World’s Largest: The LeMay Family Collection

For me, the idea of a barn find includes components of the undiscovered, the neglected, and the for-sale. Not all of these elements have to be present, but at least a couple. So I take some issue with Classic Car Rescue’s title for this video, which you can view here on YouTube: the LeMay Family Collection is not a “barn find.” What it is, though, is nothing short of astounding. The cars are currently housed in different locations in the vicinity of Tacoma, Washington– including family property and the LeMay Collections at Marymount museum. In addition to those vehicles and artifacts still in family hands, donations from this collection also helped form the nucleus of the LeMay — America’s Car Museum.

Born in 1919, Harold LeMay founded the Spanaway Garbage Collection Company soon after leaving high school. After Harold completed his service as a Seabee during the Second World War, this company evolved into Harold LeMay Enterprises. Endowed with a keen eye for opportunity, LeMay branched out into a variety of businesses, including trucking, towing, and auctioneering. He was also endowed with a keen eye for classic automobiles, gradually accumulating a collection of over 3,000– so many that, in 1997, the collection was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest in the world in private hands.

What we see in this video appears to be merely (if such a dismissive word can be used in this case) a storage area for cars not currently on display in the main areas of the museum. I found myself pausing the video often, trying to identify all the cars that the speaker wasn’t talking about. I spotted a Volvo P1800, a Laser 917, multiple Packards, a Kaiser… maybe a Dragon? A ’63 Imperial, a Traffic truck, a beautiful Diamond T, and frankly more classic Fords and Chevys than I could count. If they keep a Kaiser Darrin in the back room, one can only imagine what the actual displays must be like.

The Collections offer a host of unique experiences, from docent-led tours to a day class that teaches the lucky participant how to handle a Model T– including, of course, time behind the wheel. Unforunately, travel is difficult these days, and the demands of home and work preclude a pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest in the near future. Even more unfortunate, it seems that the once-a-year LeMay Car Show was scheduled to be held just this last weekend. But perhaps this is for the best: plenty of time to plan before the 44th annual event rolls around next August, and I think I need time to emotionally prepare myself for what I might see.

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Comments

  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    It sure does seem astonishing that the LeMays have collected all these cars.

    But what good are cars filed away on shelves like forgotten, un-read books?
    I would think that 3000 cars would require at least a team of mechanics and assistants to keep them in running order, and maybe they have such a team.

    I just bought a 3rd old car, and I wondered if that was too much. I guess it isn’t.

    Like 51
    • djjerme

      That’s the thing.. a lot of them are not in running/driving condition currently.

      They have been sitting for a long, long time.

      Like 6
      • Dave

        Way better than being in a field somewhere with trees growing through them.

        Like 11
    • Stephen Chapman

      I bought a 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood FI from LeMay in 2009. They were the nicest people to deal with and the car was just as described. The injection was lying in the boot but we had it reconstructed. Both Mr and Mrs Lemay are on the title which pleases me and the car is now used around London. There was no sense that the car had not been looked after

    • Mountainwoodie

      On the other hand.they have been saved from the crusher or the open field. So there’s that. And if the future of cars is nothing but reliable pods with circuitry and batteries….these cars will tell a story of a great country in the beginning of the Twentieth century

      Like 2
  2. Big_Fun Member

    We were in Seattle March 1st, 2019. COVID hadn’t been in the news as it would be just 10 days later…
    Went to the LeMay, and very much enjoyed all that was offered.
    The building is smartly built… the outside parameter ramps are wide and decend several levels. This makes rotating autos and period displays easier than one might think.
    I highly recommend going. The Cafe has decent food, and check out, and maybe participate in the slot car races!

    Like 22
    • Mike

      I also thought the café there was pretty good. The main floor doesn’t seem to have a lot of cars on it while the lower levels is like walking through a parking garage with cars side by side 2 feet apart. You can’t get a good look at any of them just mostly the fronts. They had the Bullitt Mustang there (2019?). I thought it would be front and center on a rotating stand on the main floor. Nope! It was 2 levels down tucked in a corner like they were embarrassed to have it but were contractually obligated to show it. It was hard to get a good look at it and you could not get a good look-see of the back end.

      Like 3
      • Dan C

        From what I read, you visited the LeMay-America’s Car Museum in Tacoma. The Spanaway site is a totally different atmosphere, being on the grounds of a former military academy.

    • Michael Ellis

      You saw the LeMay – Americas Car Museum not the LeMay Family Collection at Marymount, two different entities.

    • Steve

      I used to go years ago back when the cars were stored in several buildings scattered around the area. One was an old catholic school. They had more of a barn find feel the need. I met Harold and ran into him many times years ago at Swapmeet. Especially the Harvest Swapmeet in Chehalis WA. My how time flies.

