Nor can any museum display every asset in its possession. "Right now we're working on the model for an expansion," exhibit designer Jarrid Roulet noted. "You've seen what it's like out there. We have the place packed as it is." In fact the model sits in a wing recently finished to accept a dry lakes display. "We want to show people the way these cars look on the salt, which means we need to set aside a whole section," he says as he points at a platform that runs almost the entire length of one wall. Half a dozen pallets of recently donated engines and parts makes the space issue seem that much more pressing.
And that brings up another element of the museum: acquiring artifacts. "We have to buy a lot of things but like any other museum we couldn't do this without donations," MacKichan says. "It benefits those who donate as well. People are passionate enough about these things to collect them but nobody lives forever. We've gotten a lot of things that some family was ready to take to the dump, things we consider priceless. Instead of paying to throw things away they get a tax write off for donating them."
Work can’t start without researchers like Rich Johnson. Johnson also coordinates events.
Which, of course, brings us back to what beguiled Brennan enough to send me out to photograph it. What follows reveals the scope, nature, and breadth of a museum's operations. Don't take this lightly: a curator isn't likely to ever let the public see what's behind the curtain, and it's a rare occasion even for us.
Still, as neat as the stuff is in the wings it's not really accessible. Though there are truly rare and historically significant things in the rafters they're largely unrecognizable when grimy and disassembled. It's the stuff on display that's truly breathtaking. This is just an occasion to see what it takes to collect, erect, and maintain those displays.
I'm fortunate to have seen some of the finest automotive museums in the world, including a few that aren't even open to the public and a number that no longer exist. Still, none represent what the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed does—American performance—much less represent it so thoroughly. In a sense it reflects the philosophy of its creator, an amateur racer who climbed to the top of his industry.
As we ambled the aisles Bill Smith turned and asked my opinion. I told him I thought he won. "Good," he said, a grin creasing his face. "That's what I came to do."
10. You want carburetors? Some really early examples predate our interests (think teens and early '20s updrafts) but a few of you may recognize the names: Miller, Fish, Winfield, and so on.
11. Winfield carburetors, being the most abundant and some of the most advanced for their era, get used more than any other. As a consequence they're in high demand in the museum. These surrendered their innards but ultimately they'll meet new pieces and go on another engine. There's no such thing as junk here.
12. It's the little things that get us weak-kneed. This recent acquisition, a nondescript toolbox, houses a catalog worth of Winfield jets, nozzles, emulsion tubes, and fittings. Most of the stuff like this went to the dump more than half a century ago.
13. I've noticed one thing consistent among all auto museums: huge magneto collections. This is itself a museum's worth of Eisemann, Bosch America, Scintilla, WICO, Shiefer, and Harman-Collins pieces. Like carburetors, they're necessary to displays. They'll all see the light of day again.
14. If you think we have lots of manifolds to choose from today you've got another thing coming. The museum has at least 100 V-8 examples on formal display, not including the ones on engines or awaiting display. They're rare, too: Shanafelt, Hex, SAE, Norden, and so on.
15. Riley engines are exceptional but the flat-twin Riley on Scott Fernyhough's bench stands out. Fernyhough builds the various engine stands and displays throughout the museum.
16. Jarrid Roulet literally gets paid to play with models. He designs the displays and exhibits, the latest of which represents the most recently finished exhibit room.
17. Of course this is what the room looks like now. Though merely a repository for an old sprinter, an '80s Hot Rod magazine Speedrodder project, and a few NASCAR racers, the Bonneville collection it'll hold will create a void in the museum's cache.
18. And ultimately this is how the pieces will look once displayed in the new room. Like the Maxi, the Alexander F-head conversion converted the exhaust side to overhead valve and not the intake side that truly needs the help!