Believed to be one of the oldest continuously operating automotive museums in the US, it has evolved to become a mixture of old and new.
Currently known as the Sarasota Classic Car Museum, this Florida attraction got its start in the 1950s as Horns’ Cars of Yesterday. The Horn brothers were early collectors of automobiles and while they were from Iowa, they felt that Sarasota would be a terrific place for one of the first auto museums in the US. Horn’s Cars was a success, partly helped by the proximity to the nearby Ringling Estate with its art and circus museums.
In 1967, the Horn brothers sold the museum to Walter Bellm of Missouri and a new chapter began. The museum continued to be popular as Bellm expanded the music box collection. By 1997, an elderly Bellm was ready to sell and Martin Godbey was the buyer.
Godbey was born in England, but grew up in Illinois. He would be the museum’s third owner – all of which, coincidentally, grew up in the midwest. The building was partly renovated and Godbey would add his own cars to the collection to change it. While the Horns and Bellm focused mostly on the the earliest era of automotive history, Godbey had an interest in much more modern rolling stock, including “supercars” by European designers such as Maserati, Porsche, Jaguar and Ferrari as well as the Texan Carroll Shelby.
The museum displays about 100 cars at any one time and it’s believed that it has over 150 in its collection, with the museum rotating which vehicles are on display to the public. The part of the old museum that was home to the large music box collection is now used for the exotic car dealership that Godbey also owns.
The Sarasota Classic Car Museum owns four cars that were originally owned by John and Mable Ringling, which is a direct tie to the nearby Ringling Estate. One of the notable cars on display is a dragster designed and raced by “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. It’s on loan from Garlits’ own auto museum near Ocala.
The museum also has a collection of Iso Autoveicoli cars – one of the lesser-known Italian car companies. Founded by engineer Renzo Rivolta, it produced cars from 1953 to 1974 but it’s first car was likely its most famous – the Isetta, a micro-car often known as the “Bubble Car”. The museum has one of them on display.
With a mixture of both old and newer cars, the Sarasota Classic Car Museum can give a good view of the history of the car. It’s worth a visit, though it might be best to bring someone who knows a lot about cars along with you, as the museum is short on details as to why the cars on display are historically important. Still, they are in beautiful shape. Stop by after you visit the Ringing Museums for a completely different experience.