    • Sandy Mac

      Just to be clear, the LeMay Family Collection and the LeMay Museum are two different things and are in separate facilities -the Museum is in Tacoma, WA while the Family Collection is in Spanaway, WA. They are also two different legal entities.

    • John S Dressler

      You could spend a week in a place like that and probably not see everything you wanted to see. I could spend a week in a place like that and think I died and went to car heaven!

      Like 1
  3. Gary Raymond Member

    Our local Seattle area car clubs have had the good fortune over the years to tour his storage properties…as you can imagine from the photos it’s nothing short of amazing. He was always a gracious host…his wife would take the ladies into their house for tea! One thing of note left out of the bio; he owned a garbage collection company. His drivers, knowing he was a car buff, would tell him whenever they would see a car of interest in their travels all over the Tacoma area and beyond. It IS kind of a shame to see all of those cars languishing, but they do rotate cars in and out of the main museum from his off-site collection, some do get shared with the rest of us.

    Like 16
    • Bamapoppy

      Um, Gary, the article does mention the Spanaway Garbage Collection business.

      Like 6
      • LeMay Collection

        Um, Bamapoppy, Gary’s point was that Mr. LeMay had many, many eyes, those of his garbage truck drivers, scanning backyards, alleys barns and sheds, on the lookout for interesting cars their boss would like. He enlisted their help, and that is how the LeMay collection grew to its record size.

        Like 1
      • Gary Raymond Member

        Totally missed that. I’m old.

        Like 2
      • Amorypaz Amorypaz

        Funny I noticed that in Gary’s comment and then though, “oh, he’s talking about the detail of the drivers looking out for rare and fine cars being left out of the bio.” Thanks for that tidbit Gary!

        Like 1
  4. mike b

    Great museum. Also check out the Museum of Glass a few blocks away. More incentive to make the destination.

    Like 4
  5. The Tower The Tower Member

    Visited this museum in late February last year, literally a week before COVID really started to have an impact here in the states. It’s a great place to see a wide cross-section of automobile history and is definitely worth the price of admission!

  6. Steve Weiman

    Notice how clean and dust free every single vehicle is. These are not a bunch of vehicles that have been sitting around Neglected……….

    Like 15
  7. Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac Diva Member

    They may not be neglected, but, it is a shame they are not being used. Do you really need 3000 cars for a museum?
    These cars should be on the road for people to enjoy. Enjoy seeing them and driving them.

    I’m just wondering, what’s going to happen to all these cars when the principals pass on? Maybe they will flood the market and prices will come down to a sane level.

    Like 12
    • Chris

      I agree they should be rotated & driven for all to enjoy these beauties . Some people do not even know this collection is there . Just seeing those cars on the road will bring back memories for people . They all need to driven .

      Like 2
    • William R Hall

      There are two museums full of LeMa pieces. They are not officially connected? What you see in the story is the original LeMay family collection. This is in Spanaway on the SE edge of Tacoma. There is also a private collection with lots of emergency vehicles at the family home. The third collection is America’s Car Museum in Downtown Tacoma next to the Tacoma Dome. Lots of the cars are from the other collection. From time to time they do have a few sales. As far as know this is primarily a volunteer operation?

      Like 1
      • Dan C

        The article mentions the annual show, usually held in late August. The collection in Spanaway, and downtown Tacoma, is available for viewing almost year round. Check out their web sites for open hours and costs. The annual show has a volunteer workforce of 400-420 helpers, but volunteers are also used other times of the year. http://www.lemaymarymount.org and http://www.lemaymuseum.org. Personally, I prefer the Spanaway/Marymount location.

  8. Miguelito Loveless

    I wonder if there are any Low Riders in the collection?

    Like 17
    • Joe Machado

      Lemay never ruined a vehicle to the useless level of lo rider

      Like 33
      • KenB

        How nice of you to have ZERO respect for a type of vehicle folks put a lot of love and effort into… :(

        Like 20
      • Dave

        Oh yeah, low riders are great…until a manhole cover rips the oil pan off! A vehicle needs at least enough ground clearance to clear the never-ending stream of cribbing timbers that litter the roads.

        Like 1
  9. Charles Atlas

    Is there a White 1986 Ford Escort Pony 4 speed, hatch back and no radio in the collection?

    Like 19
    • Tom Tom

      I believe I saw a red one there.

  10. angliagt angliagt Member

    Years ago,they were selling off some of LeMays cars.
    I got some parts from a Ford Consul Capri GT from there.

    Like 5
  11. Gary Rhodes

    There are at least ten there, maybe more

    Like 6
  12. Patrick Lambert

    I’ve been to this exact building. It is incredible. Eclectic describes it exactly.

