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Hot Rod History


Speedway Motor Museum


Inside The Speedway Motors Museum

By Tim Bernsau

After attending half a dozen Americruises in Lincoln, Nebraska, I like to think of the city is a second home. I pride myself on being able to make it around town without heading down too many one-way streets, remembering which nights they having cruising at Sonic or Culver's, and knowing a few members of the Rebels car club on a first-name basis.

The only lapse in my Lincoln experience lapse has been that I had never, not even once, visited the Smith Collection Museum, better known as the Speedway Motors Museum. You'll be relieved to learn that that situation has been remedied. On a recent trip out to Speedway Motors, I got to spend a few hours taking a tour of the famous Museum, guided by none other that "Speedy" Bill Smith himself.

A few hours goes by like five minutes in this place, and that's not nearly enough time to soak in all the automotive and racing memorabilia that Bill Smith has been collecting since he started racing, more than 50 years ago. If it has four wheels, "Speedy" Bill has not only raced it, but he's got at least one in his amazing collection.

I grabbed some photos to share with you folks, but you've really got to see this place in person. You'll have your chance during Americruise on Saturday, July 29, when Bill and Joyce Smith host an ice cream party and open the doors of the Smith Collection Museum for all event participants.

The Smith Collection Museum is packed with countless antique engines, automotive memorabilia, vintage record album covers...

...lunch boxes, and tons of toys, including race cars of all sizes for racers of all ages.

Compare the Indy cars of today with Number 27 here, raced by Louis Chevrolet in 1915. At 1,000 pounds, this is the lightest car ever to run Indy. As old-fashioned as it looks now, this Monococque-constructed car was ahead of it's time 91 years ago.
This sprint car was powered by a Frontenac engine, built by the Chevrolet brothers after they had sold the Chevrolet name to General Motors.
Bill Smith's collection of antique engines is probably the largest anywhere. This 230ci 6-cylinder was a prototype built by the Chalmers Car Company in 1912, and featured hemispherical chambers and the first DOHC setup of any American manufactured engine.
This '46 Mercury mill was hot rodded with OHV heads from Adams-Moller, C-T Automotive back in 1951. The engine was used in a Bonneville streamliner during that period. Wood molds for various head, manifolds, and other parts, are displayed behind the engine
You could land a plane on the hood of this Bucciali replica, the only one around. The original car was front wheel drive. This one runs a Ford engine and features an ostrich-upholstered interior. The bird hood ornament is Lalique crystal and has a light inside of it.
Not far away, this stunning pearlescent '41 Lincoln represents an American answer to some of the elegant automotive styling coming out of Europe.
Here are a few of the Museum's numerous 4-bangers, modified with various performance cylinder heads...
...including many from Harry Leo Hosterman, known better as HAL.
This big-block powered '57 Chevy two-door post is one of R&C's all-time favorite Tri-5s. The 210 side trim is really paint. The car is museum quality, but street worthy; Bill has driven it out to the fairgrounds for past Americruise events in Lincoln.
This flathead is equipped with a Smith OHV conversion set-up. The intake valves remain in the block, but the exhaust valves are located in the heads.
Bill restored his Speedway Motors sprint car, which was raced by numerous drivers, most notably, Jan Opperman, one of the original Outlaw racers. The restoration included the original Chevy 302 motor and Hilborn fuel injection system.
Henry Ford's personal team of engineers in Fairlane, UK, built this experimental air-cooled magnesium engine in 1931.
You're probably familiar with Kurtis race cars, but did you know that Frank Kurtis got involve with sports cars? This roadster is one of 30 or so built shortly after World War II, during the sports car boom. The early bodies were aluminum; later models, like this one, were fiberglass. Kurtis sold them complete with flatheads, but pre-visioned the kit car market by also offering the cars as do-it-yourself packages with other engine options.
One of the best-looking 'banger motors in the Museum was this DOHC engine, with four valves per cylinder, and dual Schebler updraft carbs. It was designed by Robert M. Roof and built by R&R Manufacturing in Anderson, Indiana.
Early Midget cars fill another whole room here.
This early Chevrolet V8 features a single central cam, vertical valves, and removable cross-flow heads, and displaces 288ci. It never caught on.
Several companies produced aftermarket bodies for the Model T, such as the Mercury Body Company in Louisville, Kentucky, which offered this cool-looking roadster.
Can you guess what this is? This flathead was modified with four heads from V-twin Triumphs. It has one intake valve and two exhaust valves per cylinder, operated by three cams.
The innovative spirit of the old days hasn't gone away. In the early '90s, Al Mathon Sr. and Al Mathon Jr., built this 700ci V-16 by welding together cast iron Chevy engine parts. It made more than 500 horsepower on the dyno, and now has a prominent place near the lobby of the Speedway Museum.
All these rare and unusual engines aren't even part of the official museum--yet. This is the Speedway motor room, where rack after rack of these "ladies in waiting" (as "Speedy" Bill calls them) are stored prior to full restoration.
In addition to all of the automotive treasures, the Museum features numerous early-Twentieth Century toys, including pedal planes. Some have been restored to brand-new condition, but many more have been preserved in worn condition to show their age.
Tether cars of every variety fill two walls of display cases...
...on the third floor of the Speedway Museum.
Bill Smith's affinity for Buck Rogers goes back to his boyhood and his collection of Buck Rogers memorabilia extends from the original comic books to the television version from a few years ago.
This beautiful pedal car, and the ones on the floor below it are estimated to be 100 years old. Some of the more elaborate cars of that time originally sold for more than $200--pretty amazing considering that a brand new Model T cost around $300.
Some of those old pedal cars were pretty detailed and imaginative, as this sample shows. The firetruck is more recent than the others. The details are improved, but the overall design is the same.
Soapbox derby cars from every decade are on display. The prize of the bunch is probably this car from 1929. The Museum had unearthed the entire history of this car, and even found the original owner.
Where does "Speedy" Bill find all these great items? All over the place. He came upon this carousel at a Mexican carnival. He liked it so much he bought it on the spot, had it shipped to Lincoln, and repainted the cars to look like well-known race cars.
1953 America's Most Beautiful Roadster
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