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Tampa Bay Automobile Museum

1965 Maserati Sebring (I)

1965 Maserati Sebring (I)


The Tampa Bay Automobile Museum is situated just off of junction 28 on I 275 on the St Petersburg side of Tampa Bay, so if you are coming from the direction of Tampa, you have the sea level drive across the seven mile long bridge connecting the two cities. The drive alone is worth the visit! The museum may be quite small in overall terms, but it is a treasure trove of technical innovations in the automobile field over the years, with some extremely rare and interesting cars on display.

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The museum is owned and run by the Cerf family, headed by Alain Cerf, who immigrated to the USA from France, and who is a mine of technical knowledge which he is happy to share with interested parties. It is his passion for technical innovation in the automobile, and the way in which it has been expressed over the years that led to the foundation of the museum, as his collection of cars grew. His first car was a Peugeot Darl’Mat, which was followed by a Salmson S4E Cabriolet, then a Delahaye 235, and then a Talbot Lago T15 QL6 saloon, as the family grew, all of which he has never sold, and form part of the museum display today. Fortunately the passion for technical innovation is shared by his son Olivier, and other members of the family, so it is a real family foundation.

His passion seems to know no bounds, as he constructed a complete operational replica of “Le Fardier de Cugnot”, a late 18th Century steam propelled vehicle, and the world’s first self propelled one, from scratch. This was no mean feat, when one considers the size of it, and he even imported oak beams of the correct size from France, as he couldn’t find them in the USA. Amazingly, it is road registered on a Florida licence plate, although it would scare the hell out of people if it was ever to trundle down the local interstate! It has even gone back to France, and been demonstrated at the Retromobile classic car show in Paris.

The major concentration of vehicles is either of early examples of front wheel drive, or rear engine rear wheel drive, four wheel drive, or the way in which materials have been used, like cast aluminium or pressed steel, or the use of aerodynamic studies. Hence, for front wheel drive there are vehicles as diverse as the first front wheel drive cars offered to the American public in 1929, the straight eight cylinder Cord L29 Phaeton, and the Ruxton Limousine, to European offerings like the 2 cylinder, 2 stroke, 700cc DKW Meisterklass, or the four cylinder, 2 stroke, 2 litre Aero saloon from Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic features strongly in the rear engine rear wheel drive section with a fine array of Tatra models, whilst one of the quirkiest four wheel drive cars is the Citroen 2CV based Sahara model, with an engine at each end.

A recent addition to the collection is a unique four wheel drive 1964 Ford Mustang. This car was sent by the Ford Motor Company to the Ferguson transmission company in England to be fitted with four wheel drive. It may be recalled that Ferguson had produced a F1 car with four wheel drive in 1960, which was driven with success by Stirling Moss in period. The Mustang also received an early version of what would become the ABS braking system. In back to back tests with a standard Mustang it proved to be far superior in steering, handling and braking, but at the $500 extra that the option would have cost, Ford decided that it was a price that customers wouldn’t be willing to pay, and the project was shelved. The Mustang stayed in the Ferguson Museum, until recently purchased by the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum. The car is still on its original UK licence plate DAC 433C, as registered to Ferguson Research Ltd in January 1965.

If one wants to go for real rarity, how about a 1955 Claveau! One might well ask who or what is a Claveau? Emile Claveau was a prolific French designer, usually well ahead of his time, and produced five cars between 1925 and 1955. The first was a rear engine aerodynamic design, the only known original scale model of which is in the museum, and the last was a small unitary construction saloon with all independent suspension, powered by a small 3cylinder, 2 stroke DKW engine, which appeared at the Paris salon in 1955, and this unique car also forms part of the museum collection. In fact it was not a fully operational car when displayed in Paris, as it had no fuel tank fitted, it wasn’t until 50 years later, after being acquired by the museum from a French doctor, who had rescued it from a scrap yard, that it first ran under its own power.

That is part of the charm of the museum and its exhibits, the anecdotal stories that go with the cars and the discovery of ones that one previously new nothing about, citing the 4WD Mustang and Claveau as prime examples. There are some anomalies in the cars on display, where they don’t perhaps meet the main criteria of the exhibits, like the Jaguar V12 E-Type, but that was bought new by Alain Cerf, and he doesn’t like selling his cars! Then there is the Jensen 541 R prototype, but that is rare in that it is constructed from aluminium, whilst the production cars are fibreglass, or the Maserati Sebring, but that metallic red paint and Vignale styling make it an object of beauty.

The museum can accommodate group tours, receptions, catered events, and also has a gift shop featuring books, clothing, toys and a selection of Florida art, craft and jewellery.

Opening Hours and Admission Prices

Monday, & Wednesday through Saturday
10.00 – 16.00

12.00 – 16.00

Closed Tuesday and Major Holidays

Admission Price per Person
Adult (Age 19 – 54)             $8
Senior (Age 55+)                 $6
Student (Age 13 – 18)         $5
Groups (12 or more)            $5
Military (With I.D.)                $5

Children (12 and Under)   Free (Accompanied by Adult)


3301 Gateway Centre Boulevard
Pinellas Park
Florida 33782 

Further details can be found at www.tbauto.org or enquiries can be made at info@tbauto.org

Keith Bluemel