Welcome to 2023! If this new year is anything like the last, I’ll have lots to blog about!
After returning from my epic retirement moto journey, I didn’t stay home for long. I made a return trip to Louisiana for a couple of weeks in October, then headed back in December for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. One of the many benefits of being retired is that I can go visit my family pretty much any time I want 😊
It’s about a 15-hour drive to make it to my parents’ house on the bayou, so I broke up the holiday trip ride by stopping in Birmingham, AL. I spent a couple of nights there so that I could visit two museums that have been on my list to experience ever since I learned of them. First up: Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.
I’ve been to a fair share of motorcycle museums in my time. Ranging from smaller private collections like the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum in Colorado Springs, CO; Lone Star Motorcycle Museum in Vanderpool, TX; and American Classic Motorcycle Museum in Ashboro, NC, as well as some much bigger, well-known ones such as Wheels Through Time in Maggie Valley, NC and the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, WI. Looking at a map after I returned from my trip, I realized that I could have fit in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickering, OH if I would’ve realized it was somewhat on my path…oh well, it’s yet another reason for me to return to Ohio! Anyway, at some point during my trip, someone told me about Barker Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, AL, so I made sure to work it into my trip down to Louisiana. I’m sure glad I did… this place is unbelievable! I figured that the overcast and chilly day was perfect for a day of museum touring, so I headed out bright and early.
The 250,000 square feet museum is located on an immaculately landscaped 880-acre park that includes a road course with ample space for spectators, larger than life metal sculptures, and unexpected, humorous discoveries planted throughout the building and grounds. Although the museum is mostly motorcycles – 1,600 of them spanning 100 years of production – it also includes an impressive collection of vintage racecars, rare vehicles, and even outboard motors! George Barber raced Porches in the 1960s, then started collecting and restoring classic cars in 1988. According to the museum’s website: “Since the world’s best and largest car collections had already been established, Barber heeded some wise advice…from his longtime friend Dave Hooper – a motorcycle enthusiast … – who suggested that Barber shift his focus from cars to motorcycles. Being a man of big dreams, Barber seized the opportunity to accomplish what no one else had done – build the world’s ‘best and largest’ motorcycle collection.” With hundreds of motorcycles representing 220 different manufacturers from 22 countries, this place is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest motorcycle collection. Mission accomplished!
I’ve found that it’s not just the tour guides and exhibit attendants that have the most knowledge about a place; you can get great insight from custodians and security guards as well. As I chatted with one of the security guards, I discovered that he, and most of the folks that work at the museum in various capacities, are military veterans. He introduced me to a few other folks and filled me in on the history and layout of the museum and grounds. After swapping military and motorcycle stories for a bit, I went on my way and continued sightseeing in the museum. Not long after our conversation, he found me on another floor and asked me if I’d like to see some restoration work occurring and to visit the unparalleled maintenance manual library. Uh, YES, thank you! It was so cool to see these areas not usually open to general visitors. I felt like a V.I.P.!
Even after spending three and a half hours in this place, I felt like I hadn’t even scratched the surface. This is definitely a multi-day event! With my brain and phone camera full, I left the museum in search of lunch and the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum.