Day Trips

Vintage hotrods and muscle cars at the Marshall Car Museum and Showroom.

Cars that look like they're moving standing still.
Cars that look like they're moving standing still. (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Marshall Car Museum and Showroom, two miles west of Hempstead, takes you through automotive history from the boxy Model Ts to the muscle cars of the 1970s. With more than 330 cars on the lot, this is one of the better collections of classic cars in the U.S. and all of them are for sale.

Wandering the four rows of old cars that extend a block long in front of the museum and the 380-ft.-long rows of classics inside under the glaring lights, the muffled roar of the engines echos through the memories of cars owned by my family or dreamed of by my brother and me. The '52 Chevy that my sister couldn't keep running during her high school years is now worth more money than she made in three years of working at the local Dairy Queen. The 1960s model Ford Fairlanes that my parents drove are now classics. The '69 Mustangs and Camaros and the '57 Chevy Bel Air convertible of our childhood dreams are still the prettiest cars ever built.

Everybody who visits the car museum has his own opinions and memories of what makes a car special, says Ken Smith, the general manager. His personal favorite is the 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a big block engine. "Now that was a great car," he says with a laugh.

Smith says that one of the owner's favorites is the 1939 Ford convertible with a rumble seat and thick white wall tires. "Mr. Marshall owned one when he was courting his wife," Smith says. A rare addition to any collection, the shiny 61-year-old Ford has had more than $60,000 worth of restoration work and sells for around $80,000. Brand-new, the car sold for less than $1,000.

"I've been messing around with cars since I was a kid," Lawrence Marshall says in an interview cut short by ringing telephones. According to his biography, he started working as a mechanic in 1949. In 1969, Marshall bought the Chevrolet dealership in Hempstead and for 30 years he sold cars in Hempstead, Giddings, and Bryan. In 1980, the Marshall dealerships sold more General Motors trucks than any other dealership in the U.S.

Marshall owns about 98% of the vehicles on the lot, Smith says. On the 55,500-sq.-ft. showroom floor the classic 1950s Corvettes and Thunderbirds are mixed with the giant Buicks and Oldsmobiles from 1930s and 1920s which are highlighted by the antiques from the 1910s. Every decade of American automobile production is represented. It takes two porters to keep all of the cars polished, Smith says.

The oldest car on display is a 1912 Metz that edged out several 1914 Model Ts for the title. The bright orange, two-passenger roadster with a cream-colored rag top and white spoke wheels was built by the Metz Company of Waltham, Massachusetts. The car has a wooden floor and tungsten head and tail lights that have to be lit with a match. In 1913, the Metz auto sold for $475; the asking price for the one in the Hempstead museum is $35,000.

You would think that a place like this would be a treasure chest to movie set designers looking for just the right period piece, but Smith says they rarely get inquiries from Hollywood. "They can get a better deal from the car clubs" who donate their cars just for the pleasure of seeing it in the movies, he says. At one time, the museum did have Roy Clark's 1958 Corvette and Minnie Pearl's Cadillac.

Many of the cars were restored in the garage, body shop, and upholstery shops behind the museum. Others were lovingly refurbished by individuals who then sold out for a profit. Some of the more interesting cars are the rebuilt street rods like the classic Ford Highboy Roadster bodies over a 350 Chevy engine with AM/FM/tape players in the dashboard and orange flames painted on the side or a bright red paint job that gives the description "cherry" real meaning.

The quality of the car often cannot be discernible to the casual observer. A "restored" 1968 Corvette can sell for $40,000 while a simply "original" '68 Vette goes for around $12,000. Most of the "muscle" cars sell for $10,000 to $15,000 while the classic cars can be twice that price. Of course, it all depends on the condition and the availability.

Opened last February, Lawrence Marshall Car Museum and Showroom on U.S. 290 between Hempstead and Brenham is quickly becoming a must-see for car lovers from around the state whether they're looking to buy or just to admire. Along with the fascinating collection of cars are other automotive memorabilia and an antique shop in one end of the showroom. The rolling stock includes cars, trucks, fire engines, dragsters, race cars, and motorcycles.

The museum opens Monday through Friday 8am to 6pm and Saturday 8am to 5pm. There is a $5 per person admission fee to the showroom. For information, call 877/353-2277.

Coming up this weekend ...

Bald Eagles and Hill Country Vistas presented by Penfeathers bird enthusiasts at Buchanan Dam offers insightful tours, Jan. 20-21. 281/445-1187.

Eagle Fest in Emory offers eagle viewing tours and other birding activities along with live music, Native American events, wildlife demonstrations, food booths, and games at the Rains County Fairgrounds, Jan. 20-21. 800/561-1182 or

Tibetan Monks construct a sand-painted mandala at the San Antonio Museum of Art beginning on Jan. 16 and then, in a colorful ceremony beginning at 2pm on Jan. 20, the mandala will be dismantled and a procession will go to the San Antonio River to disperse the healing energies throughout the world. 210/978-8100 or

Janis Joplin Birthday Bash in Port Arthur celebrates the rock legend's birthday with live music at the Civic Center and the Museum of the Gulf Coast. 409/722-3699.

Coming up ...

Vanishing Amphibians, a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit, comes to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens through Feb. 28. The exhibit provides a fascinating look at amphibians and their changing environments around the world. 903/676-2277.

Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show and Rodeo at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth pioneered the first indoor rodeo in 1917. The colossal event has become a Texas classic event with a midway and plenty of shows and food, through Feb.4. 817/877-2400.

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