Motorcycle connoisseurs find inspiration in Alabama
Two hours west of the Atlanta airport is a five story, state of the art monument of glass, steel and concrete generally considered to be the finest motorcycle museum in the world. Designed by its founder, George Barber, to draw visitors from all over the globe to his home town of Birmingham, Alabama, those that make the trip to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum can immediately see they are witnessing a truly remarkable achievement. This is a place like no other.
His goal was to have the best and largest motorcycle collection in the world but George Barber didn’t stop there – the 144,000 square foot museum fronts a manicured 830 acre complex that houses a world renowned racetrack, a Porsche Driving Experience School and a smaller test track used for corporate events. His dream did not include traditional grandstand seating and advertisers were not invited to mar the view; here there are only trees, grass and flowers. The track was built in a natural amphitheater, allowing great views from the grass berms. And it's all operating as part of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. Finally, art is scattered all throughout the park, from the stunning to the whimsical, reflecting the taste and personality of George Barber.
The exhibits include a rotating selection of close to 1500 motorcycles as well as the largest collection of Lotus cars in the world, with close to 60 on show. Theres' also a “Motorcycle Tree” that grows thru the floors, a mock up of the original Harley Davidson workshop, an authentic board track and what might be the largest collection of Daytona race bikes ever assembled, on a banked road course built into the floor.
It's hard to say what the most popular bike in the museum might be (and asking George Barber won’t help, he isn't playing favorites) but the Britten, a race bike from New Zealand hand-built by John Britten seems to appeal to many. As does the Ducati that Mike Hailwood rode on the Isle of Man. If there is a theme it might be including the personalities of the people that rode them, or built them, which include many of the most famous names in motor sport such as World Champions like John Surtees and Hailwood, The collection honors the brilliant, the unusual, the beautiful and the fast – from scooters to choppers to solar powered it's easy to spend the day here moving from floor to floor, bike to bike.
The basement area contains an impressive track-side restoration shop and a full time staff capable of any sort of repair. With so many rare, old and unique motorcycles it's not unusual to find parts don't exist and must be created in order to ride or restore the machine. Most of them run, and keeping them that way is both a daunting task as well as a matter of great pride.
In order to really grasp the scale of the place, it might best be told by the details of running it day to day. It takes a hospital quality filtration system to keep the dust from a concrete structure this size at bay. And just keeping the light bulbs in order is daunting. Museum staff was changing 35 burnt out bulbs a day so they changed the light bulbs to LED's at a cost of roughly $109,000, an expense expected to return itself in power bills and air conditioning savings (the conventional bulbs are hotter) in just 15 months.
The Guinness World Records has crowned it the largest motorcycle museum in the world but it's not big enough, so they will break ground in July for a 100,000 square-foot expansion. Improvements pop up here at a steady pace, visitors that were here as recently as last October will find a new bridge over the racetrack (with a glass viewing window to watch the cars and bikes pass by at speed) that wasn't there then.
The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is open 359 days a year.
Take a wander through this remarkable monument to automotive engineering in our Barber Museum photo gallery.