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Tampa Bay Automobile Museum Showcases Creativity and Engineering Skill

By S. Mathur

The Tampa Bay Automobile Museum has a collection of 65 vintage vehicles, including front wheel drive and rear engine cars, from the 1920's and 1930's. Museum Director Susan Cerf says that "Each vehicle is chosen based upon the engineering achievements that made it an important part of the automobile, setting the standards for the engineering of today. Visitors enjoy a provocative blend of art and science in over 15,000 square feet of gallery space."

The museum collection is based on the personal collection of Alain Cerf, who bought his first vintage car in the 1950's out of necessity, as it was the only car he could afford back then. He built up his collection over the years, concentrating on innovative front wheel drive and rear engine cars, which he calls "the Yin and Yang of automobile technology". The models on display include Delahaye, Talbot Lago, Peugeot, Salmson and Jaguar. All 65 models are in working order and visitors are welcome to peek under the hood.

The collection is chosen to showcase technologies that became an important part of the evolution of the automobile. It highlights early approaches to aerodynamic shapes, front wheel drive, rear engine-rear drive engineering, unibody construction, and the use of new materials like cast aluminum and pressed steel.

It pays tribute to automobile engineers like Paul Jaray who also designed the Zeppelin airships, Gabriel Voisin and Edmund Rumpler, both of whom were aircraft engineers who worked during the First World War I and beyond, and Jean Albert Gregoire, who designed the Tracta front wheel drive. Their ideas can be seen in many automobiles in the collection.

Cerf says "We are not a classic car museum in the normal sense, we focus on unconventional engineering or cars that were ahead of their time. Our cars are all in running condition and we do drive them and often. Some of our highlighted cars are the 1929 Cord L29 and 1929 Ruxton- both examples of American front wheel drive. Another unique vehicle on display is the exact scale replica of the 1770 Fardier de Cugnot, the world's first self propelled vehicle. The original Fardier remains in a museum in Paris." The Museum has a large collection of Tatras - rear engine air cooled cars from Czechoslovakia.

For those who want to pursue the interest in classic automobile engineering and technology, two of the books authored by museum founder Alain Cerf are available at the museum gift shop: "Nicolas Cugnot And The Chariot of Fire" is available in English, French and German and "Dimitri Sensaud de LaVaud, An Exraordinary Engineer" is available in English.

The gift shop is bound to be a magnet for vintage car aficionados, with museum calendars, gift certificates, poker quality auto themed playing cards, coffee mugs, die cast model cars and more. The automobiles do hit the road for special events like the Festivals of Speed held every year in St. Petersburg, FL in March.

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