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‘Zoom’ means something entirely different at Lane Motor Museum
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations and activities to consider in a time of coronavirus and to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

lane motor museum
The spacious Lane Motor Museum is a lap ahead of other attractions, considering coronavirus concerns. Image by Tom Adkinson.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – You say car museums bore you? Just give the hundreds of odd, even bizarre, vehicles at the Lane Motor Museum a chance to prove you wrong.

Consider these: The smallest production car ever manufactured, the propeller-driven car that Jay Leno got to drive, the ski-equipped vehicle the German army hoped would propel its soldiers across the snowy Russian steppes in World War II and the tiny French car with a one-cylinder engine and bicycle pedals for auxiliary power.

Long-time Nashvillians know the building that houses the Lane Motor Museum. It used to be a Sunbeam bread bakery, and the aroma of fresh bread used to make mouths water when you drove past its location barely four miles from the state capitol.

It is cavernous – almost resembling an old-style high school gymnasium – making it perfect for displaying approximately 150 cars as well as reassuring in terms of coronavirus social distancing. The ceiling height easily accommodated a special exhibit in 2020 called “Stacked!” that showcased five vehicles artfully placed one on top of the other.

lane motor museum helicron propeller
The propeller on the Helicron is quite functional and certainly attracts a lot of attention. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Even when the museum’s main floor is full, there are almost 400 more vehicles in the basement, where special tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays. Most of the collection is in operating condition, thanks to the unending work of several staff mechanics.

The non-profit museum exists because of the drive of its owner, Jeff Lane. He’s a Michigan native who migrated to Nashville and brought with him his love of cars. His father had an automotive parts supply business, and Lane has worked on cars since childhood.

In fact, one of Lane’s museum treasures is a 1955 MG TF-1500, which he began restoring at age 12. When he was finally old enough to get a driver’s license, he took the test in his very own MG.

lane motor museum p-50 peel
The P-50 Peel is the smallest production car in the world, measuring well less than five feet long. Image by Tom Adkinson.

The museum is big enough (42,200 square feet) that plenty of space is left around each vehicle on display. You can admire them from many angles and take all the photos you want, but don’t touch.

When displayed, one of the most photographed vehicles is the 1932 Helicron (not that you’ll find a Helicron from another year). This dazzling blue beauty would catch your eye even if it didn’t have a giant wooden propeller up front. A Citreon gas engine powers the propeller, and the museum says the car passed French inspection in 2000. This is the one Jay Leno loved.

Among the tiny models is a 1964 Peel P50 replica. Peels, built on the Isle of Man, started rolling off the production line in 1955. This model is recognized as the world’s smallest production car. How small is it? If you set it on its back end, it would stand only 4 feet 5 inches tall. That’s even shorter than Nashville’s powerhouse, but diminutive, superstar Brenda Lee.

lane motor museum stacked cars
The museum’s high ceilings make special exhibits such as “Stacked!” easy to assemble. Image by Lane Motor Museum.

More P50 trivia: It weighs only 250 pounds, which is a good thing, since there’s no reverse gear. That explains the “reversing handle” on the back of the car. If repositioning in reverse is required, the driver just lifts the back end and sets it down where needed.

Most of the museum’s cars are from outside the United States, so you may never have heard of many of the manufacturers. That makes special exhibitions and annual changes on the main floor all the more intriguing.

lane motor museum velo
The sign for the Lane Motor Museum correctly points to “Unique Cars from A-Z.” Image by Lane Motor Museum.

On the calendar for 2021 is a special exhibition of open-wheel racing cars. It is expected to open next summer ahead of the inaugural Music City Grand Prix, an IndyCar race through the streets of Nashville, Aug. 6-8.

As 2020 winds down, the museum is participating in the Toys for Tots campaign through Dec. 7. Admission is free if you donate an unwrapped toy worth at least $10. An automotive theme isn’t required, but that would be fitting.

Trip Planning Resources: LaneMotorMuseum, VisitMusicCity and TNvacation

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published November 20, 2020

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