WEEKEND WHEELS: The Collection on Palmetto is a car history lover’s dream
Welcome to Marvin’s Garage. Though the official title of this wonderfully-eclectic potpourri of antique automobiles tucked away on a side street in Pinellas, is the far grander ‘The Collection on Palmetto’.
Here, housed in a low-slung steel building hidden away on Clearwater’s Palmetto Street, is the personal collection of passionate automobile and steam engine guru, Marvin Feldman.
Here you can gaze at 30 or more of the most fascinating, historically significant, and downright jaw-dropping, vehicles of the early 20th Century. Everything from a Ford Model T, to steam-powered Stanley Steamers, to one of the first all-electric cars, an upright, tiller-steered Pope-Waverley built way back in 1904.
The collection itself started almost by accident. Marvin and his wife Linda have a house on Clearwater Beach. When Marvin’s father passed away, he inherited his two prized steam cars, a 1913 Stanley Steamer Model 64, and 1925 Stanley Steamer sedan, which they kept in their garage.
“Every time there was a threat of a hurricane or some tropical storm, we’d have to find a safe place to move them to. In the end, Linda said we had to come up with a better solution,” explains Marvin.
The ‘solution’ came in the form of a five-acre piece of wooded land the Feldmans owned on Palmetto Street. The original plan was to put up a modest 5,000-square-foot hurricane-proof steel bunker to store the cars. “Linda said we should call it Marvin’s Garage, but as the plans grew, we thought we needed a more formal name”.
Completed in 2020, The Collection on Palmetto is now a 14,000-square-foot home to the Feldman’s ever-expanding assembly of the truly wonderful, and slightly weird, of the automotive world.
Did we mention the massive, bright red 1928 Ahrens fire truck filling the entryway as you walk in? Or the steam-powered 1918 Cretors Sidewalk Popcorn Wagon, or 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen, a replica of the very first car?
But as Marvin explains, the Collection is so much more than a static display with a bunch of cars parked on a gray concrete floor.
“We think of it as a learning center for people to come in and get to understand the amazing progress in automotive transportation that came in the early 20th Century.”
Which is why the Collection focuses on bringing in school kids for field trips, and education programs, teaching them how an assembly line works, how to build an electric circuit or race a solar-powered car.
“Just last week we had a group of 60 kids come in one day; the next we had 40. I tell you, eight-year-olds ask the best questions about cars,” says the retired Florida engineering company owner, who turns 84 this year.
Marvin’s passion for all things mechanical came from his father while growing up in Chicago. “He loved anything powered by steam. His idea of fun was to take me to local water pumping stations which had these magnificent steam engines with 20-foot-diameter flywheels.”
The Collection carries on Marvin’s father’s love of steam with a display of thundering steam engines at the entrance to the museum, many of which are being restored and put back into operation.
“They are just the most magnificent pieces of engineering. The biggest one we have came out of a sawmill in the Carolinas and was working until the 1960s. We should have it running again this summer.”
One especially cool feature of the collection’s covered steam gallery is the murals that Marvin commissioned from local artists Stacey Whitz and Gary Baillie. These life-size paintings show how the engines would have been used back in the day, powering foundries, machine shops, and sawmills.
So, of all the collection, what is Marvin’s favorite? After scratching his long, white, ZZ Top-style beard for a sec, he points over to a racy red, open-top two-seater called an Allard J2-X. Built-in Britain back in 1952, it has a Cadillac V8 under the hood.
“I remember I was 14 years old, and came out of our house and saw one parked on the street. I told myself there and then that someday I would own one. It’s the car I still take out and drive for fun,” he adds.
The Collection on Palmetto is open to the public Tuesday through Thursday from 10am to 3pm, on Fridays 9am to 5pm, and every second Saturday of the month, 10am to 4pm. The museum is also available for special events, like weddings, birthday parties, and car club gatherings. For more information, go to www.collectiononpalmetto.com.