It’s a good thing the radio worked. A group of car lovers traveled from LeMay: America’s Car Museum to the Mecca of all things gearhead last month. The trip from Tacoma to Detroit spanned two weeks and crisscrossed 3,300 miles to celebrate all things car and promote the museum to the world’s car culture.
“We really put Tacoma on the map, a lot of maps for a whole lot of people,” said ACM CEO David Madeira, who drove the Mustang during the trip. “It was far beyond what we had dreamed. We are thrilled.”
ACM picked three vintage vehicles one from each of the “big three” car makers – a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, a 1961 Chrysler 300G and a 1966 Ford Mustang – for the trip that ended by cruising down Detriot’s Woodward Avenue just in time for the North American International Auto Show. The Mustang and Nomad were shipped home and arrived safe and sound Feb. 4. The Chrysler remains in Detroit since it will be showcased at Midwest events this spring and summer.
“As long as it was out there we thought we would put it to use,” Madeira said.
The “Drive Home” road trip celebrated an era when the “Motor City” was the automotive center of the world. The ACM cars took on snow and ice during the 13-day pilgrimage back to the cars’ place of origin, making pit stops for auto-themed events and rallies along the way. Stops included Portland and Bend, Ore.; Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake City, Utah; Grand Junction and Lakewood, Colorado; Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri; Bloomington and Chicago, Illinois.
“The only way to really see America is to drive yourself in a car along the backroads,” said Madeira. He, for example, found himself singing “God Bless America” while alone in a car as the sun dawned on a meadow of color and frost with nothing in front of him but open road. “I couldn’t help it. I was alone in a car. It was just unparalleled.”
The whole trip was chronicled on the museum’s blog and local media along the route as well as through social media feeds, all which generated impromptu car shows at every stop. Sometimes just a few dozen people showed up with their classic cars to chat over coffee, while some towns made their stop a full car festival.
“These kind of things happened all the time,” Madeira said. “One guy (in a 1960 Chrysler 300) followed us for 300 miles.”
The trip’s final stop came in Detroit, Michigan for the big auto show, where the dirty and road-worn cars were put on display to honor America’s love of cars and the companies that built them but also showcase the evolution of car design alongside $200 million worth of other showcase automobiles.
The Drive Home was made possible due to participation from a number of sponsors, including NAIAS, Opportunity Detroit, State Farm, Coker Tire, Hagerty, Michelin, Plycar and Shell. Plans are in the works to make a cross-country trip an annual event.
The trip was covered by international and national press from Germany and Australia to local weekly and daily newspapers and television stations, all promoting Tacoma’s own ACM, which draws about 150,000 visitors a year and have come from all 50 states and 42 countries. About 72 percent of the museum’s visitors come from outside of Pierce County. Of those, about 22 percent come from outside of Washington.
“That’s a pretty big draw,” said ACM President and COO Paul Miller, noting that people around the world know about the museum but many local residents haven’t visited. “It’s sort of easy to put off doing something in your own backyard.”
The museum is battling that fact with drive-in movies during the summer and the upcoming “Drive The Blues Away” concert night on Feb. 27 and joint ticketing with Tacoma’s other museums.