Museum Outtake: 1959 LARC LX – Our Largest Curbside Classic (So Far)

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Last week my family and I decided to go on an impromptu roadtrip to Nashville, Tennessee.  While there, I somehow carved out time to visit the Lane Motor Museum without my family, allowing me unfettered enjoyment of all it had to offer.  While the museum is absolutely fantastic and will be the subject of several more posts over the coming weeks, one of the highlights is surely their LARC LX, one of the largest things I have ever seen that has actually traversed public roads and is now effectively parked curbside…

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As I first spied the LARC through a window parked at the loading dock in the rear of the building, I watched the video chronicling its journey through downtown Nashville on a nearby monitor.  Immediately afterward I went to the front office, knowing I had to get a copy of this video and more pictures to share.

I was delighted (and amazed) that Rex Bennett, Lane’s Education Director, is actually an avid reader of our esteemed site and knew my name!  He immediately dropped everything and offered to take me on a personal tour of the LARC (as well as all of the other treasures contained in Lane’s basement that are not usually available to public view).  So off we went.

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The first thing that struck me about the LARC is its sheer size.  The tires are 9 feet tall.  When I first saw it I thought it looked big but I was some distance from it and didn’t realize at first that it was actually parked in the well of a loading dock that allows semi-trailers to offload flat into the warehouse.

The top of the wheelhouse appears to be almost as tall as the building itself.  Sure, it’s small for an oceangoing vessel but positively enormous for a wheeled vehicle.  I’m glad it wasn’t just parked in the middle of the lot as it would then be much more difficult to judge its size.

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LARC is short for “Lighter, Amphibious Resupply, Cargo” and the LX part of the name does not denote the trim level like on a Honda Civic, but rather the Roman numeral for 60 as in 60 tons.  60 tons was the maximum rated load but just like with Paul’s F-100 pickup, loads are/were frequently much, much heavier than the official rating.

The main mission purpose was generally to drive it into the water from an on-land position and then load it from a ship with supplies, troops, or artillery etc. and then return to land.  LARCs were transported to the theatre on heavy container ships, or LSTs, offloaded, and pressed into service.  Rough seas were not a problem and it could apparently climb very steep gradients.

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With this example being a 1959 version and one of between 60 and 100 produced, it most likely saw action in Vietnam; among our readers I’m sure we have some that may recall these from their time in the service and perhaps we even have someone with some practical experience aboard one.  LARCs were built by several different shipbuilders including Treadwell Construction Company of Midland, Pennsylvania.  The museum is fairly certain that theirs hails from a shipyard in Mobile, Alabama.

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The LARC is 62 feet long, 26 feet wide and almost 20 feet high.  It weighs around 100 tons and was the United States Military’s largest amphibious craft.  Each wheel/tire is powered by its own 6 cylinder Detroit Diesel NA6-71 engine with a 3-speed automatic transmission, so it is 4WD and can be steered with either two or all four wheels at once.  On dry land the top speed is 16mph, on water around 7 knots using twin 48″ propellers.

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The bottom is flush, with the only penetrations into the hull being the wheel assemblies as well as the propellers and rudders.  Range on water is approximately 75 miles, on land approximately 150 miles.  The fuel tank holds 600 gallons of fuel.  The museum calculated that their gas mileage was approximately ten gallons of diesel fuel for every mile traveled through downtown Nashville from the water to the museum.

Lane Motor Museum acquired their LARC in 2004 and moved it from its location in Stuart, Florida to their museum in Nashville.  When the museum found it on eBay it had been used for home construction in Trinidad.  The video above chronicles the journey and is extremely interesting to watch. I am indebted to Rex for convincing the museum to post the video to YouTube this week so that I could easily share it with you.

Since being “docked” at the museum, it was used regularly for display events and driven around the parking lot and used in demonstrations by running over unusable empty car hulks (I made sure that no viable Curbside Classics have been harmed during these demonstrations).

However, several years ago an E30 series BMW (think mid 80’s BMW 3-series) got its revenge by poking a 25mm (about 1″) hole into one of the LARC’s massive tires.  Currently the LARC is parked on jack stands and immobile while efforts to secure a replacement tire at a reasonable price continue.

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Being able to walk around and on the LARC was amazing, usually it is roped off to visitors.  We popped open one of the topside hatches so that I could take a couple of shots of the mechanicals (well, one of four sets of mechanicals actually) and then looked at the wheelhouse.  It must have been quite a task to drive one of these in wartime conditions with a crew of three (pilot, engineer, and load specialist).

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Each engine has its own set of gauges and the wheelhouse seems very exposed but not really able to give a very commanding view.  The best view is surely from atop one of the leading edges of the bow as seen in the video, although the rear has a nice tarp to provide shade while cruising around the Gulf of Tonkin.  Or a parking lot in Nashville.

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Neither fish nor fowl but built for a specific purpose, it seems that it did its job admirably for many years and now serves as one of the museum’s most distinctive and engaging displays.  I thank the fine folks at the Lane Motor Museum for the access they provided me and encourage all of you to visit if in the area.