Jackrabbits, Porcupines and Knights on wheels: At the Tupelo Automobile Museum, “amazing” is the word curator Allen McDaniel hears over and over again as visitors young and old, male and female, marvel at the meticulously restored beauties in the museum’s remarkable collection of more than 100 classic cars ranging from an 1888 Benz to a 1994 Dodge Viper. Of the enduring love affair between Americans and their autos, McDaniel explains, “From the time we’re young kids, our cars are such an important part of our lives, and even our freedom.” And of the museum’s collection, McDaniel says, “Visitors are amazed at the variety, first of all. They see cars here that they never knew even existed,” like the 1920 Apperson Jackrabbit or the 1899 Knox Porcupine or the 1913 Minerva Knight.
Visitors are also surprised to learn that the collection was the work of one man, Tupelo businessman Frank Spain, whose passion for cars drove him to the far corners of the country to collect these models, many of which are for all practical purposes one-of-a-kind. In a recent innovation, the museum is bringing in more unique classics on loan in quarterly rotation. Strolling through the permanent collection, visitors are each drawn to their own particular favorites. Many children love the European Messerschmit because of its tiny size—“it’s easy for them to imagine they could drive it,” McDaniel says. Kids are also excited to see the 1984 DeLorean that, if only it could take to the air, might have transported Marty McFly in “Back to the Future.” For adults, nostalgia often infuses the ride down memory lane, with each age group gravitating toward the eras of their youth. Still, the most popular car in the museum, “hands-down,” according to McDaniel, is the sleek and stylish 1948 Tucker. “It was such great car,” he says of the car’s universal appeal. “There is such a great story behind it, and people have seen the movie about it, too.” The Tucker was the baby of Preston Tucker, a visionary American who dreamed of making cars his own way. Though very few Tuckers were ever manufactured, the car gained instant acclaim and continues to be much admired today.