Since it opened on June 1, 2017, the Newport Car Museum has attracted more than 14,000 visitors and become a hit with car clubs and tour groups exploring the Northeast and especially the vacation destination of Newport, Rhode Island.
The museum’s location in nearby Portsmouth, in a 114,000-square-foot building once devoted to missile manufacturing, seems an unlikely place for a car museum; however, with 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, another 5,000 for special events, and a free parking area for 300+ cars, it offers what most car museums across America can only dream of offering.
A presentation of some 60 cars represent seven decades of automotive design — from the 1950s to today’s hottest designs — and appeals to all generations, from grandparents to parents to children. Five separate galleries showcase Ford/Shelbys, Corvettes, World Cars, Fin Cars and Mopars. Special wall art (much of it consigned); theatrical lighting; turntables; and videos with directional sound celebrate the cars as works of art. There are no barrier ropes around the cars, and pieces from an eclectic collection of Mid-Century modern furniture (representing iconic designers such as Eames, Knoll Bassett, Jacobsen and Wegner) are dispersed throughout the museum, giving visitors a comfortable place for rest and reflection. The one to two hours it typically takes to tour the museum includes time for test driving skills on one of the museum’s six driving simulators.
“Our number one comment from visitors is how the museum is not what they expected at all,” said Gunther Buerman, who with his wife Maggie founded the museum. “Before we opened, I used to say, ‘if no one comes, I’ll be happy here enjoying the cars all by myself.’ Now, I’m just so pleased that our original intent of sharing our collection with the public is so well received.”
The Buerman’s passion for their automobiles is only surpassed by their enthusiasm for meeting other car enthusiasts and making sure they enjoy the museum. (That is also the purview of several volunteer docents who seem to have the same infectious zeal). In fact, it’s hard to find a day when the cheerful duo is not at the museum, chatting with individuals and welcoming special-interest groups. They’ve been known to acknowledge a special occasion with a museum gift or even waive an admission fee for someone who is waiting outside for their significant other “car lover” inside, just to prove that you don’t have to be a motor head to appreciate what’s going on within the walls of the Newport Car Museum.
And, of course, there are the happenings occurring outside that make the Newport Car Museum special, too. A recent German Car Day saw 100 visiting cars joining a corral that had been cordoned off for them. A previously held Corvette Day and Porsche Day each hosted more than 75 cars, their owners plus hundreds of additional car enthusiasts who had come to inspect, snap photos and swap stories.
“It’s like a Field of Dreams, seeing dozens upon dozens of these fabulous cars owned by others streaming into the parking lot,” said Buerman. “It’s really beyond our wildest dreams.”
The Newport Car Museum’s winter hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekends and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on weekdays. For more information, visit NewportCarMuseum.org or call 401-848-2277.