In the 1950’s Sarasota County was experiencing a land boom that had not been seen since the 1920’s. The county’s population grew from 28,895 to 76,895 in 1960! Subdivisions were now the up and coming “places to call home” and businesses were also moving into the area. To help attract visitors, Sarasota had numerous attractions, such as the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Museum of the American Circus, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus winter quarters, Texas Jim’s Reptile Farm, Jungle Gardens and Sunshine Springs and Gardens.
Two brothers, Herbert and Bob Horn, decided that Sarasota would be a perfect place for a car museum.
The Horn’s collection of cars began as a hobby for the brothers. They were based in Fort Dodge, Iowa and were in the farm and school equipment business. They had been collecting old cars and restoring them to showroom condition for years. If they couldn’t find a part for a car, they simply made a new part to fit in its place!
While on the road as salesmen for the equipment company, the brothers often spotted old cars in people’s sheds, back yards or barns. By the early 1950s, their collection of cars was so large that they decided to do something about it.
After visiting Sarasota in the early 1950s, the Horns decided to shift their attention to antique cars exclusively. In March of 1953, “Horns’ Cars of Yesterday” opened for business.
According to a November 3, 1957 article in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the Horns had more than 70 cars on display in their museum, ranging from the oldest, a 1897 Duryea Buggyaut to the latest addition, a 1948 Lincoln Continental. The collection also includes the 1914 Rolls Royce Town Car used by John Ringling and the Pierce Arrow owned by Mable Ringling. Also included in their collection was a large array of music boxes, ranging from an organ with 176 pipes to an early version of a juke box that was built in the 1870s.
Horns’ Cars of Yesterday was an immediate success. A survey conducted by the Florida State Tourist Attraction Association reported that the car museum had an 87 percent increase in business from July, 1954 to July, 1955. Over the next twelve years, the Horns expanded the collection and enlarged the museum. The museum included a Music Box Arcade and a Nickelodeon Room, where you could play music boxes. Rides in several of the antique cars were also available.
One section was devoted to a cycle collection, featuring unusual bicycles, velocipedes and early motorcycles. There was also a blacksmith shop, and livery stable, both complete with old-time equipment and life-size figures.
In 1967, the Horns sold the museum to Walter Bellm, founder and president of Bellm Freight Lines, a trucking company that was based in St. Louis, Missouri, and operated in the Midwest. Bellm was an active collector of antique cars and music pieces, and had a personal collection of more than 20 antique cars. He expanded the building size to accommodate his growing collection.
Martin Godbey purchased the Museum and auto collection from Mr. Bellm in July of 1997. The building (over 50,000 sf.) was renovated and the auto collection again expanded, now including several Beatles cars, John Lennon’s Psychedelic Bentley, an exotic sports car collection including Jaguars, Maserati, Ferrari, Shelby and a Don Garlits dragster. Mr. Godbey is an avid collector of American classics that include Ford, Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac, Chrysler, Studebaker and many more that are also housed in the museum.
Today the museum is vibrant and alive with automobile history, and touting the title of the “Nations oldest continuously operating Car Museum”!
The Sarasota Classic Car Museum (SCCM) is a 501c(3) non-profit organization which exists to acquire, preserve and exhibit the evolutionary, dwindling cars of the 20th century. We seek to provide a foundation for scholarly research and learning programs that inspire an interest in and understanding of the impacts of the automobile upon life in America.
The objectives of the SCCM’s mission are met with the following:
- To acquire and preserve a valuable collection of cars spanning the entire 20th century and future.
- To exhibit the collection in an educational and entertaining manner which motivates the young, educates the novice and stimulates the savvy collector.
- To educate the public on the history of the course of development of the automobile and its impacts upon America’s history, society and everyday life.
- To provide a center for scholarly research in automobile history and technology.
- To be the foremost educational car museum in the U. S. A.
- To instill in others the interest, passion and appreciation for these magnificent vehicles and their legacies that we ourselves feel.