Collector's Edition 9

Find Custom, Classic Cars at Martin Auto Museum

Mel Martin has always loved cars. He started working at a service station when he was 13 and hasn’t stopped since then. During his lifetime, Martin has owned a body shop, a towing company and has started an auto auction. When his private collection grew to 22 cars, he decided to open a museum in the late 2000s to share it with the public. He is now the proud President of Martin Auto Museum, a museum just off of the I-17 that’s housed in an unremarkable-looking warehouse. But, as the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Once you step inside the museum, you’ll find a 22,000-square-foot space featuring five rooms filled with 60 cars, two tractors, a dump truck, a go kart, a bicycle and vintage memorabilia like old gas pumps, ads for car lubricant, a carousel and a few jukeboxes, too. Martin estimates that all but one of the cars is in good working condition—he can repair each and every one of them. He’s acquired the cars from all over, at auctions, through his connections in the car world, and a few have even been donated.

What does he look for in a “new” car that he might add to his stockpile? “If I like it, I buy it,” Martin says. He’s always on the hunt for “something different,” adding an impressive six cars to his collection this past January during a car auction.

Phoenix is also a ripe market for vintage cars. Martin attributes the city’s affinity for classic cars to its good weather, which preserves the cars for a long time since they don’t rust in the heat. Martin says he personally admires the craftsmanship of the vehicles he has spent his years acquiring.

“Today’s cars, most of them are throwaway cars,” says Martin. “But look what you got here. They last longer.”

Venturing into the space is like a history lesson, starting near the entrance with a model of the first car prototype, a Benz that dates back to 1886. Ford Model T’s are also housed in the museum. A 1930 LaSalle Phaeton—a classic car that you’ve no doubt seen before—has been driven by Martin in many a parade. The newest car in the museum is a 2004 Cadillac prototype.

Other highlights include notable racecar driver Jeff Gordon’s Baby Ruth Car, the one he was driving when he won his first NASCAR race in 1992. Gordon’s signature graces the hood. Martin estimates that the collection’s most expensive car, worth about 1.5 million dollars, is a sleek, red 1930 Duesenberg Boattail. The car is one of only 481 built, but its former owner is really what makes it stand out. The car was originally the property of notorious Chicago gangster Jake “The Barber” Factor, who also owned the Stardust Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, a reputed front for the mafia.

The museum is much more than just a space that holds vintage cars though. The building has been the site of weddings, birthday parties and baby showers. Auto parts store Parts Authority and car repair and collision repair shop Napa AutoCare hold corporate events here too, and a school group from Young, Arizona visits annually.

“There’s no other collection like it in Phoenix,” says Martin. “We have a little bit of everything. Cars that have six miles on it. Cars that have been restored. Cars that we drive all the time in parades.”

For a look into the past, and to see some of the most revved up cars in town, Martin Auto Museum certainly makes the mark. 

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