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1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville

Featured Article

The Need for Speed

Memphis’ only Auto Museum

Article by Margaret Ledbetter

Photography by Sarah Bell, Sélavie Photography

Originally published in River City Lifestyle

For a cool escape from the summer heat, look no further than the Edge District. Home to the world-famous Sun Studio and more recently to Memphis’ only auto museum, the Edge Motor Museum. In a converted 12 thousand square foot automobile manufacturing plant on Marshall Avenue, lives a truly world class collection of cars - each with a unique story to tell. Since the origins of the auto industry in the late 19th century, cars have provided a direct insight into economic times, social norms and cultural trends.

The current American Speed exhibition is a curated collection of over a dozen iconic cars from “post war 'til ‘74” says Executive Director Richard Vining. Vining, who began his career in finance followed by a decade with Streets Ministries in Memphis, turned his passion for cars into the groundbreaking museum. Vining had his own collection of historic cars but when he reached out to other auto enthusiasts in Memphis, he pieced together an exceptional collection to display for all to enjoy. From historic cars to roadsters, hot rods, race cars, sports cars and muscle cars, the Edge Motor Museum offers a deep dive into the evolution of the auto industry. Vining worked with local architecture firm designshop and Baby Grand Design to create a special space that would best showcase the cars and other rotating exhibitions for a self-guided tour, but knowledgeable docents are available as well.

The chronological experience begins with an original 1913 Ford T Runabout right next to an original 2006 Tesla Roadster. Vining likes the juxtaposition of the two, as the Ford Model T helped America move away from the days of horse and buggy transportation and the Tesla is blazing a path for electric cars.

“These are not props,” says Vining; “every car in here can actually be driven.” While most of the cars are American made, there is one very special BMW Isetta that could fit in the trunk of most American cars. A reflection of post war Germany’s shortage of materials like steel and rubber and glass, it is a far cry from the behemoth automobiles the United States was mass producing in the 1950s and 60s. 

A fan favorite is the 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. The Rocket V8 engine was the inspiration for what many consider to be the first rock ‘n’ roll album, Rocket ’88, recorded the following year by Ike Turner and the Delta Cats at Memphis' own Sun Studio. As the song says, "Let me introduce you to my Rocket '88
Yes, it's great, just won't wait, Everybody likes my Rocket '88." The influential single reached number one on the Billboard chart in 1951. In many ways, the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and the explosion of the auto industry go hand in hand. The massive automobile even has taillights resembling microphones.

While visitors can’t touch or drive the cars on display, there are a few interactive exhibits and a fully immersive experience for adults and kids of all ages. The museum also offers memberships that allow access to their extensive library and venue space which would make for a beautiful backdrop for any event. “We really want to do positive work in the community,” says Vining. A world class collection of Memphis owned vehicles in an incredible museum setting is a great start.

Add the Edge Motor Museum to your summer must-see list. Don't miss the gift shop and the collection of beautiful, limited-run screen printed posters. While you're down there, take a stroll to some of the other hot spots along Marshall Avenue and throughout the vibrant Edge District. The museum is open daily. 

“These are not props,” says Vining; “every car in here can actually be driven.”

  • 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88
  • 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville
  • 1959 BMW Isetta
  • 1913 Ford T Roundabout
  • American Speed Exhibition
  • Executive Director, Richard Vining
  • 1967 Shelby GT500
  • More historic cars in the gallery.
  • Informative exhibitions line the gallery walls.
  • 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88