An automotive treasure chest at Tampa Bay

1929 Tracta A roadster, one of two, finished first in class at Le Mans | Jim McCraw photos,
1929 Tracta A roadster, one of two, finished first in class at Le Mans | Jim McCraw photos,

Back in 2005, Alain Cerf opened the doors of the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum to celebrate the engineering, design and innovation that went into some of the pioneering cars of the Twenties and Thirties from Europe and America.

Since that grand opening, the museum has grown, evolved, and acquired more and more exotic European machinery, almost six dozen cars in all, many with badges that most enthusiasts have never heard of. That’s what makes it so completely wonderful.

Alain Cerf, his sons, Olivier and Emmanuel, and daughter-in-law Susan, are all involved in the museum and in the family business, Polypack, an international packaging machinery company that shares the property with the museum.

With its sculpture garden, the TBAM building is as cool as the cars inside
With its sculpture garden, the TBAM building is as cool as the cars inside

They have a collection of historically significant vehicles that dates back to a working replica of the enormous wooden Cugnot Steam Wagon, the very first land vehicle to travel under its own power back in 1770, and goes forward to the 1980s with their newest car, the DeLorean DMC-12, innovative but unsuccessful, like some of the other machines in the collection.

In between, there are half a dozen Tatras from Czechoslovakia, a couple of Tractas, some Deutsch-Bonnets, a BSA that’s not a motorcycle, a Chenard et Walcker, a Derby, half a dozen Citroens, a teeny Hanomag, a pair of Hotchkiss Gregoires, a couple of Salmsons, a Stoewer Greife V-8 and a Voisin. Never heard of a Stoewer Greife V-8? Neither had we. A reminder that there used to be several hundred car companies, and that America did not invent the automobile.

American machinery includes the DeLorean, the world’s only 4-wheel-drive Mustang, a Ford Model A that runs on charcoal, a second-generation Chevrolet Corvair convertible, a couple of gorgeous Cords, a Milburn Electric, a Miller race car, a fabulous Ruxton and a stately Willys Knight.

Founder Alain Cerf, being a Frenchman by birth, has collected more exotic French brands than any other, each one demonstrating pioneering expertise in body, engine, suspension, transmission, lightweighting or aerodynamics. Many of these vehicles are without driveshafts, either front-engine, front-drive or rear-engine, rear-drive. Many others are made entirely of aluminum, showcasing a technology that didn’t become commonplace until the 21st Century.

The museum, in the Tampa suburb of Pinellas Park is, like the Louvre, closed on Tuesdays. You won’t find a better afternoon’s $8 entertainment value anywhere else in Florida.

Photos by Jim McCraw

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