The Martin Auto Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, is the car-museum equivalent of your favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Located in a nondescript industrial building in the shadow of Interstate 17, the museum’s eclectic collection is a treat for car buffs of all stripes.
Most of the cars on display are models we’ve seen before, but the diversity of the collection had us grinning from ear to ear, and the $10 suggested donation for admission is a bargain. Approximately 67 of Mel Martin’s hundred-plus cars are on display, and most of them are in operable condition. Here are some of our favorites.
1992 Lister Corvette: One of the first cars you’ll see as you enter the museum is this ultra-rare Lister Corvette. No one seems to be quite sure how many C4s were modified by Lister Cars in England—estimates range from two to five—and even Mel Martin himself didn’t realize how rare this car was when he bought it for his son to use as a daily driver. Along with the unique body panels, the car features an LT1 V-8 stroked to 383 cubic inches and supercharged for 500 horsepower.
1965 Shelby AC Cobra: Sure, you’ve seen 427 Cobras before—but how about one with six original miles on the odometer? Nope, that’s not a typo. Six. If you use the national average of 12,000 miles per year, the fifty-three-year-old Cobra has done just 0.0000095% of the average.
1967 Corvette Cutaway: Mel wanted to add a factory-produced Corvette cutaway to his collection, but the asking prices were high, so he had one made for him. A 1967 Corvette convertible serves as the basis, and we were assured that no rare or valuable Corvettes were harmed in the making of this cutaway.
1910 Maxwell: Though scarcely remembered today, there was a time when Maxwell rivaled Ford and GM as one of America’s major automaker. Its life was short; founded in 1904, Maxwell was taken over by Chrysler in the early 20s and eliminated in 1925. Radio comedian Jack Benny’s miserly radio character drove an ever-ailing Maxwell, memorably voiced by Mel Blanc, which extended the car’s notoriety into the 1950s.
2004 Cadillac CTS-V Development Mule: This is a production mule used to develop both the ’04 CTS-V race car and the ’09 CTS-V, and it was raced in several SCCA events by John Heinriciy. While contemporary CTS-Vs had a 400-hp small-block V-8, this one had a 600 hp supercharged version that would form the blueprint for the 640-hp 2nd-gen CTS-V. Most mules are sent straight to the crusher, but this car was spared, sent to the GM Heritage Fleet and from there to the auction block—and that’s where Mel Martin picked it up. The bad news: It can never be registered.
1978 Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car: Chevrolet built just over 6,500 replicas to celebrate the Corvette pacing the Indianapolis 500 in 1978, and this has to be one of the most rare—an honest-to-goodness barn find from Detroit, Michigan, with just 15 miles on the odometer. Where are the OFFICIAL PACE CAR stickers, you may ask? They’re in a plastic bin inside the trunk—the same place they’ve been since the car left the dealership forty years ago.
1915 Model Ts: With 15 million built, it’s no surprise to see a Model T in a museum, but Martin’s three examples show us the true breadth of the most historically significant of cars. Along with a 1915 convertible, modified with an electric starter (which explains the luggage rack on the running board; the battery was in the trunk), the collection includes a heavily-modified speedster and a depot hack, forerunner of today’s SUV.
1915 Model T Speedster: Here’s another look at the Model T speedster. Your author has driven a stock Model T at 15 mph and it scared the daylights out of him. Anyone who races one is certifiable. This one’s been raced.
1990 NASCAR Ford Thunderbird: When Jeff Gordon started racing full-time in the Busch Grand National series, he did it in this very Thunderbird. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1991 and took this car to the pole position 11 times in 1992, a NASCAR record.
Atlas Diagnostic Engine Analyzer: The Martin has an impressive collection of old diagnostic equipment. This working Atlas AMA-800 is one of several such machines on display. Note the Sun distributor tester at bottom left.
1917 Douglas: This 101-year-old dump truck was the first vehicle ever owned by museum founder Mel Martin, a gift from his uncle after it was retired from the uncle’s onyx mine in Mayer, Arizona, where Martin grew up. The truck is powered by a 60-horse Buda engine and features solid rubber tires which appear to be original, though after a century of use, they are starting to look a little ratty.
1933 Buick Series 90 Limousine: This Buick limo was originally owned by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. It features custom coachwork and a black-satin interior. Power comes from Buick’s legendary OHV straight eight.
1975 Chevrolet Monte Carlo: As emissions regulations dialed back the potential for hot-rodding new cars, dealer-customized body work became A Thing, and this ’75 Monte Carlo is a perfect example. Originally customized by a dealer in Florida, it features customized fenders with a Rolls Royce grille and taillights. With just 1,900 miles on the clock and a near-perfect interior, this car is a time machine. Mel Martin once drove the car home for the night, and his wife threatened to divorce him if he ever showed up in something so ugly.
2007 Jeep Wrangler: Not all of the cars at the Martin Auto Museum are old. This 2007 Jeep Wrangler was built by BRP Auto Designs as a SEMA show car. This one might be a bit too much of a mis-fit, however; it’s currently up for sale.
1963 Chevrolet Bel Air 409: Mel Martin started out as a Chevrolet collector, and there are some primo Bow Ties in his collection. Check out this super-clean 1963 Chevrolet Bel Air 409, unadorned red with dog-dish hubcaps. She’s real fine, this 409.
1955 Chevrolets: More Chevy goodness: A 28,000 mile original Del Ray sits next to a heavily modified Nomad. The Museum also has a nice collection of 1950s auto-related memorabilia, including a diner set, a couple of jukeboxs, and the “OK Used Cars” neon sign on the wall above the Nomad.
2000 Pontiac Bonneville: What better car to run at Bonneville than a Bonneville? Mike Cook built this street-legal 2000 Bonnie, modifying the supercharged 3.8 liter V-6 to produce over 600 horsepower. The Spirit of Bonneville made a record-setting run, averaging 202.5 mph on its last mile with an exit speed over 204 mph.
International-Harvester Farmall tractors: Did we mention that the collection at the Martin Auto Museum is eclectic? In one of the corners, tucked behind a Crosley coupe and a heavily-modified Canadian-market Mercury (!) F-100 pickup, you’ll find a pair of 1950s-era International Harvester Farmall tractors. Carousel: Sure, you expect to see cars at a car museum—but what about a carousel? The story goes that Mel Martin got kicked off a carousel at the age of 12, and swore to the operator that someday he’d own his own. This (relatively) small merry-go-round dates from 1973.