Motorcycle connoisseurs find inspiration in Alabama
Two hours west of theAtlanta airport is a five story, state of the art monument of glass, steeland concrete generally considered to be the finest motorcycle museum in theworld. Designed by its founder, George Barber, to draw visitors from all overthe globe to his home town of Birmingham, Alabama, those that make the trip to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum canimmediately see they are witnessing a truly remarkable achievement. This is aplace like no other.
His goal was to have the best and largest motorcycle collectionin the world but George Barber didn’t stop there – the 144,000 square foot museum fronts a manicured830 acre complex that houses a world renowned racetrack, a Porsche DrivingExperience School and a smaller test track used for corporate events. His dream did not include traditionalgrandstand seating and advertisers were not invited to mar the view; here thereare only trees, grass and flowers. The track was built in a naturalamphitheater, allowing great views from the grass berms. And it's all operatingas part of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. Finally, art isscattered all throughout the park, from the stunning to the whimsical, reflectingthe 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 thefloors, a mock up of the original Harley Davidson workshop, an authentic boardtrack and what might be the largest collection of Daytona race bikes everassembled, on a banked road course built into the floor.
It's hard to say whatthe most popular bike in the museum might be (and asking George Barber won’thelp, he isn't playing favorites) but the Britten, a race bike from New Zealandhand-built by John Britten seems to appeal to many. As does the Ducati thatMike Hailwood rode on the Isle of Man. If there is a theme it might be includingthe personalities of the people that rode them, or built them, which includemany of the most famous names in motor sport such as World Champions like JohnSurtees and Hailwood, The collection honors the brilliant, the unusual, thebeautiful and the fast – from scooters to choppers to solar powered it's easyto spend the day here moving from floor to floor, bike to bike.
The basement area contains an impressive track-side restorationshop 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 mustbe created in order to ride or restore the machine. Most of them run, andkeeping them that way is both a daunting task as well as a matter of greatpride.
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 ahospital quality filtration system to keep the dust from a concrete structurethis size at bay. And just keeping the light bulbs in order is daunting. Museumstaff was changing 35 burnt out bulbs a day so they changed the light bulbs toLED's at a cost of roughly $109,000, an expense expected to return itself inpower bills and air conditioning savings (the conventional bulbs are hotter) in just 15months.
The Guinness World Recordshas crowned it the largest motorcycle museum in the world but it's not bigenough, 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 recentlyas last October will find a new bridge over the racetrack (with a glass viewingwindow 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.