Posted by Leif Palmer in Things to Do
We Americans are fascinated by cars. In just a little over 100 years, our nation has gone from automobiles being a novelty to the point where most households have two, sometimes three, cars parked in the garage. We like their convenience when it comes to traveling from one place to another, but for a lot of folks, the experience of owning and driving a motor vehicle goes way beyond practicality.
For many, cars can represent so much more: freedom, independence, speed, empowerment and even a connection to the fanciful. In this post, we're going to explore the relationship between cars (and other popular four-wheeled modes of transportation) and the Great Smoky Mountains tourism industry. Over the decades, various tourist ventures and special-event organizers have recognized the special love that our Smoky Mountain visitors have for the almighty car and have tapped into that bond by providing a wide array of experiences that allow folks to explore that affinity. Following are just a few examples of what's in store if you decide to make a special auto-themed pilgrimage to the Smokies.
We'll start off by taking you on a tour of the local car museums and other attractions that feature notable vehicles from history. If you're a fan of classic muscle cars, you'll want to stop by Floyd Garrett's Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville. The exhibit showcases more than 90 muscle cars from the 1950s, '60s, '70s and beyond. The collection, which is worth more than $8 million, includes such classics as a '69 Boss 429, a '70 GTO Judge, a '65 Dodge Coronet and a '67 Firebird, just to mention a few. The lineup is always changing, however, meaning that you might want to plan a repeat trip every now and then.
Owner and nationally known muscle car expert Floyd Garrett has more than 40 years of hands-on experience with vintage performance automobiles. He started collecting cars in 1975, and today, he has the cream of the crop on display for visitors to the Smokies. The museum has been well reviewed in magazines like Muscle Car Review and Car Collector.
The next attraction on our tour is the Hollywood Star Cars Museum, located on the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It's home to a collection of famous vehicles, all of which have appeared in some of the best known movies and TV shows of the last 50 years. Look for cars like the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters, the Munsters' Drag-u-la, the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard, the Beverly Hillbillies' jalopy and Batmobiles from both the 1960s TV show and the Batman Returns film.
You'll also see vehicles featured in movies like Gone in 60 Seconds, The Fast and the Furious, Back to the Future and Days of Thunder as well as cars owned by The Beach Boys and Sir Paul McCartney. The self-guided tour is a walk through TV and movie history, and the experience includes a gift shop and opportunities for you to have your picture taken with many of the vehicles.
There's another attraction in the area that has some notable cars, although this tourist stop isn't devoted exclusively to automobiles. The Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge has several famous (and infamous) vehicles among its crime-themed exhibits. For example, you'll see the tan 1968 Volkswagen Beetle owned by serial killer Ted Bundy and the white Ford Bronco that O.J. Simpson rode in while fleeing the police in 1994.
In addition to automobile-related attractions, the Smokies area is also known for its custom-auto shows. One of the best-known and best-attended events is the Pigeon Forge Rod Run, which takes place each spring and fall and is based at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge. Thousands of participants and attendees flock to town from all over the country for three days of custom-car displays and exhibits, cash prizes, awards, a swap meet and much more.
Another popular show is the Shades of the Past Hot Rod Roundup, which is usually scheduled each fall. Also staged in Pigeon Forge, this event showcases more than 200 hot rods competing for prizes like a 1932 Ford Hi-Boy Roadster and $10,000 in cash. It also has vendors and a swap meet located on the event site, Dollywood Splash Country.
From time to time, you'll also see a number of car shows that are geared toward specialized and niche markets, like the Ford F-150 Truck Nationals, the SMMC Mustang and Ford Powered Car Show and the Circle Yer Wagens show for Volkswagen fans. That last event has traditionally taken place at the Sevier County Fairgrounds in spring and brings VW owners from all over the country together in one location to admire each others' bugs, buy Volkswagen-themed merchandise and swap gear.
In the interest of fairness, however, we should point out that the car shows have their positive and negative aspects. On the plus side, they're great for the local economy, and there are a lot of people who enjoy seeing all the unique custom cars rolling up and down the Parkway while the shows are in town. Of course, the people who participate in the shows enjoy showing off their four-wheeled babies while soaking in all the beauty and excitement of the Great Smoky Mountains.
On the down side, local traffic tends to get a little congested when these events come to town. In peak season, there are often moments of gridlock. This can come as a surprise to some visitors who don't realize such events are in town. And local residents find the heavier traffic inconvenient at times. But for the time being, it looks like custom-car shows are here to stay, and when they arrivve, everyone makes the best of the situation.
By the way, there's one more entertainment option for all you car fans when you come to the Smokies. Don't forget about all the go-cart tracks you'll find in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. One destination in particular, NASCAR SpeedPark in Sevierville, offers a variety of track and cart options and does a great job of creating a competitive race-like experience.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in the Smoky Mountains. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.
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