Living & Entertainment

19 exotic rides at LeMay — America’s Car Museum

Fred Russell, a private collection curator, drives a 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona onto a display platform at LeMay — America’s Car Museum in Tacoma on Tuesday.
Fred Russell, a private collection curator, drives a 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona onto a display platform at LeMay — America’s Car Museum in Tacoma on Tuesday. jbessex@gateline.com

What makes a car exotic?

If you answered, “Being a Lamborghini tractor” then you’d be right on the money, at least for one of the 19 vehicles that make up the new exhibit opening this weekend at the LeMay — America’s Car Museum in Tacoma. But while “Exotic Cars@ACM” does indeed feature a Lamborghini tractor complete with an “Italia” medallion on the radiator bars, there’s plenty of sleek supercars as well. And they all tell stories about our fascination for the ultimate ride.

On Tuesday morning — Day Two of setup — museum curator Scot Keller is looking on calmly as an original 1973 Matchbox-yellow Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona is carefully driven up onto a box. It’s what most people imagine when they hear the word “exotic car:” long, low lines, classy insignia, racing-style design and retro flavor. But as Keller wanders down the museum’s main gallery floor, he points out all the other cars that made it into the show: makes from Aston Martin to Ford, and vintages from the gunmetal-gray 1969 De Tomaso Mangusta, with shark-like side vents, to a 2016 Porsche GT3RS with enormous brakes and raised headlamps.

“One of the challenges of this show is that the term ‘exotic’ or ‘supercar’ doesn’t have an exact definition the way ‘classic’ does,” Keller explains.

So, over the course of a year, Keller set about creating the museum’s own.

“We’re looking at design vocabulary, proportions, like how the body hunkers down around the wheels or goes tight over the back from a low ceiling,” he says. “Then we look at brands, especially makes that had a lower volume of production — less than 1,500. And we look at advanced technology for the time.”

Such as?

“Such as the rear gear box, including suspension,” says Keller, pointing to the dark silver Mangusta that’s waiting to be driven onto another of the three “hero” boxes at the exhibit entrance. The third hero will be a 2012 Lexus LFA, periwinkle blue with triangular headlights to offset the yellow Ferrari.

“This is the fun part of setting up, I like to think of it as painting with cars,” says Keller, who designs the layout and the information panels for each show at the LeMay.

Another fun part is that “Exotic Cars” is something a little new for the 5-year-old museum. None of the cars come from the LeMay collection — Keller sourced them from private owners around Washington — and it’s a different kind of story than the museum usually tells about America’s modern cultural history.

“I tried to think what car would some of our guests here have had as teens, as posters up on their walls?” Keller says. “These are aspirational, but they’re automobiles you would have seen in the American landscape, and they captured the imagination in a different way to, say, the Corvette. They influenced American design. And they connected with people that like technology and design, as well as folks who like motor sports, like Formula One.”

The makes in “Exotic Cars” won’t surprise anyone: Maserati, Ferrari, Mercedes, BMW. There’s a red 1986 Lamborghini Countach 5000 Quattrovalvole, the epitome of supercar in its sloped front, hexagonal windshield, sleek roof, raised aerodynamic spoiler and space-age side ducting vents. The Red Bull license plate says it all.

But the surprise guest at the supercar party isn’t even a car. It’s the tractor, a 1960 Lamborghini, looking like a fancy cartoon character with polished white chassis, polar blue frame, headlamps on stalks and an airstack shaped like a wine bottle. (In fact, it worked for years in a Napa vineyard.)

Didn’t know Lamborghini made tractors?

“Not many people do,” agrees Keller. “But they made them first, before their cars. Then the owner decided he wanted a Ferrari, but thought he could improve the design.”

As Keller wanders back through the gallery, the yellow Ferrari Daytona is now resting demurely under a white veil, waiting — as the other 18 vehicles will — for Friday night’s (May 5) member opening.

Meanwhile, Keller has a lot to do, squishing installation into the one hour before public opening every day this week. A third-generation car enthusiast, he’s worked in the field all his life, and for the LeMay for eight years, since well before it opened in Tacoma.

Of course, you shouldn’t ask a parent if they have a favorite child. But ask Keller about “Exotic Cars” and he’ll turn involuntarily to the Porsche GT3RS.

“I love Porsches,” he says, looking over its sunken doors and European roofline. “I would have one — if it was within my means...”

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

Exotic Cars@ACM – Seductive Supercars

When: Members’ opening 6-8 p.m. Friday (May 5), members’ opening 9-10 a.m. and public opening 10 a.m. Saturday, then open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Where: LeMay — America’s Car Museum, 2702 E. D St., Tacoma.

Also: Exotic car meetup noon-3 p.m Saturday (park on Haub Family Field); Insider Talk 1-2 p.m. Saturday.

Admission: $18 general; $16 seniors, military; $14 students; $10 ages 6-12; free for 5 and younger.

Information: 253-779-8490, americascarmuseum.org.

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