission for two adults and a child was $25 in total; admission to Graceland (in Memphis, Tennessee, a little over two hours away), would have been $33 for each of us. Given its Tupelo location, of course, the museum had to give a nod to the city’s most famous native.
Obviously, not all of Elvis’s cars wore a Cadillac badge.