Jim’s Blog: Inside World of Speed’s Car Collection

I’d heard rumors about a very special muscle car collection, hidden away in a warehouse somewhere in the Portland suburbs. About three weeks ago, I had the chance to check it out.

I got a call from World of Speed‘s PR team. Were we interested in driving 15 minutes south to Wilsonville the to see the progress they’ve made on converting their vintage 80,000 square-foot dealership into a museum? Maybe we’d like to check out their legendary collection of cars as it stands right now?

How could I say no?

The May-June issue of ACC featured a Snapshots piece on this new nonprofit motorsports exhibition. Based about 15 minutes south of Portland at the old Town & Country Chrysler dealership in Wilsonville, the exhibition will focus on the history of motorsports, as well as offer experiential education programs for kids and young adults.

So on a sunny Friday, ACC Associate Editor Chad Tyson and I hopped in my Charger and headed to the old Chrysler dealership, where we met Tony Thacker, WOS Executive Director, and Angie Galimanis from Lawrence PR for a quick look at the building. Many of the displays are already coming together, at least structurally. There’s banked section of wall that’s going to display four vintage NASCAR racers. There’s also a specialty photo backdrop for professional photography, a drive-in theater-style presentation area, and a lot of floorspace that’ll be perfect for the exhibition’s planned displays.

But for me, the most interesting part was the cars.

Lurking inside a dimly-lit warehouse several miles away from the site are drag racers, hot rods, midget racers, land speed cars, and muscle cars. These are the museum’s star attractions.

Curator Ron Huegli walked us through the collection. First up, and right by the door, was the Petersen & Fitz Top Fuel front-engine dragster. Ron caught me looking it over. “Want to sit in it?”

Of course I did, and getting in is just as hard as you might think. Ron held the brake as I stepped up on one of the rear tires and down onto the seat. From there, I had to shimmy myself under the rollcage and over the third member at the same time, and stretch out down into the body. This car is the real deal, running mid-sixes back in the day, and sitting behind that blown Hemi and the centerline of the rear tires, it’s easy to visualize just how that must have felt.

Two Mickey Thompson racers — Attempt 1 and Assault 1 — sat right next to the rail, close to an original Jungle Jim Nova dragster, which Ron — a seasoned drag racer himself — ran at a local dragstrip earlier this summer. On the other side of the shop, an original P38 belly tank racer sat incomplete — someone started to turn into a land speed car back in the day and never completed it. Other drag cars included a rear-engine dragster, a twin-Chevy-powered rail, and Nanook, which is a crazy-looking fuel altered with a lot of history, including launches with all four wheels off the ground. I got the sense that Ron would run it in a heartbeat if given the chance.

Several high-profile NASCAR racers, including a Dale Jr. car and a late-’70s Cale Yarborough car, lined the wall, right in front of a shelf full of mechanical injectors and Hemi cylinder heads. Every car here has an interesting story or a great history. But they’re all cool.

And then there were the muscle cars. First up was a one-of-one green Hemi ‘Cuda, unique in its color combination and lack of stripes. Next to that were an LS6 Chevelle, a Hemi GTX, an ultra-rare Impala Z11 (with all its lightweight aluminum components intact), a one-off Hemi Charger Daytona, and a Plymouth Max Wedge Stage II car, complete with a 13.5:1-spec race motor. Ron disappeared for a few minutes and then showed up with the keys. “I can’t… I just have to…” he murmured as he popped the hood, hooked up the battery, and slid behind the wheel to fire it up. It sounded just as evil as it looked.

Simulators will play a big role in World of Speed’s displays, and the team started one up for us to try out — a real-deal NASCAR racer converted into a very realistic simulation of running on a banked oval, complete with feedback on all its control surfaces. Chad got a pretty good workout trying to keep the car out of the wall and with the pack, and he was soon running low 50-second lap times, which is apparently pretty good, especially for a first-timer.

World of Speed is set to open to the public sometime in 2015, and if the cars they already have are a clue of what else is to come, this’ll be a must-see. Learn more at www.worldofspeed.org.