The Legacy of Lucky LeMay

Driving around Tacoma you may notice more than the usual number of classic cars. The love of the automobile runs deep here. Tacoma is home to two museums devoted to the automobile and multiple car shows throughout the year. These are due, in large part, to the LeMay family.

Harold “Lucky” LeMay, who was voted the least likely to succeed by his high school class, started his garbage company with just one truck. He grew his operation, LeMay Enterprises, into one of the most flourishing businesses in the South Sound region.

Fueled by the success of the company, he and his wife Nancy began collecting cars in the 1960s. When Harold LeMay died in 2000, the couple had amassed over 3,000 vehicles—the largest collection of automobiles in the world. Recognized by many as a national treasure, the collection of cars, motorcycles and trucks spans the 20th century and features virtually every American make, as well as numerous foreign cars.

Vehicles weren’t the only things the husband and wife collected. The family rule was that if there was space in a building to store a car, that space would have a car. The nooks in the buildings, however, could be filled with other things. That agreement resulted in a number of smaller collections, such as salt-and-pepper shakers, Americana memorabilia, neon signs, hose nozzles, and over 2,000 dolls.

The LeMay Family Collection Foundation was born out of Harold LeMay’s dream of keeping his massive car collection together and in a place where others could appreciate it. In 1996 he began talking about opening a nonprofit museum that would allow the public to see his collection and keep it all together. In 2012, LeMay–America’s Car Museum opened in downtown Tacoma, just south of the Tacoma Dome. In addition, hundreds of LeMay’s cars are displayed at the historic 80-acre site of the LeMay Family Collection at Marymount, which opened in 1991.

If you are interested in vintage vehicles, you couldn’t come to a better place.

HILLARY RYAN