  13. Karl

    Amazing is the only word that comes to mind! Although I do agree that the vehicles should be out and about, from a preservation standpoint is this possible? Just imagine seeing an original Cord made into a gaudy as heck lo-rider with tiny little chrome wheels? Hence my question!

    Like 5
  14. John Walsh

    3,000. I thought I was mad with 13 even though all mine are Lotus. Wonderful to see them and save for future generations. Whether in public view or not. They are saved.

    Like 7
  15. Howie Mueler

    Jay Leno, time for you to buy some more.

    Like 7
  16. VT Dan

    Really? Great collection? A collection it is, but it seems that Mr. Lemay just bought about everything he came across. There are some better cars sprinkled in there, but if I had Mr. Lemay’s means, I would go for quality rather than quantity. And then display the cars so they can be appreciated, not just stored away between machinery and unrelated trinkets. No comparison to what Jay Leno amassed…his pieces are all interesting and carefully selected, restored and displayed.

  17. Martin Horrocks

    More an obsession than a collection. There’s some quality hiding in the volume but it is random, rather than eclectic. With 3000 units, eclectic is a given.

    Good collections arrive at a theme, even if they don’t start out that way.

    Like 3
    • Per

      With 3000 vehicles it is more like a cross section of all the typical and some not so typical cars of the whole period they have been collecting. So the theme is “an overview of what populated America’s roads throughput the years”. That must be the ultimate theme.

      Like 1
  18. Gray Wolf

    At least they are not languishing in some field! What great way to see vehicles that you never new existed. I would rather see them saved!

    Like 8
    • Dan C

      That was kind of the inspiration behind Harold and Nancy LeMay’s vision; preserve history. And not wanting to see vehicles turn into, at best, yard art. The variety of vehicles is pretty amazing.

  19. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    I have daughters who live in Tacoma, my oldest lives in the nearby burb of Lakewood went to a show of LeMay cars that were moved from location to location around the area at no charge to onlookers. She’s not really a car person but enjoyed it just the same. We haven’t seen each other in over 37 years but from time to time commutator via Ancestry page.
    God bless America

    Like 1
  20. Clay Bryant

    They had a BMWi8 electric supercar at their last meet and I asked someone there that works with the collection if they were interested in buying my i8 prototype at a great price( 1 of approx. 15) They said no but if I wanted to donate it they would be interested. I would have traded straight across for some of these in the catacombs that are never seen. Glad I didn’t fall for that one. I wonder how many of these cars were taken in from older couples that way.

  21. Willam r HALL

    One more thing about the main collection. It started and expanded from an old Catholic boarding school which is still showing lots of cars. It takes aa NUMBER of Visits to see the collection.

  22. Kenn

    Haven’ seen each other for 37 years? Is one of you in prison? Jeez Louise, you can fly anywhere in the world today for a reasonable price.

    Like 4
  23. Dave Peterson

    My Father was collecting Hudson cars when I was a kid and I’m retired now. We had a retail franchise which gave him an area birdseye. 30-40 was almost unmanageable for the operation as he and I were the stàff. At our peak probably a dozen were immaculate what are now called survivors, the rest just good driving automobiles. When he passed, it was impossible to keep together and they’re spread like seeds in wind. I learned to love Lincolns through those suicide doored machines, and of course, the great Rebel V8’s of ’57(?) so I have a passing knowledge of a varietied collection. My personal favorite of the modern genre is that fabulous lunatic up there in B.C. That valley is perfect for a dreadlocked gearhead. The passion and joy is not faked, and to see that teenage girl become a journey man was great. The future is in good hands.

    Like 1
  24. Majik

    One more reason many of us call the Beautiful Pacific Northwest home. Check this site out for various rides captured on Seattle streets. ~S

    https://seattlesclassic.blogspot.com/

  25. Kris

    I lived in Spanaway for many years. LeMay had cars everywhere. What you are seeing is only some of the best. He had them in open storage yards, old barns and even in the truck lot where the garbage company was. They were all over and some were just shells. He had a small car lot/warehouse on Pacific Ave. in Parkland/Spanaway area near Brookdale Golf Course. He would be there a lot of time just hanging around talking with anybody who stopped by.

    Like 1
  26. PAW

    Naturally worlds largest of everything should be in US, but what comes to size of car collections this is not the case.

    There is a 4000 car collection owned by moddle eastern owner. Just not open to public access.

    And they have already started to offload their cars. Close friend of mine just bought one of them.

    • PAW

      And before anyone comments. I did not mention Sultan of Brunei on purpose as I am not sure whether he is really a collector?

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